Today marks the first day not only of the new year, but also of a new month. January, thought to be named for the Roman god Ianus (or more commonly in English, Janus), was the god of transitions, beginnings and endings, and thus was worshiped at the start or end of new years, new months, wars, harvests, marriages, and other times when a change occurred. He was depicted with two faces, one facing towards the past, and one the future.
Although there is some confusion about how exactly he was worshiped and how this evolved over time, Ianus was an important deity in the Roman pantheon. Whilst he had his own temple in Rome (the doors of which were closed during times of peace and open during war), there is little evidence for his worship in Pompeii. However, the name itself, Ianuarius (and of course, the feminine version Ianuaria), is found in abundance in both lapidary and non-lapidary inscriptions. As per usual, many of the graffiti contain nothing more than a single name, so it is impossible to glean much information about either the status of the individual or the family he or she belongs to. But a number of the more formal texts, a few examples of which are contained herein, are more telling.
CIL X 1063 = ILS 5724
Thermae / M(arci) Crassi Frugi / aqua marina et baln(ea) / aqua dulci Ianuarius l(ibertus).
Baths of Marcus Crassus Frugus with seawater and baths with freshwater. Ianuarius, freedman.
These private baths have never been positively identified archaeologically, but the information in the re-used inscription found elsewhere in the city does indicate the baths were managed by the owner’s freedman, and due to the use of seawater, has been posited to be close to the coastline.
CIL X 1027 = ILS 6379
N(umerio) Istacidio Heleno / pag(ano) pag(i) Aug(usti) / N(umerio) Istacidio Ianuario / Mesoniae Satullae. In agro / pedes XV in fronte <p>edes XV.
To Numerius Istacidius Helenus, member of the pagus Augustus, to Numerius Istacidius Ianuarius, to Mesonia Satulla. Depth fifteen feet, fifteen feet in front.
This funerary epitaph, located on a relatively modest tomb outside of the Porta di Ercolano (21S), is believed to have belonged to a group of freedmen of the Istacidii family, who had their own, considerably more elaborate, tomb closer to the city gate (4AS). Although none of the individuals named here, including our eponymous Ianuarius, provide filiation, the membership in the pagus Augustus is one that is exclusively found for other former slaves in Pompeii.
Near another tomb (39AN), on the opposite side of the road, a columella was discovered which bore the following inscription:
CIL X 1022
This tomb is typically identified as belonging to a man named Lucius Ceius Labeoni. If we follow Roman naming conventions for women, the name should be a feminised version of Ceius. What we have instead, in addition to the name Ianuaria, seems a conjunction of the names Lucius and Ceius. This in itself is rather odd, and combined with Ianuaria, may suggest she too is a freedwoman.
In the necropolis at the Porta di Nocera, a very young slave boy is found, both in the titular epitaph of the tomb of Lucius Barbidius Communis (15ES) and on a columella within:
D’Ambrosio and De Caro 1983: 15ES
L(ucius) Barbidius L(uci) l(iberti) / Communis mag(ister) / Pag(i) Aug(usti) Fel(icis) Suburb(ani), sibi et / Pithiae P(ubli) l(ibertae) Rufillae uxori, / Vitali et Ianuario l(iberis).
Lucius Barbidius Communis, freedman of Lucius, magistrate of the pagus Augustus Felix Suburbanus, [made this] for himself and Pithia Rufilla, freedwoman of Publius, his wife, [as well as] Vitalius and Ianuarius, children.
D’Ambrosio and De Caro 1983: 15ES, n. 11
Ianuarius / v(ixit) a(nnis) II.
Ianuarius lived two years.
There is some disagreement amongst scholars as to whether or not the ‘l’ in the last line of the initial text should be expand as I have it here as liberis or liberti, meaning freedman. However, as both these are in fact children (Vitalius died at the age of three), and have only a single name, it is perfectly clear that they were still in fact slaves at the time of their deaths. There is one further columella of a slave, found some distance from the city, in the Fondo Santilli area.
NSA 1916: 303
Ianuarius / vix(it) an(nos) XXXV.
Ianuarius lived thirty five years.
Again, we have a single name, indicating the enslaved status of the deceased. There is one final example, from a columella found in the same burial area, which seemingly negates the idea that this is a name used by those of servile origins.
ILS 7663 = AE 1894: 147
Laturnia / Ianuaria Calcaria / vix(it) ann(os) XXXXV.
Laturnia Ianuaria Calcaria lived forty five years.
Whilst it is not unheard of for a woman to have three names, it is a bit unusual in the time from which these burials seem to date and in Pompeii as a whole. One clue may come in the description of the lettering on this columella, which is described as ‘careless’. As there is no evidence for Ianuarius as a gens, it would appear that this text either contains a mistake, or this woman, likely a freedwoman, was given two names when she was a slave.
What I find interesting is that, save the one somewhat suspect example, those who have this name are either slaves or of servile origin, and whilst it certainly is not unusual to find a specific name that is associated with a particular group, I am curious as to what it was exactly about the god Ianus that was attractive as a slave name. It has been claimed that the name Ianuarius was simply given to children born in the first month of the year (in which case, with a birthday in the next few weeks, I am much relieved my parents didn’t adopt that convention), but it would seem odd that only slaves are born that month. What I am wondering, though it is unlikely to be provable, is if some slaves were born with their fate already decided. Was a name derived from the god of transitions and new beginnings assigned to those who their owner one day intended to free?
This may assume far more forethought regarding manumission and slavery than the Romans should be credited with, but it is an idea I find quite attractive at the start of a new year, facing my own transitions, and setting off on a different path. It is sentimental, I admit, but somehow reassuring to think that as you moved through life, you knew, simply from having the name Ianuarius, that someday, you would be given the chance to start anew.