Janus, Roman God of Beginnings

If there was one god in Roman mythology that was involved in more ceremonies and religious events than Janus, the god of beginnings, it would be hard to find him. Janus was involved in every religious ceremony since he was called upon to start them at the beginning of each.

Exclusively Roman?

Many gods in ancient mythology had a counterpart in other cultures, but the Romans were very possessive of this one, claiming that Janus was theirs and theirs alone.

Despite this, scholars have found that there are other gods in ancient mythology that share traits in common with him. Hermes, the Greek god of transitions and boundaries who is normally associated with the Roman Mercury, is sometimes seen with two faces, such as Janus has. The Indian goddess, Aditi, is called the two faced goddess and like Janus she is invoked at the beginning of ceremonies, although she is invoked at the end of them as well.

January, the Year’s Beginning

We get the name for the first month of our year from Janus, connecting the god of beginnings with the beginning of the year. Believing that beginnings were an omen, whether good or bad, the Romans consecrated January 1st to Janus. On this day the exchanged cheerful greetings such as we now do with “Happy New Year” and gifts such as dates, figs, and honey.

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