Fortuna’s Wheel: Fate and Fortune in Roman Beliefs

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Fortuna’s Wheel is a significant symbol in Roman beliefs that represents the concepts of fate and fortune. The Romans had a deep belief in the power of destiny and the influence it had on their lives. This article will explore the Roman concept of fate and fortune, the goddess Fortuna who presided over these concepts, the symbolism of Fortuna’s Wheel, the belief in predestination and free will, worship and rituals associated with Fortuna, her role in Roman society, connections with the emperors, her presence in art and literature, and her lasting influence on modern culture.

Roman Concept of Fate and Fortune

The Romans believed that fate, known as "fatum," was an unchangeable force that determined the course of events in one’s life. It was believed to be a predetermined path that individuals were destined to follow. Fortune, on the other hand, referred to the unpredictable and changeable nature of luck and chance. It was believed that one’s fortune could change depending on the whims of the gods and the alignment of the stars.

Fortuna: Goddess of Luck and Destiny

Fortuna was the Roman goddess who personified luck and destiny. She was often depicted as a beautiful woman holding a cornucopia, symbolizing abundance, and a ship’s rudder, representing the control she had over people’s lives. Fortuna was believed to be both benevolent and capricious, capable of bestowing both blessings and misfortunes upon mortals.

The Symbolism of Fortuna’s Wheel

Fortuna’s Wheel is a powerful symbol that represents the cyclical nature of fortune. The wheel typically has four spokes, each representing different aspects of fate and fortune: prosperity, decline, adversity, and improvement. As the wheel turns, individuals can experience both positive and negative outcomes, representing the ever-changing nature of luck and destiny.

Belief in Predestination and Free Will

The Romans believed in a complex interplay between predestination and free will. While fate was seen as an unchangeable force, individuals still had the freedom to make choices within the constraints of their predetermined destiny. This belief reflected the Roman idea that they were active participants in shaping their own lives, even though their ultimate fate was already determined.

Worship and Rituals Associated with Fortuna

Fortuna was a popular goddess in Roman society, and her worship was widespread. Temples dedicated to Fortuna were built throughout the Roman Empire, and festivals honoring her were celebrated annually. These festivals involved rituals such as offering prayers, sacrifices, and the spinning of wheels as a symbolic representation of the turning of fortune.

Fortuna’s Role in Roman Society

Fortuna played a significant role in Roman society, as she was believed to have the power to influence the outcome of important events. Individuals would often seek her favor through prayers and offerings, hoping for her benevolence in matters of wealth, health, and success. Additionally, Fortuna was closely associated with the concept of "felicitas," which referred to the general prosperity and well-being of the Roman state.

Fortuna and the Emperors: Connections and Patronage

The emperors of Rome recognized the importance of Fortuna and sought her favor to legitimize their rule. They often portrayed themselves as favored by the goddess and would dedicate temples and statues to her. Emperors would also claim that their success and the prosperity of the empire were a result of Fortuna’s blessings, further solidifying her importance in the Roman imperial cult.

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Fortuna in Art and Literature of Ancient Rome

Fortuna’s image was frequently depicted in Roman art, often in the form of statues and coins. These representations typically showed her holding a cornucopia and a rudder, emphasizing her association with abundance and control over destiny. In literature, Fortuna was a common theme in poems, plays, and philosophical texts, exploring the complexities of fate, fortune, and the human condition.

Fortuna’s Wheel in Roman Mythology

In Roman mythology, Fortuna’s Wheel was often associated with the goddess’s ability to bring both blessings and misfortunes. The wheel would constantly turn, symbolizing the unpredictable nature of fate. This concept was further reinforced through myths and stories that depicted individuals rising and falling on the wheel, highlighting the fleeting nature of fortune.

Fortuna’s Wheel in Modern Culture and Influence

The concept of Fortuna’s Wheel continues to influence modern culture, particularly in the realms of literature, art, and popular symbolism. The image of a wheel turning to represent the ups and downs of life has been adopted by various cultures and used as a metaphor for the ever-changing nature of fortune. Additionally, the belief in fate and destiny remains a prevalent theme in contemporary discussions on spirituality and personal beliefs.

The Enduring Legacy of Fortuna: Lessons for Today

Fortuna’s legacy serves as a reminder of the ancient Romans’ profound understanding and acceptance of the uncertainties of life. It teaches us that fortune is a fickle mistress, capable of both blessing and challenging us. The concept of Fortuna’s Wheel reminds us to approach life with humility and resilience, embracing the inevitability of change and finding strength within ourselves to navigate the wheel of fate.


Fortuna’s Wheel is a potent symbol that encapsulates the Roman beliefs in fate and fortune. Through the worship of Fortuna and the recognition of her power, the Romans sought to understand and navigate the unpredictable nature of life. The interplay between predestination and free will, the rituals and festivals associated with her worship, and her influence in Roman society and art all highlight the significance of Fortuna in the ancient world. Today, her legacy continues to resonate, reminding us of the ever-changing nature of fortune and the lessons we can learn from embracing life’s uncertainties.

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