Roman Republic

Rome in the Early Republic (509 - 241 BC)

Temple of Fortuna Primigenia on the Quirinal

Vowing and Dedication of the Temple

Livy recorded the vowing and dedication of this temple in two related passages:

  1. In 204 BC, during the later stages of the Second Punic War:

  2. “At the start of [an engagement with Hannibal in Bruttium], the consul [Publius Sempronius Tuditanus] vowed a temple to Fortuna Primigenia, should he rout the enemy: his prayer was granted [when] the Carthaginians were routed and put to flight ...”, (‘History of  Rome, 29: 36: 8-9).

  3. In 194 BC:

  4. “Quintus Marcius Ralla, a duovir created for this purpose, dedicated a temple to Fortuna Primigenia on the Quirinal hill; the consul Publius Sempronius Sophus [see below] had vowed this temple ten years before, during the [Second] Punic War, and had let the contract as censor”, (‘History of  Rome, 34: 53: 5-6).

John Briscoe (referenced below, 1981, at p. 132) observed that:

  1. “... there was no Sempronius Sophus in office during the Second Punic War, and the reference [in the second passage] is clearly to Publius Sempronius Tuditanus [as in the first passage].  However, [he began his four-year term as censor] in 209 BC, ... [when] he cannot have let the contract for a temple that he had not yet vowed.  It is impossible to say how the confusion arose.”

In order to attempt to explain the confusion, we should note that the two passages above were based on different types of records:

  1. The first passage, which related the Tuditanus’ vow, came from a narrative source, and there is no particular reason to doubt that Tuditanus had vowed this temple in the circumstances that Livy described.

  2. The second passage came from a list of four temples that were all dedicated in 194 BC, and in each case, Livy identified:

  3. the vower and the year of the vow;

  4. the man who let the contract and the year in which he did so; and

  5. the dedicator in 204 BC.

  6. This information almost certainly came from a single pontifical source, and the only part of it that must be incorrect records that P. Sempronius Sophus had vowed this temple as consul 204 BC and let the temple contract (in an unspecified year) as censor:

  7. the vower then was clearly P. Sempronius Tuditanus,as consul in 204 BC; and

  8. the date of dedication was almost certainly 194 BC.

It seems to me that:

  1. Tuditanus probably let the contract, either later on in his consular year or as proconsul in 203 BC; but

  2. we cannot rule out the possibility that the contract had been let by one or both of the censors of 204 BC.

This temple of Fortuna Primigenia was almost certainly one of three temples dedicated to Fortuna on the Quirinal that were recorded by Vitruvius (none of which survive):

  1. “An example of [a temple ‘in antis’] will be the nearest of the tres Fortunae [i.e. the three temples dedicated to Fortuna] to the Colline Gate”, (‘On Architecture’, 3: 2: 2).

The evidence for this is largely derived from the surviving calendar-based fasti, which indicate possible dates for its dedication:

  1. 5th April

  2. fasti Antiates Maiores: Fort(unae) Publ(icae)

  3. fasti Praenestini: Fortunae Publicae Citerio[ri] / in colle

  4. 24th May

  5. fasti Antiates Maiores: For[t(unae)] p(opuli) r(omani) Q(uiritium)

  6. fasti Caeretani: Fortunae P(ublicae) p(opuli) R(omani) Q(uiritium) in / colle  Quirun(ali)

  7. fasti Esquilini: Fortunae Public(ae) p(opuli) R(omani) in coll(e)

  8. fasti magistrorum vici: Fortunae P(ublicae) p(opuli) R(omani)/ Quirit(ium) in coll(e)

  9. fasti Venusini: Fortun(ae) Prim(igeniae) in col(le)

  10. 10th November

  11. fasti Antiates Maiores: Fort(unae) Pr(imigeniae)

  12. fasti Fratrum Arvalium: Fortun(ae) Prim(igeniae) in C(apitolio?)”

The completion of the entry in the fasti Fratrum Arvalium reflects the fact that the fasti Venusini explicitly places the feast of Fortuna Primiginia in Colle (i.e. on the Quirinal) on 24th May.  However, William Warde Fowler (referenced below), for example, who suggested that this was a later addition to the original inscription, completed it as as Fortuna Primigenis in Colle, which would have referred to her temple on the Quirinal.  Daniele Miano (referenced below, at p. 105) discussed the divergent views among scholars, but concluded that:

  1. “Adam Ziolkowski [referenced below, at pp. 40-5] ... has demonstrated that Fortuna Primigenia was entirely different from her neighbour on the Quirinal, Fortuna Publica Populi Romani: as Primigenia and Publica are never identified [together] in any [surviving] ancient source, it is more likely that there is a mistake in the fasti Venusini.”

This hypothesis is supported by the fact that Ovid recorded the dies natalis of the two temples to Fortuna Publica:

  1. 5th April:

  2. “When the next Dawn shall have shone in the sky, and the stars have vanished, and the Moon shall have unyoked her snow-white steeds, he who shall say:

  3. ‘On this day of old, the temple of Public Fortune was dedicated on the hill of Quirinus’;

  4. will tell the truth”, (‘Fasti’ 4: 374-5, based on the translation of James Frazer, referenced below, at p. 217).

  5. 24th May

  6. “Nor will I pass thee over, thou Public Fortune of the powerful people, to whom a temple was dedicated next day.  (‘Fasti’ 5: 729, from the translation of James Frazer, at p. 317).

In other words, it seems that:

  1. the fasti Venusini confused the two separate temples; and

  2. the fasti Aniates Maiores correctly recorded the dies natalis of all three temples:

  3. 5th April: Fortuna Publica Citerior (presumably the nearest of the three to the city centre);

  4. 24th May: Fortuna Publica of the Roman People; and

  5. 10th November: Fortuna Primigenia

There is no surviving evidence for the exact location of the temple on the Quirinal.

Cult of Fortuna Primigenia

Inscription (CIL XIV 2863) from an unknown location in Praeneste

now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris

From Annalisa Franchi de Bellis (referenced below, at Figure 1, p. 132)  

The cult of Fortuna Primigenia was, first and foremost, the cult of the goddess at Praeneste (some 35 km east of Rome).  The earliest evidence for her epithet ‘Primigenia’ is in an inscription (CIL XIV 2863) from an unknown location there(now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris), which dates to the first half of the 3rd century BC: it is engraved on a bronze plaque and reads:

Orcevia Numeri 〈:uxor〉/ nationu(s) cratia

Fortuna Diovo(s) fileia (filiae)/ Primo((g))enia/ donom dedi

Daniele Miano (referenced below, at p.21) translated this as:

  1. “Orcevia, wife of Numerius for the blessing of childbirth offered (this) as a gift to Fortuna Primigenia, daughter of Jupiter’.

Four later inscriptions from the sanctuary at Praeneste also record offerings to Fortunae Iovis puero Primigeniae (Fortuna Primingenia, daughter of  Jupiter):

  1. one (CIL I 3051) from the second half of the 1st century BC; and

  2. three (AE 2007 314, CIL XIV 2862 and CIL XIV 2868) from the period 50-200 AD.

This suggests that, for the people of Praeneste, the epithet Primigenia indicated that Fortuna was the firstborn daughter of Jupiter.

However, according to Cicero (44 BC), the sanctuary contained a statue of:

  1. “... of the infant Jupiter (Iovis pueri), who is represented as sitting with Juno in the lap of Fortune and reaching for her breast, ... [which] is held in the highest reverence by mothers”, (‘On Divination’, 2: 85, translated by William Falconer, at p. 467).

Furthermore, as Daniele Miano (referenced below, at p. 40) pointed out:

  1. “Elsewhere [at ’On the Laws’, 2:28], Cicero [44 or 43 BC] also mentions an etymology of Fortuna Primigenia ‘from giving birth’ (a gignendo) ...”

Thus, it seems that Cicero followed a tradition in which the epithet Primigenia had the more obvious meaning of primordial. 

Annalisa Franchi de Bellis (referenced below, at pp. 130-1) concluded that:

  1. “Primigenia is the first born goddess, the original, the primordial: [she is] not only the one who is born first, but also the one who gives birth”, (my translation).

She cited Jacqueline Champeaux (referenced below, at p. 28), who observed that this ‘double’ definition of Primigenia:

  1. “...  is not found in any of her other Italic cults: it belongs exclusively to the [cult at Praeneste] ...”, (my translation).

As Annalisa Franchi de Bellis pointed out, it is therefore unsurprising that the Romans regarded Fortuna Primigenia as a foreign deity until this temple of the Quirinal was dedicated to her in 194 BC.

Cult of Fortuna Primigenia at Rome

The evidence that this cult was regarded as ‘foreign’ before 194 BC is found in a record by Valerius Maximus:

  1. “[The consul] Lutatius Cerco, who ended the First Punic War [in 241 BC], was forbidden by the Senate to consult the sortes Fortunae Praenestinae [at Praeneste] because they judged that public business should be conducted under national auspices, not foreign ones”, (“Memorable Doings and Sayings’, 1: 3: 2, based on the translation by David Shackleton Bailey (referenced below, 2000) of a surviving fragment from Iulius Paris)

Thus, it seems that Cerco had intended, for some reason, to consult the venerable oracle of Fortuna Primigenia at Praeneste , but had been forbidden to do so because the Senate considered that hers was a ‘foreign’ cult.  Eric Orlin (referenced below, 2010, at p. 181) observed that:

  1. “In this short span of [fewer than 50 years], Fortuna Primigenia moved from being a goddess whom the Senate did not trust to a home of the Quirinal hill, inside the pomerium of Rome itself.”

Read more: 

Miano D., “Fortuna: Deity and Concept in Archaic and Republican Italy “, (2018) Oxford

Franchi de Bellis A., “L'Iscrizione Prenestina di Orcevia”, in:

  1. Giacommelli R. and Bianchi A. (editors), “Le Lingue dell'Italia Antica Oltre il Latino: Lasciamo Parlare i Testi”, (2014) Milan, at pp. 111-37

Orlin E, “Foreign Cults in Rome: Creating a Roman Empire”, (2010) Oxford

Shackleton Bailey D. (translator), “Valerius Maximus: ‘Memorable Doings and Sayings’; Volume I, Books 1-5”, (2000) , Cambridge (MA)

Ziolkowski A., “The Temples of Mid-Republican Rome and their Historical and Topographical Context”, (1992) Rome 

Champeaux J. , “Fortuna: Le Culte de la Fortune à Rome et Dans le Monde Romain: I: Fortuna Dans la Religion Archaïque”, (1982)Rome

Française de Rome,. pp. 3-526.

Briscoe J., “A Commentary On Livy: Books 34-37”, (1981) Oxford

Frazer J. (translator, revised by G. P. Goold), “Ovid: ‘Fasti’”, (1931), Cambridge MA

Falconer W. (translator), “Cicero: On Old Age, On Friendship, On Divination”, (1923) Cambridge MA

Warde Fowler W., “Roman Festivals of the Period of the Republic”, (1899) London

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