Ah, the illustrious world of royal symbols. Adorning the tapestry of human history — both in real and fictional worlds — ancient symbols of royalty have been woven with threads of regality, power, and a touch of whimsy.
I imagine a kingdom where crowns double as conversation starters, and scepters come with user manuals. In this realm, the Eye of Ra isn’t just watching; it’s rolling its eyes at courtly drama, and the Royal Orb might occasionally moonlight as a crystal ball predicting the next royal scandal. The Lotus Flower isn’t just a symbol of purity; it’s the favorite accessory of the royal florist, and the Tudor Rose occasionally engages in a delicate dance to decide which color should reign supreme for the day.
I picture dragons and griffins at the royal council, arguing about who has the more impressive wing-span, while the Sphinx in Egyptian mythology acts as the kingdom’s wise, albeit cryptic, advisor. And let’s not forget the Morning Sun, rising with the dawn, probably contemplating existential questions like, “Does this kingdom have Wi-Fi yet?” While royal cyphers mark possessions, I like to think they also serve as personalized emojis for the monarchs, ensuring that every royal decree comes with just the right amount of flair.
Now, let’s journey through the corridors of ancient kingdoms, where castles aren’t just fortifications but architectural proclamations of dominance, and royal warrants aren’t just endorsements; they’re the golden tickets to the fanciest balls. As we explore the symbols of nobility, buckle up for a royal rollercoaster where crowns aren’t just for kings and queens but occasionally for jesters who excel in comedic timing. Join me as we unravel the mysteries, the laughter, and the undeniable charm of the symbols that have adorned the realms of royals throughout the ages. In this kingdom, the pen might be mightier than the sword, but a royal scepter? Well, that’s just downright majestic and possibly great for stirring a royal cup of tea.
The Meanings of Popular Symbols of Royalty and Nobility
In history, symbols have played a crucial role in representing power, authority, and the divine. Across different cultures and epochs, certain symbols have endured, transcending time and geography. In this exploration, we’ll talk through the mysteries behind 27 ancient symbols of royalty, delving into their meanings and cultural significance.
1. The Crown
Perhaps the most well-known symbol of royalty, recognized globally, is the royal crown. It has been an enduring emblem of sovereignty, authority, and royal status across various cultures and historical periods. The design of crowns can vary widely, reflecting cultural traditions, religious symbolism, and the specific customs of different monarchies. But one thing across all these cultures is universal: crowns stand for status.
2. The Tudor Rose
The Tudor Rose, born from the emblematic fusion of red and white roses, not only symbolizes unity but also marks a pivotal chapter in English history—the end of the Wars of the Roses. This iconic floral emblem, meticulously cultivated through the union of the Lancaster and York houses, served as a powerful visual testament to the Tudor dynasty’s triumph and the establishment of a new era marked by political stability and unity.
3. The White Rose
The white rose is often a symbol of purity and innocence. Its pristine petals convey a sense of untainted beauty, making it a poignant emblem in various cultural and historical contexts. In England, the white rose is famously associated with the House of York, one of the rival houses in the War of the Roses during the 15th century. It serves as a symbol of identity and allegiance.
4. The Red Rose
The red rose served as a symbol of the noble Lancastrians, representing the House of Lancaster. This house, symbolized by the red rose, was in conflict with the House of York, symbolized by the white rose. The Wars of the Roses took its name from the emblems of these two houses.
5. The Holy Cross
It’s common to associate the cross with nobility, but it’s not technically considered a symbol of nobility in the traditional sense. The cross is primarily a religious symbol, particularly in Christianity, representing the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, The Savior of the World. Perhaps it was His status as “King of the Jews” that has caused it to intertwine with other symbols of nobility. It is more accurately a representation of faith, sacrifice, and redemption rather than a symbol of royalty. However, in some historical contexts, crosses were commonly incorporated into heraldic designs associated with noble families, but it would have a religious connotation. In contrast, the Iron Cross with squared up, even, crossed lines is a military decoration originating with the Kingdom of Prussia. It was later used in the German Empire and Nazi Germany.
6. Westminster Abbey
Nestled in the heart of London, Westminster Abbey stands as a venerable institution intimately intertwined with the grand narrative of the British monarchy. Its architectural splendor and historical resonance make it more than just a religious edifice; it is a living testament to the enduring power that has shaped the course of British history. Westminster Abbey has been the sacred setting for numerous coronations, a tradition dating back to the Norman Conquest in 1066. The Coronation Chair, housed within the abbey, cradles the Stone of Scone (also know as the Stone of Destiny, an oblong block of red sandstone), and it is upon this chair that British monarchs are anointed and crowned.
7. Griffins & Unicorns
From griffins to unicorns, many a mythological creature has found its place in royal emblems. The unicorn is often depicted as a pure and untamed creature, representing purity, grace, and nobility. Its pristine appearance and mythical nature align with the virtues that rulers might aspire to embody. The Griffin, a creature with the body of a lion and the head of an eagle, that combines the strengths of both these formidable animals, is a natural choice to symbolize a guardian and protector. These, of course, are roles that a royal power would want to embody.
8. The Morning Sun
The morning sun, rising with the dawn, is a universal symbol of renewal and hope. Its appearance marks the beginning of a new day, bringing light to dispel darkness and offering a sense of optimism. The imagery of sun symbols as well as the white rose have been frequently evoked during coronation ceremonies, symbolizing the ascendancy of a leader to the throne. The white rose may be woven into regalia, and the morning sun becomes a celestial witness to the dawn of a new reign.
9. Royal Seals & Royal Coat of Arms
Royal seals and coats of arms emerged during medieval times, reaching the height of their prominence as visual representations of familial identity and authority. These intricate symbols not only conveyed the noble lineage of a family but also served as powerful emblems encapsulating the prestige, power, and historical legacy associated with that lineage. Each element carefully incorporated into these coats of arms carried specific meanings, forging a visual language that communicated the wealth, honor, and influence of the royal or noble house it represented.
One of my personal favorites, royal scepters are ceremonial staffs carried by rulers as a symbol of power, their authority, and embodying the ruler’s right to govern and command. A glorified magic wand of sorts, scepters come in various designs, often featuring precious metals, gemstones, and intricate engravings. Each design is unique to the cultural and historical context of the monarchy it represents.
11. Royal Warrants
Royal warrants were official declarations issued by monarchs or senior members of the royal family, granting the holder the right to supply goods or services to the royal court. From a symbolic perspective, royal warrants convey a sense of authority and exclusivity. Those granted this privilege are deemed as meeting the highest standards, this endorsement signifies a level of trust, quality, and excellence, aligning the supplier with the prestige of the monarchy.
12. Castle Tower
Beyond its practical use, a castle tower held profound symbolic significance. Its towering presence was a visual proclamation of dominance, projecting the strength and authority of the ruling power. The higher the tower, the greater the impression of control over the surrounding lands. Even to this day, the castle shape is used on street signs, helping provide directional cues across the language barrier.
13. Royal Orb
The royal orb (also known as The Globus Cruciger) is a hollow, gold sphere adorned with a cross that signifies the divine authority bestowed upon monarchs. It stands as a powerful emblem of the ruler’s connection to both earthly and divine realms.
14. Royal Cyphers
The use of royal cyphers is a tradition that extends beyond Queen Elizabeth II (hers was “EIIR”.) Royal cyphers are like logos for royalty and it appears on all their official stationery. Royal Cyphers have been employed by many English and British monarchs to mark their possessions, official documents, and other items associated with the monarchy. See King Charles III’s royal cypher here.
15. The Harp
The harp has a long and rich history in Irish culture, dating back centuries. It holds a special place in traditional Irish music and folklore, serving as a symbol of artistic expression and cultural identity. It has been associated with Irish royalty and nobility. In medieval Ireland, harpists held esteemed positions in the courts of kings and chieftains. The instrument became a symbol of aristocratic patronage and the refinement of the upper classes. The Irish Free State was established in 1922, and the Harp was adopted as the official emblem on the state’s coat of arms
16. The Lion
The lion has been an almost omnipresent symbol in heraldry, representing courage, strength, and noble lineage. Its portrayal in coats of arms reflects the majestic and authoritative nature associated with royalty.
17. Celtic Knots
Celtic knots, intricate and endlessly looping, were used in Celtic societies to represent eternity and interconnectedness. In the context of royalty, these knots symbolize the eternal nature of rulership and lineage. The unbroken patterns of Celtic knots also reflect the enduring connection between the monarchy and the broader cultural, spiritual, and natural realms, emphasizing the timeless continuity of royal traditions.
The fleur-de-lis, a stylized lily, has adorned royal emblems for centuries. Originating in medieval France, it symbolizes purity, loyalty, and a connection to the divine. Its three petals are often said to represent the Holy Trinity in Christianity, further underscoring the religious origins and associations of this iconic symbol. The fleur-de-lis has become not only a marker of royal lineage but also a globally recognized emblem that transcends its medieval roots.
19. Laurel Wreaths
Symbols associated with Roman emperors such as laurel wreaths held deep significance in ancient Rome, serving as markers of authority, victory, and divine favor. These symbols reflected the intertwining of political power and the divine realm. The circular crown was made from the leaves of the bay laurel plant and was worn not only to represent military success but also underscored the divine favor bestowed upon the victorious ruler.
20. Eye of Horus
Also known as the “Wadjet” or the “All-Seeing Eye,” it is often associated with protection, healing, divine wisdom and eternal life. The eye, resembling the markings around a falcon’s eye, is a powerful symbol of the sky god Horus and is believed to have protective qualities.
21. Eye Of Ra
The Eye of Ra, another ancient Egyptian symbol rooted in mythology, carries profound meaning and symbolism. It represents the vigilant, divine protection of the eye of the sun god Ra. Often depicted as a stylized, cobra-like figure, the Eye of Ra symbolizes the sun’s life-giving and destructive aspects.
22. The Sphinx
The Sphinx in Egyptian mythology, with its regal lion’s body and human head, symbolizes wisdom, strength, and royal guardianship. Its enigmatic presence is etched in the chambers of ancient Egyptian symbolism. The Sphinx is renowned for its mysterious nature, epitomized by the famous Sphinx riddle from Greek mythology. This aspect of the Sphinx aligns with the ancient Egyptian fascination with symbolism and mystery. In a spiritual context, the riddles posed by the Sphinx are often interpreted as abstract challenges, inviting individuals to contemplate deeper truths and mysteries within themselves and the cosmos.
23. Human Head
The symbolism of the human head varies across cultures. In some, it represented authority and leadership, while in others, it embodied the complexities of the human psyche. In human anatomy, the brain, housed in the head, is the undeniable leader of the body. Pervasively a cultural leader has been designated by wearing something on their head. It’s also interesting to note that political leaders are often called the “head” of state. Masks and sculptures of human heads played pivotal roles in rituals, reflecting the spiritual and cultural values of the societies that crafted them.
24. Ankh & Scarab
Two prominent symbols of the ancient Egyptian Gods were the Ankh and the Scarab Beetle. The Ankh symbol, also known as the key of life, resembles a cross with a looped top. The Ankh is a representation of prosperity, immortality, and is said to be a powerful defendant against evil spirits. The Ancient Egyptians symbol of the Scarab Beetle was associated with their sun god, Ra, and was often depicted on amulets and seals. Both of these symbols could certainly have been found on royal temple walls of the ancient civilizations.
25. Lotus Flower
The Lotus Flower, revered in ancient times, symbolizes purity, good health, and spiritual enlightenment. Its prominence in Egyptian culture and beyond illustrates a universal reverence for the flower’s transcendent qualities. The lotus flower also holds significant cultural and symbolic importance in Thai society, including its connection with the Thai Royal Family. The lotus flower is prominently featured in their emblems and insignias. It is often incorporated into official symbols, crests, and decorations associated with the monarchy, highlighting its significance as a symbol of purity and grace.
The chrysanthemum, known as the “kiku” in Japanese, occupies a revered position in Japan’s cultural and imperial landscape. Beyond its role of imperial power in the royal insignia, the chrysanthemum is celebrated annually during the Chrysanthemum Festival, known as “Kiku no Sekku” or “Choyo.” This festival, held on the ninth day of the ninth month in the traditional Japanese calendar, is dedicated to honoring the chrysanthemum as a symbol of longevity, rejuvenation, and the enduring spirit of the imperial family. The meticulous cultivation and artistic appreciation of chrysanthemums also showcase Japan’s deep-rooted cultural traditions.
27. Dragons, Phoenixes, Jade… oh my!
Dragons are revered in Chinese culture as symbols of power, strength, and good fortune. They have been associated with imperial authority and were believed to be the mythical creatures that controlled the elements. The phoenix, often paired with the dragon, represents harmony and balance. In Chinese mythology, the phoenix served as a symbol of the Empress, complementing the dragon’s representation of the Emperor. Together, they embodied the harmonious union of yin and yang, symbolizing the balance in imperial rule. Jade has been highly prized in Chinese culture for its beauty, durability, and spiritual significance. It symbolizes purity, integrity, and longevity. In imperial contexts, jade was used to craft intricate ornaments, including ceremonial objects, jewelry, and sculptures, signifying the imperial family’s connection to divine virtues and the enduring nature of their rule.
In this, our odyssey through the ancient symbols of royalty, each emblem tells a tale of power, lineage, and cultural identity. From the grandeur of the earliest scepters to the delicate petals of a lotus flower, these symbols have withstood the tests of time, shaping perceptions of royalty across civilizations. As we pull at the threads of the meanings behind these symbols, we unveil a tapestry of human history where the language of symbolism speaks volumes about the enduring fascination with power and the divine.
Thanks for joining me on this journey!