The Two Faces of January

The Two Faces of January

The Two Faces of January. Why two faces? As a good proportion of you will know, January is named after the Roman god, Janus. Janus is the god of beginnings and time, amongst other things. His two faces look into the future and the past, which is perhaps why he’s stuck right at the crossroads of each new year when many people look to improve on their lot of the previous year.

The weather in January can also have two faces; beginning mild and ending more severe. It’s a lovely, mild New Year’s day today as I write this. I’m sure it won’t last. It’ll likely turn frosty and lethal on the roads on the day we return to work! By all accounts, the Roman’s weren’t too thrilled to be posted to Britannia. The food was poor and the weather worse, which probably added a damp squib to feast time.

Thankfully, Britain was heavily forested at this time, so at least the dining furniture could be relied upon to be comfortable. As in just about every settled society, furniture is an integral part of life, and ancient Rome was no different, both for comfort and status. Together with their contemporaries the Greeks, Romans appreciated good furniture.
 The fact that these civilisations existed so long ago means that much of the furniture simply didn’t last the test of time; many of the materials that didn’t perish may have been  destroyed in the turbulence that often engulfed society in those times. It won’t come as much of a surprise then that we have more examples of marble than wooden furniture. Not our first choice of dining room materiel!

We’re not greatly different from our ancient forebears though; slightly taller, but with the same requisite amount of limbs and a bum on which to sit. As a result, both the ancient Romans and Greeks steered a path for modern western culture, and consequently, much of their furniture was very similar. Roman furniture was essentially similar in character to the Greeks who, to be fair got a head start on them.

There are numerous friezes and mosaic depictions of Roman furniture, but most of our knowledge is actually derived from the excavations in Pompeii and Herculaneum.
Sadly for the occupants of these two settlements (and morbidly thankfully for us as historians), the volcano Vesuvius blew its top in 79 BCE, and the resultant ash fall buried and preserved many life scenes mid-flow.

Hopefully we won’t suffer such a catastrophic end as these poor souls, and future civilizations will be able to benefit from our present furnishing expertise.

Erm. On that joyous note, I’ll wish you all a Happy New Year.

Image Accreditations:
Mary Harrsch


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