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From the earliest ages Janus was regarded by the Romans with the utmost affection and veneration, as a divinity who ranked only second to Jupiter himself, and through whom all prayers and petitions were transmitted to the other gods.

He was believed to preside over the beginnings of all things, hence it was he who inaugurated the years, months, and seasons, and in course of time came to be considered as specially protecting the beginnings of all human enterprises. The great importance which the Romans attached to an auspicious commencement, as contributing to the ultimate success of an enterprise, accounts for the high estimation in which Janus was held as the god of beginnings.

This divinity would appear to have been the ancient sun-god of the Italian tribes, in which capacity he opens and closes the gates of heaven every morning and evening. Hence he was regarded as the door-keeper of heaven, and also as the presiding deity over all gates, entrances, &c., on earth.

The fact of his being the god of city gates, which were called Jani after him, is ascribed, however, to the following myth:--After the abduction of their women by the Romans, the Sabines, in revenge, invaded the Roman state, and were already about to enter the gates of the city, when suddenly a hot sulphur spring, which was believed to have been sent by Janus for their special preservation, gushed forth from the earth, and arrested the progress of the enemy.


In his character as guardian of gates and doors, he was also regarded as a protecting deity of the home, for which reason little shrines were erected to him over the doors of houses, which contained an image of the god, having two faces.

Janus possessed no temples in the ordinary acceptation of the word, but all the gates of cities were dedicated to him. Close to the Forum of Rome stood the so-called temple of Janus, which, however, was merely an arched passage, closed by massive gates. This temple was open only in time of war, as it was supposed that the god had then taken his departure with the Roman army, over whose welfare he personally presided. It is worthy of notice, as an evidence of the many wars in which the Romans were engaged, that the gates of this sanctuary were only closed three times during 700 years.

As the god who ushers in the new year, the first month was called after him, and on the 1st of January his most important festival was celebrated, on which occasion all entrances of public and private buildings were decorated with laurel branches and garlands of flowers.

His sacrifices, consisting of cakes, wine, and barley, were offered to him at the beginning of every month; and before sacrificing to the other gods his name was always invoked, and a libation poured out to him.

Janus is usually represented with two faces; in his special function as door-keeper of heaven he stands erect, bearing a key in one hand, and a rod or sceptre in the other.

It is supposed that Janus was the most ancient king of Italy, who, during his life, governed his subjects with such wisdom and moderation that, in gratitude for the benefits conferred upon them, his people deified him after death and placed him in the foremost rank among their divinities. We have already seen in the history of Cronus that Saturn, who was identified with the Greek Cronus (god of time), was the friend and colleague of Janus. Anxious to prove his gratitude to his benefactor, Cronus endowed him with the knowledge of past and future {180} events, which enabled him to adopt the wisest measures for the welfare of his subjects, and it is on this account that Janus is represented with two faces looking in opposite directions, the one to the past, the other to the future.

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