A speculative connection between Fortuna and Viking "Valkyrie" figures

Distinctive small Viking Age figures showing robed females in profile, often carrying a horn, are widely interpreted to represent valkyries. The horn is typically inferred to be an offering of drink to heroic warriors reaching Valhalla (e.g. Graham-Campbell 2013 Viking Art pg 39). Price (in Vikings: Life and Legend 2014) is more cautious, however, writing, "Representations of female figures can be understood in a number of different ways, and may represent a range of supernatural forces including goddesses, valkyries, norns and disir."


A silver figure of a robed woman holding a horn found in Birka, Sweden.

A small pendant figure found in Ukraine on the banks of the Dnieper and attributed to the Kievan Rus' led me to the idea that perhaps these Viking horn-carrying females could be a Scandinavian adaptation of the figure of Fortuna, Roman goddess of luck.

Kievan Rus' pendant amulet of a robed female in the round, probable cornucopia in right hand, likely to be a representation of Fortuna, but similar to Viking age figures often inferred to be valkyries. 35 mm. Dnieper, Ukraine.

The pendant figure is robed and holds an elongate object in her right hand. At first glance this is reminiscent of rare "valkyrie" figures in the round, which hold a sword upright in their right hand. There is perhaps a closer comparison to be made, however, with figures of Fortuna holding a cornucopia.

Sculpture of Fortuna in the Vatican, photograph by Goodyear (wikimedia commons, public domain)


Fortuna was not a forgotten Roman goddess in Medieval times, but continued to be widely venerated, to the annoyance of the Church. According to the Wikipedia article, "Fortuna did not disappear from the popular imagination with the ascendancy of Christianity by any means. Saint Augustine took a stand against her continuing presence, in the City of God: "How, therefore, is she good, who without discernment comes to both the good and to the bad?...It profits one nothing to worship her if she is truly fortune... let the bad worship her...this supposed deity". My favourite recent incarnation of Fortuna is as Terry Pratchett's Discworld goddess "The Lady".

Identifying the figure as Fortuna suggests a link to the valkyries. Fortuna is thought to have been the daughter of Jupiter. The Norse equivalent of Jupiter was Odin and the Valkyries are known as Odin's maids (Óðins meyjar in the Nafnaþulur.)

According to the Wikipedia article on valkyries (citing Simek 2007), "Other terms for valkyries include óskmey (Old Norse "wish maid"), appearing in the poem Oddrúnargrátr.... Óskmey may be related to the Odinic name Óski (Old Norse, roughly meaning "wish fulfiller"), referring to the fact that Odin receives slain warriors in Valhalla.

The name "Wish maid" would also seem to be compatible with a derivation from the Roman Fortuna and Fortuna's cornucopia could easily be transformed into a drinking horn. The connection is a speculative one, but not one I have come across in the literature.

There is another Viking Age representation of a goddess that could be compared with Fortuna. The Gotlandic picture stone at Stora Hammars, Lärbro has a panel in which a standing robed female figure separates a boatload of warriors from a land-based group of warriors. She holds up an elongate object in her right hand, from which extend what look to me to be flames, but could also be the overflowing contents of Fortuna's cornucopia. This figure has been interpreted to represent the goddess Freyja, who according to the Grímnismál poem was entitled to pick out "half the slain", with "only the other half" being for Odin (Graham-Campbell 2013 Viking Art pg 43).

Detail of Gotlandic picture stone at Stora Hammars, Lärbro, with middle panel showing robed female figure between two groups of warriors. Is she an adaptation of Fortuna with her cornucopia?

To my eyes the Viking Age robed female figures and the stories associated with valkyries and Freyja are consistent with a Scandinavian adaptation of the earlier goddess Fortuna, who "might bring good luck or bad ... and came to represent life's capriciousness. She was also a goddess of fate."

I'll welcome the views of others.


















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