Discover the legends and myths and religious beliefs surrounding Fortuna, the Roman goddess of good luck and chance and the goddess of gambling. She was particularly favored by slaves and plebeians for her power to bestow riches and liberty. Fortuna is depicted in various forms reflecting the fickle nature of chance and changes from prosperity to disaster. Her name is derived from the Latin word 'fortunatus' meaning prosperous, lucky and happy. The Greek counterpart of this ancient Roman goddess was Tyche.

Fortuna, the minor Roman goddess of good luck and chance
The Romans worshipped the Greek goddess Tyche under the name of Fortuna. She was an oracular goddess and consulted in various ways regarding the future. Fortuna represented the different changes in life that could range from prosperity to disaster. Fortuna could therefore be viewed as possessing alter egos reflecting the fickle nature of chance and fortune:

  • Fortuna Bona meaning good luck
  • Fortuna Mala meaning bad luck
  • Fortuna Brevis meaning "fickle fortune"
  • Fortuna Dubia meaning doubtful fortune

Plutarch's essay on the Fortune of the Romans attempts to show that the great achievements of that people were to be attributed to good luck rather than to wisdom, skill or aptitude.

The Roman Goddess Fortuna - Favored by Slaves and 'Plebs'
Fortuna was favored by the slaves and the plebeians for her power to bestow riches and liberty and as the goddess of gambling. The plebeians, or 'Plebs' were the common, lower class Romans distinct from the higher order of the patricians who were wealthy upper class aristocrats. The slaves and the plebeians made offerings to Fortuna in the hope that she would bestow a rags-to-riches transformation. The annual festival of Fors Fortuna was held on June 24 which was the traditional Solstitium, the summer solstice. It was a rowdy and merry festival well attended by many Romans who made a pilgrimage to her temples on foot or by boat, bedecked with garlands of flowers. Offerings were made to the goddess and there were feasts which involved the drinking of much wine. During the Fors Fortuna people indulged in gambling in games of chance. 

The Temple of Fortuna
She had a temple dedicated to her that was situated at the foot of the Capitoline Hill in ancient Rome. This was the area of the Forum Boiarum that housed a market specialising in agricultural goods and livestock. Sacred zones were interspersed within the market area of the Forum Boiarum and in a  sacred precinct were the twin temples of Fortuna and Matuta (the goddess Aurora). The twin temples were established by Servius Tullius in the sixth century BC. The temple of Fortuna represented the goddess of luck and chance. The Temples of Aurora and Fortuna were destroyed by fire but rebuilt by Marcus Furius Camillus in 396 B.C. The location of the Forum Boiarum provided access to the River Tiber and served as a trading center and gateway to the city of Rome and the goddess was therefore also associated with the sea harbors and ships, one of her symbols being a ships rudder.

The Symbols of Fortuna
The Symbols of Fortuna helped the ancient Romans to instantly recognize the gods and goddesses that were depicted in pictures, mosaics and statues. She is depicted in various forms reflecting the fickle nature of chance and changes from prosperity to disaster. Some images depicted Fortuna with her her hand on two rudders, others appearing blindfolded, with a cornucopia (horn of plenty), standing by or near a ball or wheel. These symbols of Fortuna were indicative of the endless, fickle changes in life between prosperity and disaster. The meanings of the symbols of Fortuna were:

  • The two rudders symbolized the ability of her to steer lives in two directions creating the fortunate and the unfortunate
  • The wheel symbolized the wheel of fortune, According to Ovid Fortuna was the "goddess who admits by her unsteady wheel her own fickleness; she always has its apex beneath her swaying foot."
  • The sceptre was her symbol of authority
  • The Cornucopia (horn of plenty) symbolized prosperity and riches
  • Juggling with a ball symbolized the uncertainty of chance:  sometimes up, sometimes down and reflects her attributes as the goddess of gambling

Fortuna, Goddess of Good Luck
Fortuna held a position of much greater importance among the Romans than the Greeks and over time was revered as the goddess of good luck and chance only and not, as with the Greeks, the personification of the fluctuations of chance and fate. In addition to Fortuna, the Romans worshipped Felicitas as the giver of good luck and success.

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