Why IS It Called January?

Hey, folks. We’re about halfway through January already. But have you ever thought about why the first month of the year is called “January”? Well, it’s all thanks to Janus. No, not the James Bond villain from Goldeneye. No, not one of Saturn’s moons. Like a lot of modern naming conventions, it goes back to the Romans. According to Cicero and other ancient writers, Janus was their god of beginnings and transitions. It sounds kind of lame at first glance, but there some awesome implications when you think about it. Every gate, door, ending, marriage, harvest, boundary, and shifts between war and peace were his domain. This guy was responsible for the flow of time itself. He even had two faces (no, not like that one guy) just so he could look into both the past and the future at the same time.

And you thought Doc Brown was awesome.

“January” is a reference to Janus by way of the Latin word Ianuarius. It – along with Februarius – were supposedly added to the calendar by Numa Pompilius, the legendary second king of Rome. That dude was responsible for creating a lot of religious and cultural traditions in the empire, some of which still lingers in modern times. Ever hear the term “vestal virgin”? Yeah, that was his idea. So was the construction of Ianus geminus, the Temple of Janus. It had doors on both ends (of course!) which were only shut during peacetime. That last part was really rare, because, you know, it was Ancient Rome. If you were a king and got to close the temple to symbolize peace for the empire, you earned some serious bragging rights. It’s like having “Won the Nobel Prize” on your resume.

Oh, one last thing: Today’s entry was posted on January 14th. According to some Roman calendars, today is marked as dies vitiosus. It basically means that something is bad or faulty about that specific day. One calendar, the Fasti Verulani, gives us the reason: it was Mark Antony’s birthday. You know, the guy who loved Cleopatra so much that he betrayed the empire and tried to go to war against Augustus? Even if you’re not well-versed in history, I’m pretty sure you can figure out how well that went down. Let’s just say the consequences (both short and long-term) were…messy. You know you’ve messed up when your enemies can legally declare your birthday to be inherently evil.

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