Louis F. Aulbach and Linda C. Gorski
The House of Fortuna Annonaria, A Study of Statuary Iconography
The House of the Fortuna Annonaria (Domus della Fortuna Annonaria) is a Roman domus in Region V of Ostia Antica. The house was of the highest quality and probably served as the urban residence of a socially prominent person or persons in Ostia, perhaps a member of the Senatorial class, a prosperous merchant or a wealthy freedman.
Archeological studies of the masonry styles and construction techniques of the House of the Fortuna Annonaria show that the house was initially constructed about 150 AD. Remodeling and renovations occurred in the mid-third century AD, in the mid and late fourth century AD, and finally in the sixth century AD. The house had a long period of use that spanned from the high imperial period into Late Antiquity.
The excavations of the House of the Fortuna Annonaria uncovered a wide array of Roman statuary within the house and in the street outside. Some of the statuary was small and in complete condition, while other statues were broken into fragments. The broken pieces of a statue of the goddess Diana (Artemis) have been reassembled, and the statue, although headless, is on display in the house today.The most significant statue from the excavations of the House of the Fortuna Annonaria is a large sculpture of a seated female figure. This statue was recovered in the east side portico of the central courtyard of the house, situated on a travertine base that was located against the south wall of the house where it has most likely stood since antiquity.
Scholars are often able to determine the identity of the ancient sculptural figures from an inscription associated with the statue. However, if there is no inscription, it is possible to infer the identity of the statuary figure from the iconographic features that are incorporated into the statuary piece. In the case of Roman divinities, there are numerous features, or symbols, that are carved into the statue that represent the attributes of the deity portrayed.
This large statue of a woman, seated on a throne, includes a number of iconic features. At first glance, the most obvious feature of the statue is the cornucopia that the woman holds in her left hand. A less visible feature is the mural crown that the woman wears. This mural crown attribute is often referred to as a turreted headdress since the crown resembles the walls of a city with its turrets. The turrets of this statue’s headdress have been broken or chiseled down so that they are not as prominent as they are on other statues.
The cornucopia and the turreted headdress are iconic features used on statues of the deity Fortuna. The cornucopia, especially for Ostia, represents the abundance of grain that was shipped through the port to Rome. The prosperity and health of Rome depended on the stability of the grain supply to the city, so these attributes contributed to the logic that the divinity depicted in the statue was the personification of the Fortuna Annonaria, the Good Fortune of the Grain Supply. The excavators, thus, named the building after this important statuary.There are other iconic images in the sculpture as well. From a view of the woman’s left side, there are two additional symbolic features, positioned between the cornucopia and her body. The deity is embracing an oar and a thick round disk that might be a tympanum or a small drum, perhaps a tambourine. The oar is an attribute representing maritime commerce, and as such, it would enhance the localization of the deity to Ostia. The tympanum is not usually associated with the goddess Fortuna, but it is associated with other deities, including the Magna Mater. As a result, it has been suggested that other interpretations of the statue might be possible. Some scholars have proposed that because of the turreted head gear and the oar, the statue may represent a personification of a city, perhaps the city of Ostia itself.
The statue in the House of the Fortuna Annonaria has a few segments missing or purposely broken off. Her left arm, from the elbow to the wrist, is missing, and her right arm from below the shoulder is lost. If those segments of the statue held any additional features that could help to identify the deity, they are gone.
Nevertheless, there are aspects of the statue that suggest that modifications may have been made to the original sculpture. Those modifications may have been made in order to remove features that would have provided attributes of the portrayed divinity. These modifications include (1) the re-worked mural turrets (see Figure 2), (2) a portion of the statue base on the woman’s left hand side (see Figure 3, green circle), (3) the corner of the statue base in the woman’s right hand side (see Figure 4, green rectangle), (4) a ragged break point on the woman’s right hand side near the end of her garment (see Figure 4, yellow circle), and (5) an area on the lower end of the statue on the woman’s right hand side that appears to be heavily re-worked to remove an object or image (see Figure 4, blue rectangle).
If the sculpture has been deliberately modified to alter the identity of the divinity represented, then, who might the deity be? If not Fortuna, then which other divinities are portrayed with the features that are prominent on this statue?
Two of the features of the statue are iconic symbols of both Fortuna and of the Magna Mater (also know as Cybele), namely, the turreted headdress, or mural crown, and the cornucopia. Although the cornucopia is usually associated with Fortuna, the cornucopia is also found on statues of the Magna Mater. The identification of a mural-crowned female figure as Fortuna or the Magna Mater cannot be made with certainty without the aid of some other iconographical feature.
The iconic feature that may have been removed from the statue in the House of the Fortuna Annonaria can be inferred from a survey of known statues of the Magna Mater (Cybele). One sculpture that is similar in style and appearance to the statue in the house is the statue of Cybele in the J. Paul Getty Museum in California (USA). The photo of the Getty Cybele includes the symbol of a lion, the iconic image specific to the Magna Mater/Cybele, and the lion is positioned on the woman’s right hand side, in the exact place where the lion would have been on the statue in the House of the Fortuna Annonaria.
Does that prove that the statue in the house is that of the Magna Mater? Not necessarily. But, it does prompt more investigations into the chiseled areas that have re-worked the sculpture. Why was that done?
If the statue is actually of the Magna Mater, although modified into a less controversial deity such as Fortuna Annonaria, what does that mean for our understanding of religious practices in Ostia during this period of transition from the ancient Roman religion to the Christian Roman empire in Late Antiquity? That would have to be a discussion for another article.
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 Boin, Douglas. Ostia in Late Antiquity (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 191.
“Regio V-Insula II-Domus della Fortuna Annonaria (V,II,8).”
 Calza, Guido and Giovanni Becatti. Ostia (Rome: Instituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato, 1975?), 57
 Arya, Darius Andre. The Goddess Fortuna in Imperial Rome: Cult, Art, Text (Ph.D Dissertation, University of Texas at Austin, 2002), 73-74
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Spinelli, Ambra. “The ‘Getty Cybele’: A Roman Portrait of Feminine Virtues.” American Journal of Archeology, Volume 121, No. 3 (July 2017), 369.
 “Statue of a Seated Cybele with the Portrait Head of her Priestess.” Getty Museum, http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/objects/6511/unknown-maker-statue-of-a-seated-cybele-with-the-portrait-head-of-her-priestess-roman-about-ad-50/, accessed October 5, 2018
 Boin, 199-200.
[Cover photo by Christos Pathiakis | All rights reserved]
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