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Painted ceiling in Waltham Abbey parish church, depicting Janus facing both past and future.

How Janus Became the Doorkeeper of Heaven and God of the Gods


Janus is a deity found in the religion and myth of ancient Rome. The Romans believed that Janus was the god of doors, beginnings and endings, and transitions. In accordance to the role he played, Janus is depicted as a two-faced god, Ianus Bifrons (‘Janus Twofaced’) one looking to the future and the other looking to the past. Occasionally, Janus was depicted as having four faces, in a form known as Ianus Quadrifrons (‘Janus Fourfaced’). The first month of the year, January, was named as such in honor of this god.

Who Is Janus?

Janus is an ancient god whose worship dates all the way back to the time of Romulus and even before the founding of Rome. Unlike many of the deities worshipped by the Romans, Janus does not have a Greek counterpart or equivalent. According to one myth, Janus was the first king of Latium, and is credited with bringing civil and social order to mankind. In doing so, he brought humanity from barbarity to civilization and this transition from one state of being to another is represented by Janus’ two faces.

Statue of Janus. (Panoramio / CC BY-SA 3.0)

Statue of Janus. (Panoramio / CC BY-SA 3.0)

According to Roman mythology, Janus was the husband of Camasene, a nymph, and the two had a son, Tiberinus. It was from Tiberinus that the river Tiber gained its name. Prior to that, the river was known as Albula. Following Tiberinus’ death in the river or on its banks, however, its name was changed. In another myth about Janus, Saturn, after being exiled by Jupiter from the heavens, arrives in Janiculum (the city founded by Janus) on a ship. The god was received warmly by Janus and in return for his hospitality bestowed on the king the power to see both into the future and into the past.

Why Was Janus Such an Important God to the Romans?

The Romans regarded Janus as an important god, which is evident in one of his titles, divom deus, which means ‘the god’s god’. Before a sacrifice could be made to any of the other deities, Janus would first be invoked and a libation be poured for him. The rationale for this is that since Janus was the doorkeeper to the heavens, it was through him that all the other gods and goddesses may be reached.

The association between Janus and doorways is seen in the fact that many jani were built in Rome. These ceremonial gateways were free-standing structures used for symbolically auspicious entrances or exits. These gateways had a particular connection to Roman armies departing for war and there were both lucky and unlucky ways to march through a janus.

The Arch of Janus a quadrifrons triumphal arch in Rome. (lucazzitto / Adobe)

The Arch of Janus a quadrifrons triumphal arch in Rome. (lucazzitto / Adobe)

What is the Most Famous Shrine Dedicated to Janus?

The most famous janus in Rome was the Janus Geminus (‘Twin Janus’), which was a shrine to Janus located on the north side of the Forum. This was a bronze structure with double doors on each end, with the cult statue in between them. According to tradition, the doors of the shrine would be left open during times of war and conversely closed during times of peace. According to the writer Plutarch, it was the legendary king Numa (the successor of Romulus) who initiated this tradition and during his reign the doors had always been closed, signifying that his rule had been a peaceful one. On the other hand, the poet Virgil states that the closing of the doors were meant to keep war in.

The closing of the doors of the Janus Geminus was a powerful symbol and was exploited by the Roman emperors. Augustus, for instance, boasted that the doors of were shut three times during his reign. The doors of the shrine were also shut during the reigns of Nero (in 66 AD) following the victory over the Parthians and Vespasian (in 75 AD) following the conquest of Jerusalem. Coins were minted to commemorate the occasion.

The Temple of Janus with closed doors, on a sestertius issued under Nero in 66 AD. (Mica / CC BY-SA 2.5)

The Temple of Janus with closed doors, on a sestertius issued under Nero in 66 AD. (Mica / CC BY-SA 2.5)

While the Janus Geminus was the most important shrine to Janus, there were also other temples built in his honor. One of them, for instance, was erected on the Janiculum, while another was built at the Forum Holitorium (‘Vegetable Market’) by the consul Marcus Duillius to commemorate his naval victory over the Carthaginians at the Battle of Mylae in 260 BC.

The most obvious legacy of Janus in modern culture is the month January, which was named in his honor. In addition, the English word ‘janitor’ is derived from the Latin ‘ianitor’, meaning ‘doorkeeper’ or ‘porter’ and is a reference to this Roman god.

Bust of Roman depicting the deity of the Roman Janus. (Steve Best CHIUSO / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Bust of Roman depicting the deity of the Roman Janus. (Steve Best CHIUSO / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Top image: Painted ceiling in Waltham Abbey parish church, depicting Janus facing both past and future. Source: Steve Day / CC BY-SA 2.0.

By Wu Mingren

Updated on January 5, 2021.


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Hi All,

Okay this Janus is intriguing it seems much of the Ancient World were consumed by this idea of Doorways or Gateway's in to the Heaven's other times the Doorways and Gateways became Entrances, Exits, and Portal's.

I just finished watching one of my favorite Godzilla Movies Mechagodzilla VS. Godzilla; storyline centered around Ape-like Aliens from a Third Planet within a Black hole bent on destroying Earth so that Earth becomes their new Home.

The movie sounded like the bases of a Exit or Portal within Space identified as Heaven.

An of course who could forget the beloved series Battle Star Galactica, Star Gate Franchise, SG-1, Star Gate Atlantis, Star Gate Universe, Quantum Leap, Slider's, Earth 2, Farscape, Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda.

Most those show's mentioned dealt with Worm Holes that could be interpreted as Doorways or Gateway's or Portal's.

What I'm suggesting is somehow the Ancient World seemed to be convinced those Doorways existed. I'm even wondering whether the People that came together to build The Tower of Babel; I mean the dream of the people is that the Tower was supposed too reach in to The Heaven's.

Its possible that the people building the Tower were searching for those Doorways which then begs the question what exactly were The People doing Before the Great Deluge?

With this Janus article it makes me curious about quote Janus role involving these Doors.

The other key point recall from The Bible in Gospel of John chapter; 14 Jesus saying I AM the Resurrection and The Life; No Man can come unto the Father Accept through Me.

I find the description of the Four to Two faces of Janus fascinating the only being in mentioned in the Bible with 4 Heads are the Seraphims described in Isaiah chapter 6; and again in Revelation chapter 4. Only one is the head a of Man.

Seraphims as depicted:

1. Head of a Lion
2. Head of a Man
3. Head of a Bull (sometimes an Ox)
4. Head of an Eagle

They have Six Wing's and Eyes cover their entire body hence the reason for the Six Wing's. These Seraphims remain before and beside The Throne of The Ancient of Day's, where they Sing praises to the Creator Day and Night.

Just because Janus isn't mention within these Scriptures doesn't mean He doesn't exists I'm thinking Janus himself might be an Angel. The Angel's in Heaven are all different No Angel is the same save for the Worship of The Holy Trinity.

The detailed description of Janus by The Romans does give a benefit of a doubt that perhaps Janus either walked the Earth or Danced the Heaven's so too speak.

These are my thoughts on Janus god of Doorways and Gateway's Yes it certainly sounds like Star Gate to me. Until, next time, Everyone, Goodbye!

Mary Madeline's picture

Janus has always fascinated me

Mary Madeline

dhwty's picture


Wu Mingren (‘Dhwty’) has a Bachelor of Arts in Ancient History and Archaeology. Although his primary interest is in the ancient civilizations of the Near East, he is also interested in other geographical regions, as well as other time periods.... Read More

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