Janus, the two-faced God of Time, Duality & Gates

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Janus is the deity of beginnings, gates, transitions, time, duality, entrances, passageways, frames, and ends in ancient Roman religion and myth.

He frequently appears with two faces. The month of January bears Janus’ name (Ianuarius). Although Juno is the tutelary deity of the month of June, ancient Roman farmer’s almanacs mistook her for the tutelary deity of the month of January. War and peace, and hence their inception and conclusion, were ruled over by Janus. When war broke out, the gates of a structure in Rome bearing his name—which, contrary to popular belief, was not a temple but rather an open enclosure with gates at either end—were opened; when peace was declared, they were closed. As a god of transitions, he had responsibilities for birth, voyages, and trade, and because of his relationship to Portunus, a deity of the harbor and doorway, he was also involved in trade, travel, and shipping.

Related article: Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Rome

The King of the Sacred Rites (rex sacrorum), rather than a flamen or specialist priest (sacerdos), conducted Janus’ rites. All throughout the year, Janus was a common figure in religious rituals. As a result, regardless of the primary deity celebrated on any given occasion, Janus was ritually invoked at the start of each ceremony.

The Romans maintained that Janus was uniquely theirs, and the ancient Greeks had no equivalent. Many ancient writers, most notably Cicero, Ovid, and Varro, have made strong reference to his role as the deity of beginnings. The progression from the past to the future, from one state to another, from one vision to another, and the development of youth into maturity were all commonly represented by Janus.

Because he could look into the past with one face and the future with the other, he served as a representation of time. Because of this, Janus was revered at the start of the harvest and planting seasons as well as at weddings, funerals, and other beginnings. He stood for the center ground between primitiveness and modernity, the countryside and the city, and youth and adulthood. Due to his authority over beginnings, Janus was inherently linked to omens and good fortune. He may have been the most significant deity in the Roman archaic pantheon, according to Leonhard Schmitz. He was frequently invoked alongside Jupiter.

Featured image: Bust of Janus preserved in the Vatican Museums

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