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FORTUNA was the Latin (and perhaps also the Sabine) goddess of the incalculable element in life. Her name is derived from the Latin word fors ("luck"). Cults dedicated to various manifestations of Fortuna existed throughout Latiumattes ted at Tusculum, Signia, Cora, Ostia, and especially at Praenesteas well as in Rome and Antium. Etruscan civilization also included worshipers of Fortuna; the Etruscans placed a great deal of importance on the idea of fate.

In Rome, Fortuna did not belong to the oldest stratum of cults traditionally connected with King Numa Pompilius. She is one of the Sabine divinities listed by Varro in his De lingua Latina. King Servius Tullius considered Fortuna to be his special patron and friend; consequently, he built two of the oldest temples dedicated to her in Rome. One of these temples, in the Forum Boarium, was associated with the temple of Mater Matuta; the other, on the right side of the Tiber River, was specifically known as Fanum Fortis Fortunae.

Scholars believe the sanctuary of Fortuna in the Forum Boarium dates back to the very beginning of urban life in Rome. Recent excavations have shown that sacred life in the Forum Boarium began around 575 bce, when the first floor of the forum was laid. The ancient house of worship consisted solely of an open area with an altar in the center; the first actual temples identified with the temples of Mater Matuta and Fortuna were not built until the end of the sixth century bce and later reconstructed by Camillus in 395 bce.

Fortuna was also related to the goddesses of childbirth and fecundity, the Matralia, whose feast day was celebrated on June 11. Two other temples were dedicated to her in 293 bce and 17 ce. In general, Fortuna appealed to the lower classes of Roman society, particularly to slaves; they considered her a benefactor, rather than a menace. The cult often prayed for fertility or for success in certain endeavors.

Married women worshiped Fortuna Muliebris, whose sanctuary was located at the fourth milestone on the Via Latina. She also played a part in the legend of Coriolanus, which attributed the founding of the temple to Coriolanus's mother and wife. On April 1, all women worshiped Fortuna Virilis, associated with Venus, by praying and taking ritual baths in men's bathhouses. This goddess is known only from the fasti and literature, especially from accounts of the aforementioned particular rite; this custom must have occurred relatively recently, however, because public baths were built in Rome during the second century bce. Originally, Fortuna Virilis probably was the guardian spirit of men, viri. In addition to protecting the sexuality of men, she was supposed to help women to obtain the men's love.

Most scholars doubt the existence of a special cult of Fortuna Virgo. According to Wissowa, the Fortuna of the Forum Boarium was indeed a women's deity, but Fortuna Virgo may be a later name. This goddess eventually came to be called Virgo or Virginalis, but only three ancient writers recorded the epithet.

Fortuna Equestris received a temple of her own in 173 bce, after a victory of the Roman cavalry; similarly, a temple to "Fortune of this day" (Fortuna Huiusce Diei) celebrated the victory by Q. Lutatius Catulus at Vercellae in 101 bce. Chapels and altars to Fortuna Bona, Fortuna Mala, Fortuna Dubia, Fortuna Publica, and others multiplied, along with dedications to the Fortuna of certain localities. These minor monuments took more notice of the negative aspects of Fortuna. Later imperial temples, constructed in Rome and elsewhere, connect Fortuna, always positively, with the emperors (Fortuna Augusta, Fortuna Redux).

The sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia at Praeneste (modern-day Palestrina) presented Fortuna as filia primigenia, or "first daughter" (of Jupiter?), a most unusual notion in a Latin context. Scholars have speculated about a possible Indo-European, Etruscan, or Greek influence. In his De divinatione, Cicero adds to the confusion by describing the Fortuna of Praeneste as Jupiter's nurse. The building, excavated by Italian archaeologists, dates to approximately the second century bce, but the cult itself, famous for its oracle, is certainly much older. After a period of friction with Roman authorities, the cult of Fortuna Primigenia was introduced from Praeneste to Rome toward the end of the Second Punic War, where it became very popular. The first temple to Fortuna Primigenia erected on the Quirinal was soon followed by two other temples built on the same hill. Another famous center of the cult of Fortuna with an oracle was located in Antium. Here, for unexplained reasons, people worshiped two Fortunas.

The diffusion of the cult of Fortuna throughout Italy and the Latin West was influenced by the corresponding Greek cult of Tyche. This connection is evident in the iconography of Fortuna, who is often represented, as was Tyche, as a standing woman with a rudder in her right hand and a cornucopia in her left hand. Furthermore, both Tyche and Fortuna were sometimes depicted as possessing several attributes of Isis. The influence of Tyche is also clear in literary texts (for instance, in works by Horace and Seneca) that try to clarify the nature of Fortuna. Whereas in cult, her most typical attributesthe cornucopia, the rudder, and the globesymbolized Fortuna as the giver of material blessing and as the arbiter of human destiny, in literature, her symbols accentuated fickleness and unreliability. Thus, the wheel was a common literary attribute of Fortuna, a symbol of her ever-changing nature. Other ways authors alluded to Fortuna's fickleness in literature included: portraying her as standing upon a stone or upon a sphere; as possessing wings, with which she could easily fly away; as roaming in the world without settling anywhere; and as expressing her ever-shifting favor or disfavor by her countenance, her smile, and her thundering voice. Goddess Fortuna was occasionally identified with Nemesis and associated with Felicitas and Bonus Eventus.

Two varieties of Fortuna came to have a great importance during the Roman Empire: Fortuna Augusta or Augusti, the guardian spirit of the Emperor, an equivalent of his Genius; and Fortuna Redux, the power that guarded the return of the Emperor from dangerous foreign journeys. Both deities were recorded on numerous votive inscriptions and coins; the honor paid to Fortuna Augusta and Fortuna Redux expressed loyalty to the state and to the reigning emperor. Though Christianity as a doctrine was incompatible with the pagan idea of Fortuna, the entity did not quite disappear; rather, she evolved into both an inherited literary figure and a pagan deity.

See Also

Chance; Fate; Roman Religion, article on the Early Period.


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Arnaldo Momigliano (1987)

Charles Guittard (2005)