10 Ancient Roman Symbols – What They Really Represent!

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Ancient roman symbols

Welcome to a journey through ancient Rome’s enduring symbols. We’ll explore how each emblem reflects this remarkable civilization’s culture, values, and history.

Uncover the ongoing influence of Rome’s iconic symbols on our world. Join us as we delve into the stories and meanings behind these timeless icons.

Lupa The she-wolf

Bronze Lupa Capitolina
Bronze Lupa Capitolina statue / Merulana Wikimedia Commons

In ancient Rome, the she-wolf, Lupa, is a symbol deeply entwined with the city’s origin story. Legend has it that the she-wolf nurtured Romulus and Remus, the twin founders of Rome, epitomizing protection and care. This nurturing aspect highlights Rome’s commitment to its citizens.

The Bronze Capitoline Wolf statue, a celebrated representation of this legend, showcases the wolf feeding the infants. Additionally, the she-wolf features prominently in Roma’s badge, further cementing her status as an emblem of Rome’s strength and foundational myth.

This iconic image of the she-wolf with Romulus and Remus symbolizes Rome’s beginnings and legacy.

SPQR

Manhole cover with "SPQR" inscription and "Fonderia Pisano -Salerno-" in Rome, Italy.
Manhole cover with “SPQR” in Rome, Italy. / ProtoplasmaKid Wikimedia Commons

SPQR stands for “Senatus Populusque Romanus,” which translates to “The Senate and People of Rome.” This emblem was used to represent the Roman Republic’s government, embodying the shared power between the Senate and the Roman citizens.

It’s a symbol of Roman unity, strength, and governance. Even today, you can find SPQR in various places in Rome, linking the modern city to its historic past.

The Legionary Eagle

Aquila, the sign of the legion. Photographed during a show of Legio XV from Pram, Austria
Aquila, the sign of the legion. Photographed during a show of Legio XV from Pram, Austria / MatthiasKabel  Wikimedia Commons

The eagle, known as the Aquila, was a potent symbol of ancient Rome, embodying the empire’s might and breadth. Introduced by General Marius, it became the distinguished emblem of the Roman legions, signifying courage, strength, and immortality. Each legion proudly carried an eagle atop its standard into battle, a practice that underscored their unity and fighting spirit.

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The significance of the eagle was further highlighted during historical events such as the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, where Rome suffered a devastating loss, including three legionary eagles.

The subsequent recovery of two of these eagles by Germanicus boosted his fame in Rome and underscored the importance of these symbols.

Recovering a lost eagle was a momentous achievement, celebrated for restoring honor and pride to the Roman military. Thus, the eagle stands as a symbol of power and a testament to resilience and honor in the face of adversity.

Laurel tree

Artwork of Julius Caesar wearing a laurel wreath

The laurel tree, revered in ancient Rome, symbolized victory and honor and was closely linked to Jupiter, the king of the gods and patron of victory. The laurel wreath, known as the civic crown, held immense significance. It was the second highest honor a Roman citizen could receive, akin to the British Victoria Cross. This prestigious award was bestowed only on those whose actions saved the lives of Roman citizens in battle, marking it as a symbol of bravery and heroism.

Romans also used laurel in funeral decorations, highlighting the belief in its everlasting nature – as the laurel leaves never wilt, they symbolized immortality and the enduring legacy of Roman achievements.

Fasces

A man carrying fasces in his arm
A man carrying fasces in his arm / Wikimedia Commons

The fasces, a symbol derived initially from the Etruscans, played a significant role in ancient Rome. Despite Roman culture borrowing extensively from the Etruscans, this influence is often overshadowed by the more frequently mentioned Greek cultural impact.

The fasces, a bundle of rods bound around an axe, represented strength through unity and the authority of Roman magistrates. This symbol, carried by lictors in front of high-ranking officials, was a potent reminder of the state’s power and justice.

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The term “fasces” later became the root word for “fascism” in the 20th century, drawing on the symbol’s connotations of power and authority. This historical connection highlights Roman symbols’ enduring, though transformed, legacy in modern political contexts.

Asclepius Rod

Plaster cast of a Roman copy of a late Classical statue of Asklepios, 160 AD. He leans on his rod. Found at the Complex of Asklepios' Baths and library. Archaeological Museum of Epidaurus
Plaster cast of a Roman copy of a late Classical statue of Asklepios, 160 AD. He leans on his rod. Found at the Complex of Asklepios’ Baths and Library. Archaeological Museum of Epidaurus / Zde Wikimedia Commons

The Rod of Asclepius, featuring a single serpent entwined around a staff, symbolizes healing and medicine. Asclepius, the Greek god of healing, is its origin.

This symbol was used in ancient Rome to represent medical practices and healing. The serpent shedding its skin was a metaphor for renewal and regeneration, critical aspects of health and medicine. This symbol is still widely used in modern medicine, representing the enduring legacy of ancient Roman and Greek contributions to medical science.

knot of Hercules

Bracelet with spirally twisted strands and a Herakles knot at the bezel
Bracelet with spirally twisted strands and a Herakles knot at the bezel / Wikimedia Commons

The Knot of Hercules, or love knot, symbolizes strength and unity in Roman culture. It’s a complicated, strong knot that Hercules, the hero of strength and courage, supposedly created.

This knot was often used in marriage ceremonies, representing the unbreakable bond and enduring commitment between spouses. The symbolism extends to the idea that strength is found in unity and complexity, much like the intricate ties of the knot itself.

globe

Roman Statue of Urania, Muse of Astronomy, Holding a Globe, 2nd C. AD
Roman Statue of Urania, Muse of Astronomy, Holding a Globe, 2nd C. AD / Gary Todd Wikimedia Commons

In ancient Rome, the globe symbolized the vastness and power of the Roman Empire, which was believed to encompass the whole known world. It represented the control and influence Rome had over the globe.

Emperors and gods were often depicted holding a globe, signifying their world-ruling power. This symbol encapsulates the ambition and reach of Roman civilization.

chi rho

The Chi-Rho symbol
The Chi-Rho symbol / Dylan Lake Wikimedia Commons

The Chi Rho is a Christian symbol consisting of the first two letters (XP) of Christ (ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ) in Greek (‘Chi‘ and ‘Rho‘).

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The Chi Rho, initially used to mark important passages in texts, held significance as a symbol of importance long before its association with Christianity. Under Emperor Constantine, it took on a new role as a military emblem, symbolizing the intertwining of military might and religious authority. This marked the beginning of a significant shift in Roman culture.

As Constantine endorsed Christianity, the Chi Rho evolved to represent the integration of this new religion into Roman society, signaling a departure from the empire’s polytheistic traditions. This transformation was more than just religious; it was a profound change in the Roman Empire’s cultural and societal identity.

The adoption of the Chi Rho marked a pivotal moment in Western history, shaping the trajectory of religious and cultural development for centuries to come. This symbol’s journey from a textual marker to a representation of religious and military unity encapsulates a key period of transition and evolution in the Roman Empire.

roman numerals

Roman numerals
Roman numerals / Wikimedia Commons

Roman numerals are a numeric system from ancient Rome, used for counting and recording dates. They are one of the best inventions from ancient Rome.

They use combinations of letters from the Latin alphabet (I, V, X, L, C, D, and M) to signify different values. Roman numerals represent the Roman’s practical and organized approach to life, commerce, and administration.

Although not used for everyday calculations, this system still holds significance in various modern contexts, like clock faces and essential dates, maintaining a connection to Rome’s historical legacy.

Their lasting presence today highlights Roman culture and history’s profound and lasting influence on our modern society.