The month of January is a time of new beginnings; hope, resolutions…a clean slate and a fresh start. It is a time we leave behind the past and look to the future. January was the month sacred to Janus, Roman god of beginnings, keeper of the gates, and guardian of doorways.
As such, Janus was depicted as double-faced, watching both what was in front and behind. January 9th was the date of his celebration, the Agonium, a festival and sacrifice to appease this ancient god.
Symbolic ceremonial archways were erected through which the Roman army marched, with the blessing of Janus. The doors to the Roman Temple of Janus were left open in times of war (so the god could stand watch), and closed only during peace. The Roman Empire was vast…rarely was there no war in its domain. History records two periods in which the Temple doors were closed. In one of these peaceful periods Nero issued a coin to commemorate the occasion.
In 66 CE (Common Era) a coin displayed the closed gates of the temple on one side, with the inscription: “The peace of the Roman people having been established on land and sea, he [Nero] closed the Temple of Janus .” (Translation by Curtis Clay.) Sadly, this time of peace lasted but a few months before war once again broke out in the Roman Empire.
Roman poet Ovid spoke of Janus as carrying a staff in one hand and a key in the other. From the name Janus we derive a title for our modern day keepers of the doorways…Janitors…who are often seen bearing large key rings, and symbolically carry on the role.
In this month of January, as you reflect on the past year and look forward to the excitement of the new year, may Janus smile on you. On his festival day, January 9th, give a toast (or a nod) to this ancient deity who has protected our gateways for thousands of years.
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