Nemesis is a Greek goddess often associated with retribution and vengeance. However, she is also associated with various athletic games and contests during the Roman period, and in some versions of their story, she is said to have been the mother of the Dioskouroi. She appears on a number of Hadrianic coins, and during Hadrian’s reign, she seems to have undergone some interesting changes iconographically.
The first winged Nemesis images appear during this period, for example. She is sometimes connected to Fortuna/Tyche, and the association of both goddesses included the wheel, which was originally an attribute of Nemesis, being adopted into the imagery of Fortuna/Tyche thereafter. She is syncretized as well to Victoria/Nike (with whom we will deal in this series eventually) on coins for the first time during Hadrian’s principate. There is a further syncretism of Nemesis with Pax, the goddess of peace (who is sometimes said to have been the daughter of Ceres), or with Pax Augusta, from the earlier imperial period.
The connection of Nemesis with athletic and gladiatorial games in the Roman period is an interesting one, because one of the suggestions for the reasoning behind it is that by making the sacrifices of bodily work, strength, and even life that sometimes occurred (particularly in gladiatorial combat), this averted Nemesis’ wrath away from the emperor and patrons of games so that in battle and elsewhere, she would be more friendly toward them (or, at least, pay less attention to creating casualties on their side). This sort of sacrificial death on behalf of the Emperor and the Empire has been suggested as the motive behind Antinous’ death on a number of occasions by a variety of authors. Though I do not hold such a view myself, it is interesting that the connection in this regard does have some precedent. More on this (and other Nemesis-related information) can be found in Nemesis, the Roman State and the Games by Michael B. Hornum (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1993).
What is undeniable, however, is that Hadrian’s reign did see some imperial patronage, as well as innovation, in the cultus of Nemesis as practiced in Rome, and in the syncretisms witnessed within it.
Khaire Nemesis! Ave Pax et Victoria Augusta! Ave Ave Antinoe!