#5: Temple of Janus

Ok, still standing in front of the 'Shrine of Venus Cloacina' look to your left, see that small group of small trees alongside the Via Sacra you're standing on (about 20 m away on the same side of the Via Sacra as the Shrine of Venus Cloacina - it's the very western end of the Portico of Gaius and Lucius Caesar ).

Walk over to it. Beneath the tree is a small modern-day custodian/guard shack, this shack was an ancient small brick building adapted/rebuilt into this custodian hideout :-) . This building is presumed in some guides/maps to be the 'Temple of Janus', but it is *not* this Temple.

This brick shack and nearby brick remains were part of an unknown larger structure built over and in front of this end of the Portico's steps in the late-second Century or third Century AD.

Actually no trace of this Janus Temple has ever been found. But step over to the left and look towards the Curia Julia (that big intact brick building), on the right side of the Curia is the street called the Argiletum (remember the street I mentioned when we were on the sidewalk outside the Forum). And to the right of that street is the Western end of the Basilica Aemilia.

The Temple was in that area or just possibly slightly beyond in the Forum of Nerva. Different sources have it moving around in that area over the years due to building projects like the early Basilica Aemilia (179 BC), Curia Julia (moved during the 94 AD reconstruction and possibly now four-headed looking out to the four corners of the World), Forum of Nerva (97 AD) and in 193 AD moved to in *front* of the Curia as a smaller but a totally bronze shrine. Another source said it was always in the exact same location.

Ok now if you're interested in this site that you can't see or even know where it once was even located, have a seat on that laid-down column in the shade alongside the custodian's shack and read on :-) . But before you sit down look into the fenced-off area behind the Custodian Shack. You will see a set of columns (eight) laid side-by-side, some/all were once honorary columns placed on top to the Rostra, which we will get to later.

There were five columns atop the Rostra, a taller one in the center and two shorter ones on each side. They were 'Rose-Pink Aswan' and placed in this area during early excavations, so look for identical sized rose-pink columns *in this general* area.

Before the custodian shack was built and the trees were planted, the brick remains of two walls of the so-called Temple were visible, next to the columns.

Ok, it probably wasn't an actual Temple, it was most likely a Shrine (Sacellum) and usually called 'Janus Geminus'. Geminus referred to Janus' two faces. Janus was the Roman God of Doors and Beginnings. WOW big deal right?...can't even find his Shrine and now ya tell me he's a Door God :-) !!! Think of the doors as passageways to the Gods. Whatever God you pray to, you call upon Janus first and offer a libation to him to open the Door so your prayers can get through. He was also called upon before making a sacrifice.

He's also considered the gatekeeper of Heaven and Hell. He was also called 'Divom Deus' which is a very ancient Latin and means 'The God's God' and his image has been found on some very ancient coins plus ancient lists of Gods put him right up there by the top. So this God have been around for quite a while.

But once again by the time of the Late-Republic/Early Imperial Age (about 2000 years ago) the actual origin of this God was lost. But he still has his major job besides being a doorman :-) and that is keeping War confined within his Shrine during the rare times of peace. Janus because he is a very early Roman-age God would have had a wooden Shrine/Temple but his statue was of bronze. One unlikely legend is that during the Roman-Sabine Wars when the Sabines under Titus Tatius (later co-ruler/king with Romulus) were winning, Janus unleashed a flood of hot water from his Shrine driving back the Sabines. So the Shrine pre-dates the founding of Rome. Another version of this story is the shrine was built later to Janus for his intervention in this battle. I assume just after the founding of Rome (753 BC).

The legend I like is: After the Roman-Sabine War when Romulus and Tatius made peace and combined their two tribes as one, these two Kings built this Shrine to mark this tribal union. I like this version because: A two headed God, one facing Romulus' Romans on the Palatine Hill and the other facing Tatius' Sabines on the Quirinal Hill? Also each end of the shrine has it's own door, so there is not a front or back of this shrine, each entrance is equal. And the final legend is that it was built by the second King of Rome (Numa Pompilius) sometime after 715 BC. It was a Janus War/Peace Shrine, the doors would be left open in time of war and closed in time of peace. This door custom lasted throughout it's existence as a double-doored shrine. And after about 470 years of so, they finally got to shut the doors :-) , in 235 BC after the First Punic War. And then a couple of centuries later when Augustus kicks Antony and Cleopatra's butts back to Egypt after the 'Battle of Actium' in 30 BC Augustus gets to close the doors a couple of more times during his reign also.

Of course long before this time the Shrine is no longer wooden but is built of stone blocks with large bronze grates for windows/walls and two sets of large double bronze doors. Plus it is also possible that the exposed stone was clad in bronze.

It's said that the original ancient bronze statue is still within the shrine. Which, by the way, had it hands and fingers somehow arranged to make the number 355 which was the number of days in the ancient Roman calendar. After Julius Caesar reformed the calendar they were changed to reflect the number 365. He also holds a key in one hand (Key: God of Doors) and a staff in the other (Staff: authority and being a guide). Nero put this Shrine on a coin showing that he closed the doors during his reign but this was more public relations than truth (unresolved Parthian War). www.vroma.org/images/mcmanus_images/nerojanus.jpg There was another set of double doors at the other end, which when both sets were open would make this shrine like a passageway. They also believe this shrine didn't have a roof.

That is a wreath over the door and the coin inscription PACE P R TERRA MARIQ PARTA IANVM CLVSIT means "The Peace of the Roman People having been established on Land and Sea, he closed Janus", "he" being Nero.

The doors were reopened a few years later for the 66 AD Jewish War. Back to Emperor Augustus: Augustus revitalized the popularity in this Shrine, he after-all did get to shut the doors three times during his reign and as a public relations hound he would put today's politicians to shame :-) . And the poet Virgil even helped him invent a new tradition/ritual for this Shrine.

Using the Consul (Senate President) to open and close the Shrine's doors because the Consul always left the Senate by way of the Argiletum and passed right by this Shrine.

"There are twin Gates of War, for by that name men call them and they are hallowed by men's awe and the dread presence of heartless Mars. A hundred bars of bronze and iron's tough, everlasting strength, close them, and Janus, never moving from that threshold, is their guard. When the senators have irrevocably decided for battle, the consul himself, a figure conspicuous in Quirine Toga of State and Gabine Cincture, unbolts these gates, and their hinge-posts groan, it is he who calls the fighting forth, then the rest of their manhood follows, and the bronze horns, in hoarse assent, add their breath".
Later he writes about closing the doors
"The terrible iron-constricted Gates of War shall shut and safe within them shall stay the godless and ghastly Lust of Blood, propped on his pitiless piled armory, and still roaring from gory mouth, but held fast by a hundred chains of bronze knotted behind his back".
So *everything* points to the gates being shut to keep War in during peacetime. But oddly Ovis and Horace seemingly claim that the gates were closed to keep Peace in?

Next: #6: Comitium Area
[Home]                         copyright (c) 2012-2018 by Jeff Bondono                         [Walter's Tours of Ancient Rome]