313 out of 410 days: Janiform Heads

Image result for culsans

I’m worrying about the janiform heads on the quadrigati and prow bronzes today and how they might relate to each other and Roman cult practices.  This is bringing me back to a number of different posts on related subjects and has led me to some other goodies as well.

First, the three earlier posts to catch you up on my thinking:

145 out of 410 days: Argos Panoptes?

237 out of 410: Similar Images, Different Interpretations?

Dei Penates Publici and the Dioscuri

Here’s Meadows succinct footnote in his Mars Eagle essay on scholarly views:


[More recently there is W. Hollstein’s ‘Ovids « Fasti » und das « aes grave » mit der Prora’ in Noctes Sinenses ; Festschrift fur Fritz-Heiner Mutschier zum 65. (2011), 59-67.  I’m not convinced by the idea of the types as references to 241 BC, but he raises many interesting observations.]

[Image lost]

“Head terracotta two-faced deity, from Vulci. III-II century. B.C. Vulci Archaeological Museum. The head comes from a rich votive deposit, found at the North Gate of the city, whose materials are stored partly in Rome, in the National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia. The image of the god Janus takes the type of the Roman Empire, characterized by thick beard (perhaps influenced by coin types), rather than the Etruscan youth.”  (cf. first image above)

I was leaning towards a ‘Penates as Dioscuri, Dioscuri as Penates’ reading and then I came across the bizzare late passage below.   Over 700 years after the coins.  This is the only know association of Janus with Penates, and yet looking at the coins and the young Etruscan bifrons deity, Culsans, I’m almost tempted to believe Procopius that on some level the identity of Janus was tangled up in Roman minds with that of the Penates…and the Dioscuri… and probably the Lares too.  I’m no scholar of religion.   I’ve no idea how this worked in the experiences of individual Romans, but the iconographic borrowings and overlaps seem clear enough…

Procopius’ Histories (5.25.20):

ὁ δὲ Ἴανος οὗτος πρῶτος μὲν ἦν τῶν ἀρχαίων θεῶν, οὓς δὴ Ῥωμαῖοι γλώσσῃ τῇ σφετέρᾳ Πένατες ἐκάλουν.

At that time some of the Romans attempted secretly to force open the doors of the temple of Janus. This Janus was the first of the ancient gods whom the Romans call in their own tongue “Penates.” And he has his temple in that part of the forum in front of the senate-house which lies a little above the “Tria Fata”; for thus the Romans are accustomed to call the Moirai. And the temple is entirely of bronze and was erected in the form of a square, but it is only large enough to cover the statue of Janus. Now this statue, is of bronze, and not less than five cubits high; in all other respects it resembles a man, but its head has two faces, one of which is turned toward the east and the other toward the west. And there are brazen doors fronting each face, which the Romans in olden times were accustomed to close in time of peace and prosperity, but when they had war they opened them. But when the Romans came to honour, as truly as any others, the teachings of the Christians, they gave up the custom of opening these doors, even when they were at war. During this siege, however, some, I suppose, who had in mind the old belief, attempted secretly to open them, but they did not succeed entirely, and moved the doors only so far that they did not close tightly against one another as formerly.

And just for the record we can’t assume that that statue in the temple of Janus as it is described for us was in anyway an ‘original’ representation of the God:

And then besides, King Numa dedicated the statue of the two-faced Janus; a deity who is worshipped as presiding over both peace and war. The fingers, too, are so formed as to indicate three hundred and sixty-five days,or in other words, the year; thus denoting that he is the god of time and duration. (Pliny NH 34.33)

If the fingers represented the days of year and counted 365 then Pliny and by extension Procopius were looking at a statue created after Caesar’s reform of the calendar presumably from the Augustan restoration of the temple (so Graf in Brill’s New Pauly, s.v. Ianus).

Update 2/15/2016:

From this article.



145 out of 410 days: Argos Panoptes?

Obverse of RRC 348/6. 2012.34.10

This as of L. Rubrius Dossenus (c. 87 BC) has, instead of the standard Janus, a janiform head combining Hercules and Mercury.  Alföldi connects this image, not to the palestra hermerakles imagery representing sound mind and sound body, but instead to a rather unusual vase image.  (See yesterday’s post for bibliographical citation).

Update 7/1/2020: Crawford judged Alföldi’s interpretation implausible in his 1984 Edinburgh catalogue. See McCabe for summary.



The thing to notice is that the body of the figure is covered in eyes.  This is the standard means of depicting Argos Panoptes, the giant covered in uncountable eyes set to guard Io and killed by Hermes.  He is the mythological representation of the ever vigilant watcher.

A more recent monograph on the Polygnotos painter questions whether the standard identification of the figures (i.e. Hermes slaying Argos to free Io) on this most unusual vase are correct given how much it diverges from the standard representation:


Maybe this is not Hermes or Io, I grant their iconography isn’t typical, but Panoptes is surely intended on the vase given how his body is covered with eyes.  Perhaps we’re not seeing the right Argos Panoptes narrative here; the scholia on Euripides knew of other adventures in which he was a more positive protector, even if the vast majority of literary accounts are on Io.  There is even an early suggestion that Argos only had 4 eyes like a Janiform god:

Hesiod or Cercops of Miletus, Aegimius Frag 5 :
“And [Hera] set a watcher upon her [Io], great and strong Argos, who with four eyes looks every way. And the goddess stirred in him unwearying strength: sleep never fell upon his eyes; but he kept sure watch always.”

Is Alföldi’s suggestion plausible?  Maybe.  The vase certainly isn’t the standard representation but it is of Italic origin and we may be missing other key evidence.  That said, the vast majority of viewer would have been more familiar with the palestra imagery. Cf.  Cicero’s reference to wanting such a statue (ad Att. 1.10.3):


We imagine this would be something like this:

Double-Headed herm Bust

Or like this one in the Boston MFA Collection:

That it is the two individual deities combined in one image which is intended on the coin seems to me to be more likely, given that the inclusion of the attributes of both in the design.  This is not that visible on the specimen, but is noted by Crawford and can be seen on this coin of Andrew McCabe:


See how a club and caduceus jut out on either side below the chin and above the shoulder.

Why did Alföldi find the Argus explanation so attractive?  It allowed him to connect the coin to contemporary politics especially the vigilance of the Marians in anticipation of Sulla’s return.  (He dates the series to 86 BC.)

All that said it is also possible the Cicero/Palestra theory is a red herring.  Cicero might not have meant double herms but instead statues like this:

A little later aside (11/11/13): In that way that so often happens, I came across an odd coin with slightly similar imagery today.  Perhaps, I noticed it because I’d been looking at these janiform/bifrons heads yesterday.  I’m putting it up just so I have a note of it, should it ever prove relevant:

Another potential piece of comparative evidence (found 23/12/13):

Listed on Flickr as:

Janus-herm with addorsed head of Pan [or Zeus Ammon?] and Hercules, Marble, Roman, 1st c. CE; George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, 51.2002.10; Springfield, Massachusetts,  Gift from the Estate of Dr. Melvin N. Blake and Dr. Frank Purnell

Update 30/1/2014: Discussing Janiform head could also lead to an investigation of this sort of object:

Terracotta aryballos (oil-bottle) in the form of two heads, one male, one female. An imitation of an East Greek type.

3/22/14 update: Compare the coinage of Volaterrae with the image of Argos on the vase painting above. Note in particular the hat and the club:

Etruria, Volaterrae, Dupondius circa 225-215, æ 259.55 g. Janiform head, wearing pointed cap. Rev. FELAQRI Club; on either side, mark of value II. H. pl. 83, 1. Syd. 305. TV 85. Ex CNG 29, The Thurlow collection, 1992, 69 and NAC 10, 1997, 287 sales.

Also of interest is the iconography of the Etruscan god, ‘Culsans’:



Note that the official museum catalogue website describes the headdress on this statue as a wild animal skin.