Who Was the Roman Goddess Fortuna?

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The Roman Goddess Fortuna

Child and Fortuna. Artist: Bouillon, Pierre (1776-1831)
Heritage Images/Getty 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. In this picture, she is shown with her feet balancing on a globe of the world. Some archaeologists think she has the remnants of wings in this picture, according to 'The Renaissance of the Greek Ideal,' by Diana Watts. Wings and also wheels are associated with this goddess*.

Sources for Fortuna are both epigraphic and literary. There are a number of very different cognomina (nicknames) that let us see which specific aspects of fortune Romans associated with her. In a 1900 TAPha Vol. XXXI article, 'The Cognomina of the Goddess 'Fortuna'," Princeton University's Jesse Benedict Carter argues the cognomina emphasize the place, time, and people affected by Fortuna's protecting powers. Those common to both literature and inscriptions are:

  1. Balnearis
  2. Bona
  3. Felix
  4. Huiusce Diei (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 (had 2+ temples in Rome, both on the Quirinal, with birth dates of April 1 and May 25; fully, Fortuna Publica Populi Romani [Quiritium])
  8. Redux
  9. Regina
  10. Respiciens (who had a statue on the Palatine)
  11. Virilis (worshiped on April 1st)

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

Another list comes from Transactions of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society Vol. XXIII (1906):

"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, &c."

+The Art of Building in Ancient and Modern Times, Volume 1, by Johann Georg Heck; 1856

* Bell's New Pantheon; or Historical Dictionary of the Gods, Demi-gods, Heroes, and Fabulous Personages of Antiquity, London: 1790.