Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2018.12.04 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2018.12.04

Daniele Miano, Fortuna: Deity and Concept in Archaic and Republican Italy.   Oxford; New York:  Oxford University Press, 2018.  Pp. xiv, 242.  ISBN 9780198786566.  $78.00.  

Reviewed by Jacqueline Klooster, University of Groningen (


Miano’s study centers on the observation that Fortuna was both a concept and a goddess in the Roman world: a conceptual deity. This means that anyone interacting with this goddess was also interacting with the concept, “renegotiating it, enriching it with new meanings, and challenging established associations.” The period covered by the book is the archaic and republican age up until 44 BCE, just like the important work of Champeaux (1982-7, see note 3), with which Miano is in constant dialogue. The focus of the book is twofold. On the one hand it discusses the predominantly non-textual archaic documentation for cultic centers of Fortuna in Praeneste, Rome, and throughout Italy. On the other, it delves into the textually based question of how Fortuna is renegotiated during the turbulent Civil Wars. Miano also dedicates a chapter to the interaction between Greek Tyche and Fortuna in the same period, but hardly discusses Hellenistic philosophical developments. The book consists of seven chapters, an introduction and a conclusions section.

The Introduction, Word and Concept, sets out methodological issues. Rejecting structuralist approaches as too reductionist and static, Miano prefers scholars of ancient religion like Clark, whose 2007 monograph focused on the existence of such qualities as Salus, Victoria, Ops, Fides in both the religious and the linguistic sphere.1 This makes it easier to understand how the qualities could hold divergent meanings over time. Periods of crisis, as Miano argues, are especially productive of new meanings for such contested concepts. He embraces Assmann’s theory on the translatability of gods as relevant for the enrichment of the meanings of Fortuna, especially in relation to Greek Tyche.2 Miano sees Fortuna as an excellent test case for the conceptual approach, as a major deity who developed in a fragmented, multicultural, and multi-linguistic environment, even though the nature of the earlier material sometimes makes a conceptual approach problematic, as he concedes.

The City of Fortuna focuses on the most important sanctuary of Fortuna in Italy, the temple of Fortuna Primigenia in Praeneste. Previous scholars argued that the multiplicity of worshippers at this shrine (locals of different backgrounds, Roman aristocrats, Hellenistic kings, and philosophers) demonstrated either the Hellenization of Fortuna (as Tyche), or a conflict between Rome and Praeneste, or some kind of theological paradox (Fortuna being both mother and child of Jupiter). Miano agnostically argues instead that this multiplicity shows rather that the goddess Fortuna simply had many different meanings for different people.

Fortunae in Italy discusses how the Italians worshipped Fortuna in many guises and how they related to the goddess and the concept. This involves discussion of archaic finds throughout the Italian peninsula, with a concentration in Latium. The material is extremely fragmentary and single pieces of evidence have to be used to interpret sites of (apparent) worship. Miano’s conclusions highlight the great variety of different meanings of the goddess, explaining them as an expression of the flexibility and the variety of meanings of the concept Fortuna (p.75)—which sounds a bit circular. Alternatively, the theory that Fortuna is the translation for a number of different deities (conceptual or otherwise) is cautiously floated. Recurring meanings, however, are also signaled: worship near city walls and border territories and an association with Mars (pointing toward a defensive or protective meaning in the military sphere). Finally, associations with Fides, and the epithets Opsequens and Melior point to the possibility that Fortuna could attract the meanings of instability and accident.

Archaic Rome critically discusses evidence for the building of numerous temples of Fortuna in archaic Rome. Focal points are the legend of king Servius Tullius (plebeian in origin) and queen Tanaquil. Miano dismantles the idea that Tanaquil is a human representation of Fortuna. There follows discussion of the many Roman temples of Fortuna and their baffling epithets (μικρά, εὔελπις, ἀποτρόπαιος, μειλιχία, πρωτογένεια, ἄρρην, ίδἰα, ἐπιστρεφομἐνη, παρθἐνος, ἰξευτηρἰα) mentioned in Plutarch’s De Fortuna Romanorum. Three further temples are discussed, that in the Forum Boarium Fortuna (archaeologically attested), and the ones to Fors Fortuna and Fortuna Muliebris (the latter connected with the story of Coriolanus). One intriguing outcome of the chapter is the connection between Fortuna and plebeians and small professionals.

Fortuna and the Republic treats literary and archaeological evidence for the establishment of sanctuaries of Fortuna in Republican Rome (Fors Fortuna, Fortuna Primigenia, Fortuna Equestris, Fortuna Huiusce Diei, and other less documented ones). These were mainly vowed as victory temples, which, as Miano states, was the most common way of introducing new deities into the city. This implies the simultaneity of individual choices of magistrates and collective responsibilities of the Republic in the establishment of the public worship of these deities, and thus also an interpretation of their specific meanings. But these meanings could subsequently be interpreted variously. Of special interest is the worship of Fortuna Publica (populi Romani), which demonstrates the growing political significance of Fortuna, and again suggests a strong connection with plebeian aristocrats. Miano claims that the inter-translatability of Fortuna and Tyche created the association between Fortuna Publica and Roman Imperialism that originated in the Greek world, most famously in Polybius (1.4.1). Of course, Polybius’ vision also has a negative side, which the initial worshippers of Fortuna Publica apparently ignored. Interestingly, the variety of worshippers of the various Fortunae still remains very great, even when their temples were vowed with a special censorial and military unit in mind, such as the Fortuna Equestris temple.

Variety versus specificity also forms the first focus of what is maybe the most interesting chapter, To Each his Own, concerned with epithets connected with gender (Muliebris, Virgo, Virilis, Barbata) and with the generals of the Civil Wars and their relation with Fortuna. In the first section, Miano challenges the view that the epithets singled out specific groups of worshippers, or were exclusively related to sexual identities rather than social roles. The rest of the chapter treats Sulla, Caesar and Pompey and their respective relations to Fortuna. Champeaux3 has famously dismantled Plutarch’s suggestion that Sulla specifically associated himself with Fortuna, arguing that Felicitas, the more stable version of good luck, was what Sulla chose to associate himself with. Miano, reviewing the sources, concludes that Sulla was certainly fascinated by Fortuna, but did not feel comfortable associating himself with her decisively. He suggests this was due to plebeian associations of the goddess, which did not fit Sulla’s patrician outlook. Next Cicero’s connection of Pompey to Fortuna and Felicitas in the Pro Lege Manilia is discussed. Miano suggests that Pompey, a plebeian, unlike Sulla, did publicly associate himself with Fortuna. The much-debated issue of Caesar’s connection to Fortuna is also discussed, both in Cicero’s and in Caesar’s own writings. Miano highlights the unclear status of Fortuna/fortuna in Caesar’s writings: a goddess or a concept? Most likely Fortuna is Caesar’s translation of Thucydidean and Polybian tyche, Miano states: a superhuman power of unclear status. He argues that tension between the Roman understanding of Fortuna as both a goddess and an impersonal power (blind happenstance) is exploited by Caesar: he can both flaunt his virtus in the face of bad luck, and eventually emerge triumphant as the darling of the goddess Fortuna in the eyes of the people. Again, Miano finds suggestions in Caesar’s writings that Pompey did connect himself to Fortuna the goddess. The many (later) anecdotes connecting Caesar with Fortuna are also discussed, only to conclude that Caesar did not himself choose Fortuna as his tutelary deity. Miano suggests that this reluctance should be understood as follows: due to the civil wars Fortuna was at the center of debates involving the frailty of human political achievements (as earlier in Herodotus and Thucydides). He attributes this shift in meaning to the instability traditionally associated with Greek Tyche: no longer the positive Fortuna Publica, then, because it had become unclear whose side she was on anyway. This may even explain the creation of the conceptual deity Felicitas, a more stable form of good luck, Miano suggests.

Fortuna in Translation, Fortuna as Translation discusses the relationship between Tyche and Fortuna in terms of Assmann’s theories about the translatability of deities in multilingual contexts. It treats in a nutshell the associations of the Greek deity Tyche, and the goddesses she is sometimes equated with (Isis) and related to (Demeter and Kore). Of particular interest are some strigils from the archaic age found in Praeneste, bearing the inscription σὠτειρα, suggesting that from an early age on, the equation between Tyche and Fortuna was established. The process also occurs, albeit less often documented, the other way around, as in the case of a Tyche Protogeneia attested in Crete in the second century BCE, translating Primigenia.

A Godless Goddess discusses potential negative meanings of Fortuna: instability and risk. Both Plautus’ Pseudolus and a fragment from a tragedy of Pacuvius question the morality of the goddess Fortuna, and are linked by reference to philosophers as the typical discussers of this topic. Miano suggests that this attribution to philosophers marginalizes the view, since it was unpopular to think of Fortuna, by then associated with Roman imperial success, in negative terms. The Pacuvian fragment does not seem to bear this out. The readings of the Ciceronian passages, De Legibus and De Divinatione which turn on the idea that vices (Mala Fortuna and Febris, but even Fortuna) should not be worshipped, also seem problematic. Not signaling the Platonic background of this idea, Miano attributes the rejection of Fortuna to the private grief of the author: “…bad luck and illness had deprived him of his beloved daughter”, p. 193. Finally, sententiae from a collection of Publilius Syrus (late forties BCE) are discussed. Again, Fortuna features in a negative way. Miano argues that this is not due to Hellenization of Fortuna/Tyche, but to the impact of the civil wars. The evidence seems inconclusive in my view.

A concluding chapter takes stock of the material discussed and once more emphasizes the importance of embracing the multiplicity of meanings inherent in Fortuna.

Throughout, the argument is carefully made. Miano announces his aims and recaps his conclusions, providing a cautious and conscientious overview of the often scarce and complex material. He initially takes an agnostic attitude towards the meaning of Fortuna, and is unwilling to go beyond what can be positively demonstrated by the material. Such keeping away from essentialism is laudable, but it is sometimes a bit frustrating to read repeatedly, especially in the earlier chapters, that “[Fortuna] could have different meanings for different people”. Was this particularly the case for Fortuna? And if so, why? Another problem is the fact that the conclusions of the last chapter seem marred by the wish to avoid any notion of Greek influence on the conceptualization of Fortuna, and practically leave out of consideration all Greek philosophical developments, which surely must have played some role for writers like Pacuvius and Cicero.

But overall the mostly convincing interpretation of accumulated fragments and sparse documents does create an intriguing panorama of a complex deity and concept. The conceptual approach allows for a fresh look at material that has suffered much from unproven essentialist theories, which sought to pin Fortuna down as a Mediterranean Mother or fertility goddess, or the avatar of Queen Tanaquil, or a Phoenician, Etruscan, Indo-European deity. The renunciation of such approaches makes this book an important new study of the subject.


1.   Clark, A.J. Divine Qualities. Cult and Community in republican Rome. (Oxford, 2007).
2.   Assmann, J. ‘Translating Gods: Religion as a Factor of Cultural (Un)Translatability" in S. Budick, W.Iser (eds.) The Translatability of Cultures: Figurations of the Space Between, (Stanford, 1996) 25-36.
3.   Champeaux, J. Fortuna Recherche sur le culte de la Fortune à Rome et dans le monde romain, des origins à la mort de César, (Rome, 1982-7) vol. I, 398. ​

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