The two-faced Roman god Janus – one face peers toward the past, the other the future. “Some scholars regard Janus as the god of all beginnings and believe that his association with doorways is derivative. He was invoked as the first of any gods in regular liturgies. The beginning of the day, month, and year, both calendrical and agricultural, were sacred to him. The month of January is named for him, and his festival took place on January 9, the Agonium. There were several important temples erected to Janus, and it is assumed that there was also an early cult on the Janiculum, which the ancients took to mean “the city of Janus.” http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/300515/Janus
Just finishing up an excellent history book, “Rome, an Empire’s Story“ by Greg Woolf published by Oxford University Press 2012 and issued in paperback, 2014 – I read the paperback and got if from Barnes and Noble bookstore chain. I was poking around in the history section and looked good so I got it. I’ve read other books on ancient Rome and Greece and good thing because I do not recommend this book to anyone not already somewhat familiar with Rome’s history – or is it Rome’s story because if you ask me, no other Empire quite has Rome’s story. And when it comes to storytelling, that period lasting about one generation where Rome went from being a Republic to an Imperial Empire has generated more dramatic European literature than just about any other time I can think of.
Here’s a Roman Empire timeline Greg Woolf provided in Chapter 1:
753 BC Traditional date of the foundation of Rome
509 BC Traditional date of the expulsion of the kings and the foundation of the Roman Republic
264 BC Pyrrhus (a famous Greek Generalissimo) invades Italy but fails to break Roman hegemony
216 BC Battle of Cannae. A terrible defeat for Rome at the hands of Hannibal (a Carthaginian Generalissimo)
146 BC Carthage (North African city-state) and Corinth (Greek city-state) sacked by Roman armies.
88 BC Sulla (Roman Generalissimo) makes himself Dictator of Rome. (With help from his friends…)
44 BC Julius Caesar assassinated on the Ides of March
31 BC Battle of Actium ends civil wars of the late Republic. Conventional beginning of the early empire
AD 14 Death of Augustus, and accession of Tiberius
AD 117 Death of Trajan – Roman Empire at its greatest extent
AD 212 Caracalla extends citizenship to most inhabitants of the empire
AD 235-84 “The Anachy”, a prolonged period of military crises
AD 284-305 Reign of Diocletian. Conventional beginning of Later Roman Empire
AD 306-37 Reign of Constantine
AD 313 Constantine’s Edict of Toleration (Endorsement of Christianity…)
AD 361-3 Julian (‘The Apostate’) fails to restore the worship of the ancestral gods
AD 378 Battle of Adrianople. Eastern Roman army defeated by Goths
AD 476 Last western emperor deposed by Ostrogoths – City of Rome much depopulated and now ruled by Ostrogoths a kind of Germanic barbarian-type people.
So there you have it. Of course the Roman Empire continued in the east at Byzantium; but it can be argued that it was another empire altogether – they spoke Greek, were an absolute autocracy, and though they lasted a long time (until 1453…) and at times were militarily energetic, they never controlled the Mediterranean like the western Romans.
Greg Woolf is Professor of Ancient History at the University of St. Andrews; so he’s British – and he’s a phenomenally good writer. I didn’t mean to scare you off from reading this book – it’s just that it won’t make that much sense to you unless you read the history and get a feeling for the characters before you read this book. You know, a really good book to read after you familiarize yourself about general Roman history is believe it or not, Plutarch’s Lives Volume One, because he does such a good job of bringing the characters and times to life. Plutarch himself was born around 40 AD so he was there.
After Rome everything they touched and everywhere they ruled was different. Greg Woolf uses the metaphor of an ice-age:
“Tides sweep over beaches and then retreat: fascinating flotsam and jetsam are left behind, but only after a great storm does the beach really look different. But if we consider what the Roman Empire did to tradition and identity, culture and religion, lifestyles and beliefs, we find much more fundamental change. The empire grew like an ice cap, sending glaciers down in all directions. When those glaciers retreated, back to Byzantium rather than Rome, they left entirely new landscapes gouged out, and great moraines of boulders around which their new inhabitants had to accommodate themselves. Those peoples were no longer those that Rome had originally conquered: some were new arrivals, and almost all the rest had forgotten what it was like before the ice.
When we examine the monumental art, the inscriptions, and written texts that are our main sources for the identities assumed by Rome’s provincial subjects, we find that in most parts of the former empire, all memory of earlier times had been lost. Western peoples, both those the Romans had conquered like the Gauls and Spaniards, and those who had conquered Rome like the Vandals and Goths, had no reliable memories of their pasts before Rome…Ancient place names and the ancestral gods had been forgotten, many of their languages had been lost forever, and the only history they knew was that of Rome.”
We Western Europeans owe much of our civilization and cultural heritage to Rome.
“European history has been characterized by successive ‘renaissances’ in which groups of scholars or artists self-consciously claimed a new status for their creativity with references to the Roman past. Carolingian monks, the translators of the caliphate, the clerical scholars of the twelfth century, the artists of the Italian Quattrocento, the first humanists, the fathers of the Enlightenment, and many others have recuperated various Roman texts, buildings, and artifacts in this way. The relics of empire have been passed on through history like batons in a long relay race.”
And speaking of which, the celebration of New Year – an entirely civic holiday tied to no personage, no astronomical event, in fact no other event other than the turning over of a newly numbered year, can be traced back to a Roman holiday. Without the tradition of New Year’s celebration, it would be our only purely mathematical holiday – celebrating a newly numbered year! So thank the Romans for New Year’s celebrations.
I love to tease people about celebrating New Year as a holiday. I ask them what such a big deal about January 1st? I mean, just what are we actually commemorating or celebrating? If I don’t have a music gig (I’m a part-time musical entertainer…) I usually sleep through it since I’m naturally an early riser and don’t usually stay up much past 9:00 PM.
And know what? Sometimes I get a pretty heated response! I mean, a fairly good percentage of the people I kid with, do not take denigrating New Year’s Celebration lightly! It is a serious holiday to them and the celebrations are, to them, serious. Even if the celebration is ritualized drunkenness, and a kiss at midnight. Hey, it reminds me of that Woody Allen line from the movie Sleeper: “Sex without love is a meaningless experience; but as far as meaningless experiences go, it’s one of the better ones.” Or; ritualized drunkenness sealed with a kiss – what’s not to like! So thank the Romans you Times Square Revelers!
The Romans also gave us the name of the month January, named after their god Janus. “Our modern celebration of New Year’s Day stems from an ancient Roman custom, the feast of the Roman god Janus – god of doorways and beginnings. The name for the month of January also comes from Janus, who was depicted as having two faces. One face of Janus looked back into the past, and the other peered forward to the future.” arthsky.org/earth/why-does-the-new-year-begin-on-january-1?utm_source=EarthSky+News&utm_campaign=5ccd3689e7-EarthSky_News&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c643945d79-5ccd3689e7-394199249
A nice explanation from our friends at Earth and Sky.
The Janus 750?
Hey. Hope your New Years celebrations were down-right Roman!
Looking forward Janus-like to a great New Year!