Fortune on the Frontier

It wasn’t just the Olympian gods who came along when the Romans arrived in Britannia! The Romans had lots of gods and goddesses – and they were each in charge of different things. We’ve met Oceanus and Neptune already, useful gods to have on your side as you make dangerous journeys by sea and build new bridges across unfamiliar rivers. Let’s meet another: Fortuna. Fortuna was the Roman goddess of luck, chance, and good fortune — a very helpful goddess when you’ve been sent to guard Hadrian’s Wall in the far North!

There are lots of different ways the Romans along Hadrian’s Wall honoured the goddess Fortuna, but we thought we’d share two of our favourite examples – a small statue from Segedunum, and a small carving fished out of the River Tyne, now on display at the Great North Museum.

This small statue was excavated at the site of the Commanding Officer’s house at Segedunum Fort:

Segedunum sat right on the eastern end of Hadrian’s Wall, overlooking the River Tyne, and was in use for nearly 300 years by the Romans. This little Fortuna measures only 15cm tall, but she is beautifully made with very precise details which have survived because she is made out of copper alloy. She wears a chiton (kee-ton), a type of dress worn by Romans which was fastened at the shoulders, and she is holding a cornucopia. This is one of our main clues that she is the goddess Fortuna! A cornucopia is a ‘horn of plenty’, usually overflowing with fruit and flowers it signifies abundance and good fortune.

Fortuna was excavated at the site of the Commanding Officer‘s house within the fort, and would probably have been one of many statues in his household shrine. The Commanding Officer was an important person at the fort. He was in charge of around 600 auxiliary soldiers, and he also carried out a lot of important tasks at the fort – this included making offerings to the gods. Why do you think he might honour Fortuna specifically?

Another Fortuna was found not too far away, but in a very different spot: right at the bottom of the River Tyne! This Fortuna was discovered under the water during the construction of the Swing Bridge – the same as our altars to Neptune and Oceanus! She’s also made out of the same type of material as the altars: sandstone. Sandstone is a good material for building and making other objects because it is easy to work with and carve designs into.

The River Tyne Fortuna is a little bigger than our statue, she measures 44cm tall. You can see she isn’t quite as intricately designed, her features and figure are quite simplistic. The details are mostly worn away – including her face, but we thought she’d be a happy goddess! You can still see she is also holding a cornucopia in her left hand, but what do you think she is holding in her right hand?

It’s important for archaeologists and historians to look at the details of objects like these to try and find out more about the past. Let’s test your skills of observation, and see what you can discover:

Fortuna is also honoured through other statues and altars along Hadrian’s Wall – all the way to Carlisle! She’s sometimes called Fortuna Conservatrix which means Fortuna the Protectress, and she is a popular goddess among Roman soldiers. If you were sent to Hadrian’s Wall, which god or goddess would you bring with you?

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