Octavia as the Tyche of Corinth (from the collection of the Museum of Corinth)

Octavia as the Tyche of Corinth (from the collection of the Museum of Corinth)

In Hellenic culture, Tyche was the sacred goddess of a city’s destiny.  Confusingly, each different city worshipped a different tutelary version of the goddess, however Tychewas always the same goddess–a daughter of Aphrodite by Hermes (or possibly a daughter of an Oceanic titan by Zeus).  Tyche represented the fortunes of a city in a time when cities were frequently destroyed by famine, war, or disaster—so she was regarded as a fickle goddess.  Her emblem was a crown in the shape of a city’s walls and parapets.  In time she evolved into the Roman goddess of Fortuna—a goddess of luck and chance (whom many poets reviled as a fickle harlot).  Even after the decline of the Roman principate in the west, Fortuna was a common theme of medieval literature and song.

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Tyche’s crown—otherwise known as the mural crown–went on to acquire a different (though related) significance.  As the Romans swept through the Mediterranean world conquering city after city and state after state, the Roman army was often put in the position of besieging walled or fortified cities.  This was a profoundly dangerous task, as the defending army had the upper hand until the walls were stormed or breached.  The first Roman soldier to climb the wall of an enemy city and place the Roman standard atop it was rewarded with the mural crown (“corona muralis”).  The corona muralis was the ultimate reward for bravery (and fortune) and was regarded as second in martial honor only to the grass crown presented to a general who had saved an entire army.   Unlike the grass crown, which was made of, well, grass, (or the laurel crown presented to a victorious general) the mural crown was made of solid gold and thus had an immediate practical value as well as being a symbol of tremendous bravery.

Modern medals just aren't the same

Modern medals just aren’t the same