Janus, god of the past, present, and future, of gates, entrances, war,
and peace, and patron of all beginnings, although one of the most
important of all the Roman divinities, was entirely unknown to the
According to some mythologists, he was the son of Apollo; and,
although born in Thessaly, he early in life came to Italy, where he
founded a city on the Tiber, to which he gave the name Janiculum. Here
he was joined by the exiled Saturn, with whom he generously shared his
throne. Together they civilized the wild inhabitants of Italy, and
blessed them with such prosperity that their reign has often been
called the Age of Gold.
"Saturn fled before victorious Jove,
Driven down and banish'd from the realms above.
He, by just laws, embodied all the train,
Who roam'd the hills, and drew them to the plain;
There fixed, and Latium called the new abode,
Whose friendly shores concealed the latent god.
These realms, in peace, the monarch long controlled,
And blessed the nations with an age of gold."
Virgil (C. Pitt's tr.).
[Sidenote: Janus' two faces.]
Janus is generally represented with two faces, turned in opposite
directions, because he was acquainted with the past and future as well
as with the present, and because he is considered an emblem of the
sun, which opens the day at its rising, and closes the day at its
In some statues he is represented with one white-haired and bearded
face, and the other quite youthful in appearance, while others
represent him with three and even four heads.
"Janus am I; oldest of potentates;
Forward I look, and backward, and below
I count, as god of avenues and gates,
The years that through my portals come and go.
"I block the roads and drift the fields with snow;
I chase the wild-fowl from the frozen fen;
My frosts congeal the rivers in their flow;
My fires light up the hearths and hearts of men."
The commencement of every new year, month, and day was held sacred to
Janus, and at that time special sacrifices and prayers were offered up
at his shrines. He also presided over all gates and avenues, and
through him alone prayers were supposed to reach the immortal gods:
therefore in all religious ceremonies his name was always the first
invoked. From this circumstance he often appears with a key in his
right hand, and a rod in his left; or, when he presides over the year,
he holds the number 300 in one hand, and 65 in the other.
[Sidenote: Worship of Janus.]
He was also supposed to watch over peace and war, and had numerous
temples throughout all Italy. One very celebrated temple was called
Janus Quadrifons, because it was perfectly square. On each side of the
building there was one door and three windows. These apertures were
all symbolical,--the doors of the four seasons, and the windows of the
twelve months, of the year.
In times of war the temple gates were opened wide, for the people,
being in need of aid and comfort, were all anxious to enter and
present their offerings; but when peace reigned, the doors were
immediately closed, for the god's intercession was no longer
necessary. The Romans, however, were such a belligerent people, that
the temple gates were closed but thrice in more than seven centuries,
and then only for a very short period.
Festivals in honor of Janus were celebrated on the first day of the
new year; and one month bore the god's name, and was considered sacred
to him. It was customary for friends and relatives to exchange calls,
good wishes, and gifts on the first day of this month,--a Roman custom
in force to this day.
[Sidenote: Ancient divisions of time.]
Janus is not the only one among the Greek and Latin divinities whose
name has been given to a part of the year or week; for in Latin the
names of the days are _dies Solis_ (Sun day), _dies Lunæ_ (Moon day),
_dies Martis_ (Mars' day), _dies Mercurii_ (Mercury's day), _dies
Jovis_ (Jove's day), _dies Veneris_ (Venus' day), _dies Saturni_
(Saturn's day); Latin names which are still in use in legislative and
judiciary acts, while in English the common nomenclature is derived
from the names of the corresponding Saxon divinities.