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Janus: Doors and Passageways: Beginnings, Ends, and Transformations

Moroccan door.jpg

     Hand painted Moroccan door

The ancient Romans considered doors to be sacred and often involved them in rites of various kinds. For the Romans, a door was not simply a way to enter a building or a temple, but a holy place itself worthy of the highest respect. The holiness of doors even earned them their own deities, as well as deities for their constituent parts. Janus was the main god of the door; other parts, such as hinges were guarded by Cardea, while the jamb and threshold were left to the guardianship of Forculus. Materials for building doors were carefully selected: the highest quality wood and marble was often chosen to match the material of the temple itself. More costly materials such as gold and ivory were sometimes added to make the doors more lush and brilliant. Doors were also constructed according to specific styles outlined by Vitruvius in hisTen Books of Architecture.

Source: Jesse Nevins, Sacred Entryways: Doors, Hinges and Gates, Ashes2Art, Delphi. Accessed through:


Different depictions of Janus from Montfaucon, B. (1719). L'antiquité expliquée et representée en figures. A Paris: Chez Florentin Delaulne, Hilaire Foucault, Michael Clousier, Jean-Geoffroy Nyon, Etienne Ganeau, Nicolas Gosselin, et Piere-François Giffart.

“Janus, the Roman God of gates and doors, is also the God of beginnings and endings, and is often represented with a double-faced head, each looking in opposite directions [...] [with] a symmetrical mirroring between the two faces. In later Roman centuries, Janus was sometimes represented as holding in his right hand a key. Janus was worshipped at the beginning of the harvest time, planting, marriage, birth, and other types of beginnings, especially those marking important events in a person's life: it has been portrayed as representing the transition between primitive life and civilization, between the countryside and the city, peace and war, youth and coming of age, day and night, past and future.”

Source: Micha F. Lindemans, Janus. Accessed through:


The temple of Janus with closed doors, on a sestertius issued under Nero in 66 AD from the mint at Lugdunum

Many Roman coins bear the image of the double-faced Janus, and sometimes, a simple graphic door-like structure is printed on the coin, instead of the two faces.
"One legend states that Janus was a mortal who came from Thessaly and was welcomed into Latium by Camese. [...] Upon the death of Camese, Janus became the sole ruler and granted Saturn sanctuary when that ancient God was fleeing from Jupiter. As the first King of Latium, Janus ensured a time of peace, honesty and abundance for his era known as the Golden Age. He introduced money, cultivation of the fields and laws. He is also said to have later married a nymph named Juturna, whose spring and shrine were located closed to his temple in the Forum of Rome. One of their children was Fons (also known as Fontus), God of Springs. It was only after his death that Janus was deified and became the Protector of the City".

Source: Janus, Roman God of Beginnings. Accessed through:


Janus bust.jpg

Janus bust

 Describing Janus in Fasti I, Ovid writes:

"But what god am I to say thou art, Janus of double-shape? For Greece hath no divinity like thee. The reason, too, unfold why alone of all the heavenly one thou doest see both back and front. While thus I mused, the tablets in my hand, me thought the house grew brighter than it was before. Then of a sudden sacred Janus, in his two-headed shape, offered his double visage to my wondering eyes. A terror seized me, I felt my hair stiffen with fear, and with a sudden chill my bosom froze. He, holding in his right hand his staff and in his left the key, to me these accents uttered from his front mouth: “Dismiss thy fear, thy answer take, laborious singer of the days, and mark my words. The ancients called me Chaos, for a being from of old am I; observe the long, long ages of which my song shall tell. Yon lucid air and the three others bodies, fire, water, earth, were huddled all in one. When once, through the discord of its elements, the mass parted, dissolved, and went in diverse ways to seek new homes, flame sought the height, air filled the nearer space, while earth and sea sank in the middle deep. ‘Twas then that I, till that time a mere ball, a shapeless lump, assumed the face and members of a god. And even now, small index of my erst chaotic state, my front and back look just the same. Now hear the other reason for the shape you ask about, that you may know it and my office too. Whate’er you see anywhere – sky, sea, clouds, earth – all things are closed and opened by my hand. The guardianship of this vast universe is in my hands alone, and none but me may rule the wheeling pole. When I choose to send forth peace from tranquil halls, she freely walks the ways unhindered. But with blood and slaughter the whole world would welter, did not the bars unbending hold the barricadoed wars. I sit at heaven’s gate with the gentle Hours; my office regulates the goings and the comings of Jupiter himself. Hence Janus is my name".