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Basic Information

Janus (or Ianus) is a very important God of Rome. Janus is the god of doors and gates, and much more stemming from that. Every expedition, adventure, enterprise and quest must start by heading out your front door (the door of a house is known in Latin as the "ianua"), and that makes Janus the god of beginnings, arrivals, departures, time, fate, transition and nostalgia. He was to a lesser extent a general god of architecture, with providence over not just doors and gates, but also bridges, covered walkways, and arcades.


Janus is usually depicted as Janus Geminius, a man with two heads. One head is usually young, and looks forward (and into the future). The other is the head is frequently that of an old man and looks back (and into the past). Sometimes, however, both heads are young, or differ only in that one is bearded and the other clean-shaven.

Janus also sometimes is represented in his Janus Quadrifrons incarnation, which has four heads pointed in each cardinal direction, because he is master of the four seasons and the transformations they bring.

Starting with Janus

Here's a few examples of how everything begins with Janus:

  • The month of January is named for Janus, as it marks the beginning of the new year, and the time when you look back at the previous one.
  • Every prayer started by invoking Janus first. Even if you were praying to Jupiter or some other deity, you'd start by thanking or calling on Janus.
  • Within the Roman Forum, there was huge gate devoted to Janus. Armies heading out to war would symbolically pass through it for good luck, and then pass through it again when returning for their Roman Triumph. The gate was always left open when Rome was at war, and be closed only in times of peace throughout all the Empire. As the Roman Empire saw hundreds of years of constant war and built its economy and politics upon that assumption, the gates of Janus were almost never closed. (For example, they were closed in 235 BC, reopened shortly thereafter, and not closed again till 31 BC.)
  • Coins were supposedly invented by Janus, and thus the earliest Roman coinage had his double-faced head stamped upon them.

Other Januses

No one exists in a Vacuum, especially not where Roman Mythology (and Interpretatio Romana) is involved. Janus has considerable overlap with a few other deities of Rome and its neighbors:

  • Portunes is another two-headed Roman God of gates and doors. He is distinct from Janus, but not in a way that's terribly clear to our modern perspective.
  • Janus and Diana were thought of1 as a couple, representing Sun and Moon respectively, two sides of the same coin.
  • Culsans is a two-headed Etruscan God of doors. His distaff counterpart Culsu is a goddess of gates.
  • Hecate is the triple-headed Greek Goddess of crossroads, and thus the closest the Greeks get to a Janus-equivalent… and that's not very close at all.
  • Wikipedia claims a link between Janus and Ganesha of Hindu Mythology, but as of this writing doesn't really explain it terribly well.


1. Non-Fiction Book: Mythology for Dummies by Blackwell and Blackwell
2. Non-Fiction Book: A Dictionary of World Mythology by Arthur Cotterell
3. Non-Fiction Book: DK Illustrated Dictionary of Mythology by Phillip Wilkinson

Game and Story Use

  • Themes of duality might be enhanced by adding a little Janus into the mix. Anything with a binary outcome could be personified by Janus, from as simple as as a coin flip, to something as complex as the outcome of a war.
    • Did someone mention binary? "My first job was programming binary load lifters, not unlike your moisture vaporators…" In a Roman-themed space opera, Janus could logically be a god of computers.
      • For the Empire, all adventures started at the gates, but for astronauts and spacemen, every adventure starts within powering up the computers.
    • Also in the realm of sci-fi, Janus is the name of one of the co-orbital moons of the planet Saturn.
  • Should you need to define / present a distinction between the Greeks and the Romans in your game, Janus is a great place to start. Janus, like Quirinus is important, iconic, pure Roman, and has no equivalent in Greek Mythology.
  • Any quest or undertaking might need to begin with tribute to Janus, or a similar god of your campaign's own creation. If it's not started with the proper prayers and tribute, it's doomed to failure. This could be either incorporated into mechanics, or just made a cultural and flavorful part of the setting. Either way, the PCs are likely to chafe a little bit under the perceived straight-jacket, so be ready to make it worth it.
    • Perhaps a donation or sacrifice to Janus at the start of a quest gives the PCs some sort of mechanical bonus. For example, every thousand gold given to the temple of Janus allows a one-time-use of +1 to any die roll during that adventure. Adjust to fit the economic and die system of your game of choice.
    • NPC priests, prophets, or con artists hear that the PCs are going to set out on a quest. So they show up and bless your expedition, but expect to get paid for it. Sort of the ancient world's equivalent of those guys who wash your windshield during heavy traffic and then shame you into paying them. "What a nice little adventuring party you have here. It would be a shame if Janus did not bless it." See also racketeering and protection money.
  • See Roman Mythology and Classical Mythology for general ideas on how to use the Gods and Myths of the Empire.
  • The closing and opening of the Gates of Janus as the Empire moved from war to peace is a powerful symbol. Does the temple of Janus hold in the Peace, or does it contain the War? The GMs interpretation there could say a lot about the cult of Janus. As the campaign setting develops and plots progress the formal opening or closing of the gates could serve dramatic purposes or function as a warning.
    • Similar traditions and locations could be built in to any aggressive Empire or Nation in your campaign world.
    • Note that opening your gates when the army is away at war, and then locking them up when there are no enemies to worry about seems a little backwards. This could backfire if enemies are near.
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