Fortuna, Goddess of Chance and Fate

The Roman Goddess Fortuna is one of the more mysterious deities of the ancient Roman world, due to the lack of information about the goddess in comparison to others. Similar to other deities that originate from Roman religion, she has a Greek counterpart known as Tyche, and both goddesses represent associations to the same ideals. The goddess herself was known to be quite fickle and unpredictable by her followers, as she held power over a force that was considered to have great impact on mortal lives; Fate.

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Statue of Fortuna/Tyche (Source; Pinterest.com)

This power elevated Fortuna to be seen as on even levels of power with Jupiter himself, something that would be recognized by ancient Roman society as time went on. Nevertheless, Fortuna was treated as her own separate identity from Tyche, and had immense influence on ancient Roman society since her introduction into the lives of Roman citizens.

Fortuna’s Cultic Following

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Coin of Servius Tullius (Wikimedia Commons)

Fortuna originally appeared in Roman society after her associations arose sometime during king Servius Tullius’ rule from 575-535 BCE. Tullius himself believed that he was favoured by Fortuna, and went on to build temples and statues in her honour. As time went on, Fortuna became more accepted into Roman society and her cult following spread throughout the empire.

Statue-Augustus
Statue of Augustus (Wikimedia Commons)

In the beginning, Fortuna was worshiped by many citizens and royalty alike, acting as a more personal goddess to those who worshipped her. As her worship became larger and more impactful, her affiliation with the common peoples slowly dimmed as Fortuna turned to the side of aristocracy, and most importantly, the ruling Emperors that would follow Tullius’ rule. These Emperors, most importantly Augustus, exploited the worship of the goddess to further legitimize their power and rightful place as Emperor. It is during the Augustan period of ancient Rome where Fortuna is at her peak of worship. Even though the goddess became less personalized for the citizens of Rome, she was still the center of all aspects of life for the Romans when her worship was popularized.

Temples and Dedications

Over the course of Fortuna’s cultic worship, many temples and statues were built in her honour for many reasons. One of which was Roman armies being successful in their military campaigns, which was looked upon as having favour with the goddess. Another reason for these constructions was Emperors constructing the latter to either prove their legitimacy or to simply appease or show their divine relationship with Fortuna herself. Regardless, the temples focused on multiple different aspects that Fortuna came to be known for in ancient Roman society.

– Temple of Fortuna Redux

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Temple of Fortuna Redux (Source; Flikr)

The Temple of Fortuna Redux was constructed to house the Altar of Fortuna Redux, which was constructed sometime during the Augustan period in Rome, from 27 BCE to 14 CE. What is suggested about this temple is that its construction was to symbolize growth and continuation of this particular and similar cults within Rome at the time, as well as to peak interest. The temple itself transitioned through multiple constructive phases as described in literary sources, yet some of these phases are lost to history. The exact location of the temple itself has also been in question, both by archaeological and literary sources and contexts. Regardless, the temple was a symbol of success and the strength of Rome for many years before falling out of use around the third century CE.

– Temple of Fortuna Virilis/Portunus

The Temple of Fortuna Virilis or the Temple of Portunus is one that is located in the Forum Boarium within Rome. It is one of the most well preserved temples that survive from the ancient world. What Fortuna Virilis translates into is “manly fortune”, yet the temple itself is dedicated to specifically women. The temple also shares its name with a holiday celebrating Fortuna and the women of Rome from various lifestyles.

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Temple of Fortuna Virilis/Portunus in the Forum Boarium, Rome (Source; Wikimedia Commons)

The primary problem regarding this temple is that it is not exact who the temple is dedicated to specifically, and as such remains a mystery to this day. Sources regarding the temple vary in consistency when figuring out whom the temple is dedicated to. Regardless, it is still possible that this temple was related to Fortuna in some way.

(Smarthistory; Temple of Portunus: Youtube.com)

Other temples dedicated to Fortuna largely existed within the Forum Boarium, but do not have a great deal of archaeological evidence remaining.

Dedications

Other minor dedications to Fortuna were also present within ancient Rome. Along with the festival celebration of Fortuna Virilis on April 1st, the festival of Augustalia was one celebrated on October 12th during the Augustan Period. This festival primarily celebrated the goddess herself and her invocations eventually became a part of the celebrations of successful Imperial voyages.

Aside from temples and festivals, there were a few streets in Rome named after Fortuna. Bona Fortuna and Mala Fortuna were two streets that were often referenced in literature and inscriptions from antiquity.

Fortuna After Antiquity

What is unique about Fortuna is her persistent presence and references in literary works beyond ancient Imperial Rome. There are a number of works that reference Fortuna which come from both Renaissance and Medieval periods. These sources tend to focus more on what the goddess symbolized and represented, such as the wheel of fate.

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Wheel of Fortune, 1190 (Source; Pinterest.com)

Fortuna’s survival as a deity despite the rising of Christianity following the 2nd-3rd centuries CE is something that is unique to Fortuna, especially since her origins as a polytheistic goddess are shared with the other deities worshipped at the time. Regardless of this survival into Christianity, Fortuna eventually became less and less prevalent in society and peoples lives as time continued on beyond the renaissance and medieval periods.

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Medieval Interpretation of Fortuna (Source; Pinterest.com)

Conclusion

Fortuna is a very mysterious Roman goddess. While she had such an immense impact on peoples lives in ancient Rome, there is very little information, both literary and archaeological, about the goddess. The amount of information about Fortuna in comparison to other deities at the time is astoundingly scarce.  However, even with what little information there is about Fortuna, we are able to understand her importance in ancient Roman society and the following centuries after. Perhaps it will be up to fate herself if we are to learn more about this mysterious goddess of ancient Rome.

References

  1. Canter, H. V. (1922). Fortuna in latin poetry. Studies in Philology, 19, 64. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.libproxy.mta.ca/docview/1291656338?accountid=12599
  2.  Zayaruznaya, A. (2009). ‘SHE HAS A WHEEL THAT TURNS …’: CROSSED AND CONTRADICTORY VOICES IN MACHAUT’S MOTETS. Early Music History, 28, 185-240. Received from http://search.proquest.com/docview/204579703/4C065A4ECA874255PQ/18?accountid=12599
  3. Arya, D. A. (1970, January 01). The goddess Fortuna in imperial Rome: cult, art, text. Retrieved March 01, 2017, from http://hdl.handle.net/2152/438
  4. Zavaroni, A. (2006). Communitary and individualistic gods in german and roman religion. Gerión, 24(1), 287-304. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.libproxy.mta.ca/docview/216719800?accountid=12599
  5. Naudé, ,C.P.T. (1964). “Fortuna” in ammianus marcellinus. Acta Classica, 7, 70. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.libproxy.mta.ca/docview/1298194890?accountid=12599
  6. Cornell, T. J. The City of Rome in the Middle Republic (c. 400-100 BCE). N.p.: n.p., n.d. PDF. Google Scholar, Pages 5-6
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