Two gods, three heads-Happy New Year?

Janus or Juno?

January has a slightly contentious etymology. It’s traditionally said that it was named after the god Janus. Which would make sense, given that he’s the god of beginnings and endings.

But…there’s also evidence from farmer’s calendars that it might actually have been named after the goddess Juno, queen of the gods. (Others cite June as belonging to Juno…)


Early coin from the Republic featuring Janus.


Of course, history and language being what they are, it gets even muddier when you factor in that the early Roman calendar began with March. There’s no definite answer to when this changed-possibly because they had one regular and one ritual calendar.

Whether or not he could lay claim to the first month, the first day of each month was sacred to Janus.

He was a two headed god of beginnings and doors. Since his small, wooden, temple was on a major Roman thoroughfare, historians think he was one of the oldest Roman gods. (And probably stolen from someone besides the Greeks!) He was sometimes referred to as the god’s god and was portrayed on some of the oldest coins from the Roman republic. Not much has been passed down to us about his cult before the imperial era, so a lot of it is speculation.

(Since he started getting new attributes during the reign of Augustus, even the Romans might not have been familiar with the history of his cult.)

The Roman temple had two gates with a statue of the god between them. Pliny the Elder (who died trying to evacuate people during the eruption of Vesuvius) considered the statue old and proof of the antiquity of sculpture as an art in Italy.

According to the later Greek author Plutarch citing pre Augustan sources, his temple gates were called the gates of war and they were open whenever Rome was at war. (So most of the time.) Why close the doors? No one seems certain if the doors were closed to keep war from getting loose or to keep peace from escaping…


Coin with Nero on one side and the Temple of Janus on the reverse.


On astronomical terminology Janus is also the name of one of Saturn’s moons. It’s a heavily cratered, potato shaped satellite paired in orbit with one named after Epimetheus of Pandora fame… 275px-pia12714_janus_crop

1 Comment

Filed under Historical Facts and Trivia

One response to “Two gods, three heads-Happy New Year?

  1. Rhhissanna

    The reverse of the Nero coin looks like an 18th century London shop…

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