According to Roman mythology, the god Janus represented doorways and beginnings. He was depicted as having two faces on the same head; one looking forward and one looking backward. Janus was the guardian of the gates of heaven and his name was invoked at the beginning of every major undertaking. In fact, the month of January was named for him. During January, priests of Janus offered sacrifices of wine, food and incense to appease the god and bring good fortune. Worship of Janus was a common feature Roman life, taking place often at important life events that signaled the beginning of a new age or era. For example, Janus might be the object of worship at the occasion of a marriage or birth, or at the beginning of an agricultural season.
Other minor gods of the Roman pantheon also took on important roles in the daily domestic lives of average Romans. Lares and Penates were household gods in ancient Rome, protecting the welfare of the property and its guardians. The Lares were the spirits of family ancestors, local heroes or the household's founders, and they never left the property. They were believed to safeguard the home and the crops of the worshipper. Lare worship took place in a Lararium, which was a small, dedicated shrine that one could find in almost any Roman dwelling.
The similar Penates were the gods of the storeroom, protecting the household's wealth and possessions. Before every meal, offerings were made to the Penates as thanks for protection. Vesta, a popular domestic goddess, was worshipped throughout many homes in ancient Rome before she was adopted into the official state pantheon [source: Encyclopedia Mythica]. Vesta was the goddess of the home's central fireplace. While minor gods like the various domestic Lares and Penates were mostly worshipped within the home, there were also state-sponsored Lares and Penates, who served the function of protecting the state at large.
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