Janus Bifrons

On the old Roman calendar (year of Romulus), the month of January did not exist, and March was the first month of the year. Between December and March, little agricultural work was possible, and the period of time was not counted. In the 6th century BC, Numa Pompilius added Ianuarius and Februarius to the calendar. In 153 BC, January was made the first month of the year.

January was named for Janus, the old Roman deity represented with two faces looking in opposite directions. He was the guardian deity of gates and presided over the beginning of everything. Thus, he was always invoked first in every undertaking, even before Jupiter.

New Year's Day was dedicated to Janus, but there were also festivals of Aesculapius and Vediovis. It was celebrated with gift-giving, feasting, and merry-making, much as was done at the Saturnalia (December 17-23).

The Compitalia, a movable festival held between December 17 and January 5, honored the Lares and marked the end of the agricultural year. In Rome, it was celebrated on a day announced by the city praetor, usually between January 3-5.

The Juturnalia (January 11) honored Juturna, the nymph of a fountain in Latium famous for its healing qualities, whose water was used in most sacrifices.

The Carmentalia (January 11 and 15) honored Carmentis, goddess of prophecy and childbirth and inventor of the Latin alphabet.

Information about other Roman festivals in January can be found here.

  • The Carmentalia (January 11 and 15) honored Carmentis, the prophetic nymph who was alleged to be the mother of Evander.
  • The Concordia (January 15) honored Concordia, the goddess who personified harmony and agreement.
  • The Sementivae (or Paganalia) was a movable festival that was probably held around January 24-26. It may have been two different festivals since it was held on two days with an interval of seven days. It appears to have been a purification festival to protect the seed and sower. Offerings of wheat cakes and pork were made to Tellus on the first day and to Ceres on the second day.
  • A calendar for The Roman Month of Ianuarius shows various festivals and other notable dates, like the Agonalia (January 9) and the birth of Mark Antony (January 14).

    Some of the preceding information comes from Festivals and Ceremonies of the Roman Republic, written by H. H. Scullard and published in 1981 by Cornell University Press (Ithaca, New York).

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