Who Is Janus?
Janus is a god from the religion of the Romans. Janus serves as their god for gateways, transitions, time, duality, doorways, endings, passages, and other things like that.
Janus is a deity that seems to originate from the Romans, a fact that the Romans took pride in. There was no Greek equivalent known to exist to him in the religion of the Greeks.
The month of January gets its name from Janus. The reason why is because when Julius Caesar was inventing the Julian Calendar he decided to honor Janus by having him be the beginning month of the year, as remember that Janus is the god of beginnings and also a god related to time and transitions.
In times of war involving Rome, the doors of Janus’s temple would remain open. This was a custom that remained in place from when the temple was built around 700 BC up until the temple was closed for good by Theodosius in 390 AD.
However, despite this custom being in place for around 1,090 years, the doors rarely ever had to be shut. This was due to the constant state of warfare that Rome seemed to find itself in.
The Mythology Related To Janus
Much of the earliest known mythology related to Janus is about his lovers and his offspring. Janus typically was in relationships with nymphs.
Some of these myths do not depict Janus’s relationship with the nymphs as being consensual, and historians believe this has a broader interpretation for the areas that those nymphs represented and how the Roman people viewed and treated those areas. There is even a belief that the god Tiber might be the son of Janus, however he is usually listed as a son of Oceanus and Tethys.
One early myth that gives Janus a key role is the story of the Sabine women. The Romans, lacking much women of their own, kidnapped women from the neighboring kingdom of the Sabine people.
If not for the intervention of Janus, the Sabine men would have retaliated and potentially spelled the end for Rome before it had even gotten the chance to truly begin. However, Janus also aided later with a peace between the Roman and Sabine people that aided in Sabine integration to the Roman lands thereby assisting Roman expansion across Italy in its earliest days.
Janus is believed by the Romans to have ruled Latium as its first king, and to have welcomed Saturn there with a great hospitality so that Saturn’s presence and his Golden Age in Latium could begin. Janus’s origin may thus be primordial then as there are no deities attributed with creating him in the same way for instance that it is known Jupiter is the son of Saturn.
Janus’s Associations With Other Deities
Janus’s associations with other deities include the very often made association between Janus and Juno. Janus and Juno share very similar names, but it is because their shared root word is related to beginnings. For Janus it is beginning itself, while for Juno it is more related to conception and delivery.
Certain deities such as Quirinus and Portunus are dominated by qualities that are identical to certain powers and attributes of Janus, but are often less encompassing than him which leads historians to believe that they may be aspects of him or deities who became one singular idea through him. This may be slightly disproven by the fact that Portunus does have an association with harbors that Janus does not seem to have.
Janus also has what appears to be a relationship to Vesta in the broader sense of all Indo-European mythology. Ianus primus, Vesta extrema–Janus first, Vesta last.
Vesta appears to be the end while Janus is known to be the beginning. Vesta also presides over the link between the gods and the mortals through her sacred fires, and this link, or gateway, would be in a direct connection to Janus.
Janus’s Possible Origins
Though Janus was accepted by Greeks and Romans of Antiquity to be a purely Roman discovered and worshiped deity, there are some historians since the time of Rome that have attempted to figure out if Janus has a possible external origin or appearance among other groups of people. One of the big connections is Janus to Hermes, because of an Etruscan deity whom they both share a connection to in iconography and certain purposes.
Janus has also been compared to Isimud, a Sumerian deity, however the main difference between them is that Isimud’s primary role is being a messenger. Imagery shared between the two is very similar though.
Janus has also been theorized to have connections to the ancient religion of the Syrians or possibly the ancient religion of the Hittites. The theory for this being that Janus may have come from the east to pre-Roman Latium.
Another theory having Janus originate from the east believes he may have been a deity that originated with the Chaldeans, the rulers of the Neo Babylonian Empire. This comes from an etymological similarity with the Chaldean deity Belinus.
From 535 AD until 554 AD, the Byzantine Empire was engaged in a war with the Goths, called the Gothic Wars, in an attempt to retake the lands of the Italian peninsula and try to restore the completed Roman Empire as per the wishes of Emperor Justinian. The man leading this military expedition was a very talented general by the name of Belisarius who was notorious for winning many victories despite often leading much smaller armies than his enemies.
The full contents of the Gothic Wars are quite entertaining, but for the case of Janus in particular there is one key moment. In the year 536, the Byzantines had retaken Rome and Belisarius was using it as his base of operations.
The Goths counterattacked the retaking of Rome by besieging it with their forces. On the night of the siege, the doors to Janus’s temple mysteriously opened–just as they had always opened from 700 BC all the way until 390 AD from any time that Rome was in a state of war.
This was the last known act to ever be officially attributed to a deity of the ancient Roman religion.