Who Was the Roman Goddess Fortuna?

The Roman Goddess of Luck

A child and the goddess Fortuna as depicted in an oil painting.

Pierre Bouillon/Heritage Images/Getty Images 

Fortuna, who is equated with the Greek goddess Tyche, is an ancient goddess of the Italic peninsula. Her name means "fortune." She is associated with both bona (good) and mala (bad) fortune, chance, and luck. Mala Fortuna had an altar on the Esquiline. King Servius Tullius (known for his building projects in Rome and reforms) is said to have built Bona Fortuna's temple in the Forum Boarium.

In her depictions, Fortuna may hold a cornucopia, scepter, and the rudder and helm of a ship. Wings and wheels are also associated with this goddess.

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Fortuna's Other Names

Sources for Fortuna are both epigraphic and literary. There are some very different cognomina (nicknames) that let us see which specific aspects of fortune Romans associated with her.

Jesse Benedict Carter argues that the nicknames emphasize the place, time, and people affected by Fortuna's protecting powers.

Those names common to both literature and inscriptions are:

  1. Balnearis
  2. Bona
  3. Felix
  4. Huiusce Diei (the cult seems to have started in 168 B.C., as a vow at the battle of Pydna, with a temple probably situated on the Palatine)
  5. Muliebris
  6. Obsequens
  7. Publica (full name Fortuna Publica Populi Romani; had two or more temples in Rome, both on the Quirinal, with birth dates of April 1 and May 25)
  8. Redux
  9. Regina
  10. Respiciens (who had a statue on the Palatine)
  11. Virilis (worshiped on April 1st)
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What Does Fortuna Mean?

 

One commonly mentioned name of Fortuna is first born (probably, of the gods), which is thought to attest to her great antiquity.

Another list of names comes from "Transactions of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society."

Orelli gives examples of dedications to Fortuna, and also of inscriptions to the goddess with various qualifying epithets. Thus we have Fortuna Adiutrix, Fortuna Augusta, Fortuna Augusta Sterna, Fortuna Barbata, Fortuna Bona, Fortuna Cohortis, Fortuna Consiliorum, Fortuna Domestica, Fortuna Dubia, Fortuna Equestris, Fortuna Horreorum, Fortuna Iovis Pueri Primigeniae, Fortuna Magna, Fortuna Obsequens, Fortuna Opifera, Fortuna Praenestina, Fortuna Praetoria, Fortuna Primigenia, Fortuna Primigenia Publica, Fortuna Redux, Fortuna Regina, Fortuna Respiciens, Fortuna Sacrum, Fortuna Tulliana, Fortuna Virilis.

Sources

Carter, Jesse Benedict. "The Cognomina of the Goddess 'Fortuna.'" Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, Vol. 31, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1900.
"Transactions of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society." Vol. XXIII, Internet Archive, 1906.