Give Me History
Ancient History > Ancient Symbols > Top 22 Roman Symbols & Their Meanings

Top 22 Roman Symbols & Their Meanings

Architectural details of the dome at Saint Peter's Basilica, Rome.Pin
Architectural details of the dome at Saint Peter's Basilica, Rome.

Rome is a city known for its rich history and diverse symbols. Most of these symbols are relevant to everyday life.

From the she-wolf that is infamous for having feasted on her superiors, named Remus and Romulus, to the spread-out eagle that is known to be a symbol of Rome’s many territories, a number of the symbols have made it through time.

They have survived hundreds of years only to become immortal and a part of today’s visuals and art. 

We will go back in history and uncover the 22 most famous symbols of this Empire’s past. We will also shed some light on the meaning, uses, and origins.

Without further ado, let’s get right into it. 

Animals

Different types of animals have been used as symbols in the Roman culture and in other cultures as well. Their characteristics remind one of certain human traits, much like being as cunning as the fox or steady as a horse.

The Roman representations of some animals we know and love are as follows.

1. Dogs

Pin

‘Cave canem’ (beware of the dog) mosaic.
From Pompeii (an ancient city in Italy), Casa di Orfeo (7th–6th century BC)
Naples National Archaeological Museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Dogs are not just man’s best friend, they were an important part of ancient Roman culture. Dogs are known to represent fulfillment and happiness.

From legends probably acquired from Greek and even Mesopotamian customs, dogs showed up in canvas paintings, figures and sculptures, and displays of Etruscan engineering.

One such example is the famous Dogs of Pompeii, which are known to be representatives of confidence and omens of disaster. Similarly, unchained dogs were known to warn individuals, whereas chained dogs also served their purpose of keeping strangers at bay and protecting their owners from danger. 

2. Goats

Goat artwork. Ancient terracotta bowl.Pin

Goat artwork. Ancient terracotta bowl (circa 520 BC)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, CC BY 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

In ancient Roman culture, goats were considered a sign of success, skill, and even dissatisfaction. Goats featured in Roman paintings were a reminder of the good that can be found in a human being.

During those days, many customs and rituals prevailed, where the blood and skin of a goat were used for sacrifice and “keeping evil spirits away.” Other rituals included whipping of goat skin and the entire process being watched over by people. 

3. Snakes

Roman Fresco depicting Lares & sacrifice scene with a pair of snakes.Pin

Roman Fresco depicting Lares & sacrifice scene with a pair of snakes; from Pompeii
Naples Archaeological Museum, Naples, Italy.
Image courtesy: flickr.com

The wand of Asclepius is the perfect example of snakes in Roman symbolism. Mercury, the Roman of god of health and wellbeing, held this wand, which is actually shaped like a snake.

The wand represents healing and is used today, too, as a symbol for doctors, medicine, and healing. The snake has been used as a symbol of healing in other places, too, like on silver coins on which the goddess Salus, a healer, is embossed with snakes. These coins were produced around 210 BC. 

Contrary to popular belief, snakes are not all bad, though. While they are usually portrayed as a symbol of evil, snakes are also known to represent healing and medicinal attributes, overcoming adversity and challenging situations in life. 

4. Horses

Bronze statuette of a Roman horse.Pin

Bronze statuette of a Roman horse (2nd century CE)
Photographed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, New York.
Image courtesy: flickr.com

Horses are a symbol of loyalty, confidence, strength and freedom. Many filmmakers and children’s cartoon creators have used horses in movies like Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron and Mulan as they represent freedom and loyalty. 

In ancient Rome, horses were considered a sign of luck. Some people would cut a horse in half and distribute it evenly among family members, expecting that either the horse’s blood, bones, tail, or skin would bring them good luck.

Those who owned a horse had a higher social status than those who didn’t. You will also find paintings and sculptures at the Tarquinia Tomb of Francesca Giustiniani, where the daily-life relationship of horses and Romans can be seen.

5. She Wolf

Replica of the roman she-wolf, Romulus and Remus.Pin

Replica of the roman she-wolf, Romulus and Remus
From the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. 15th or 16th Century.
EastTN, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A she-wolf is known for both her calmness and anger and is a perfect example of how things were run by the Romans.

The legend of the she-wolf goes to the account of Remus and Romulus, the twins. When their granddad, Numitor the King, was removed from his seat by his sibling, the usurper by the name of Amulius, commanded the babies (Remus and Romulus) to be thrown into the Tiberius River.  

As is expected from similar plot twists, the man asked to murder the children does not go through with it. Instead of drowning the twins, he just abandoned them nearby.

Later, the very first of river gods, Tiberius, saved them. He left them in the care of a she-wolf that had “coincidentally” been present at the scene, too. 

Brought up in her cavern, the twin babies get to be nursed by their wolf savior until someone, a shepherd named Faustulus, discovered the children and brought them home to his spouse.

At that point, the shepherd and his wife looked after them until both were mature enough to get back to where they had come from. They eventually helped bring their grandfather back to his seat and re-established Rome. 

Apart from that, wolves travel in packs and have a loyalty and order among themselves, which is nothing short of commendable. It is only fair to have wolves on this list as the Romans, in their books, have often attributed human loyalty to that of the wolves. 

6. Eagle

Ornament with Roman Eagle.Pin

Ornament with Roman Eagle, made with Roman gold (100-200 AD)
Exhibit in the Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio, USA.
Daderot, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Nothing personifies Rome like the eagle. Displaying their outstretched wings and an adeptness in the skies and while hunting, the eagle is the ultimate symbol of the Roman Empire’s spread.

Before Rome’s loss at the battle of Arausio and Gaius Marius’ extreme takeover of the Roman army in 104 BC, the eagle had sister symbols of the wolf, the pony, pig, and a human-headed bull. 

Eagles have some representations and misrepresentations associated with. To the Romans, they were symbols of leadership and power. They represented empires and kings.

However, later on, they were also believed to represent their truest nature – predatory dominion and invincibility. Eagles are also interpreted as symbols of overcoming struggle (because they can fly high).

Planets

Planets and galaxies are concepts we learn about in school, and when we fail to find a way to use this knowledge, we forget about them later on in life.

Still, we are sure you know the names of at least 8 planets, but do you know why they are named, what they are, and their link with Roman mythology. 

Let’s delve into the planets now, shall we?

7. Venus

Planet Venus.Pin

Planet Venus
Pablo Carlos Budassi, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Venus is the second planet closest to the sun. It was also part of the Babylonians’ history. This subsequent one would later be named or referred to as Venus in the English language, named after the Goddess of femininity and beauty from the Pantheon of the Roman gods.

A potential justification for its name could be due to the sheen and shine of the planet and how attractive it looks. 

Among the Roman gods, Venus was that of love and beauty. Conceived after Saturn was castrated, Vulcan was Venus’ husband. She also had feelings for Mars and was the mother of the god of love, Cupid.

Venus is by and large known to be the Roman counterpart of the Greek Aphrodite. It also is referred to as the planet of femininity and womanhood. 

Lovely and beautiful as the planet’s representations may be, acid rains from the sky of Venus and the planet is extremely uninhabitable. It also is referred to as the planet of femininity and womanhood.

8. Mars

Planet Mars.Pin

Planet Mars
Tris1606, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Mars is the Roman equivalent of Ares, the Greek God of war. Known to be the second important god of the Pantheon of Rome, right after Jupiter, Mars was known to spend his time with the Legions of Rome.

While we know that Ares and Mars were to have similar traits, Mars has also been attributed to Saturn as a god of agriculture. 

Mars gets its name from a god, but also from the red coloring of the planet that is often construed as anger, death, and war – characteristics attributed to both Ares and Mars. 

9. Saturn

Planet Saturn.Pin

Planet Saturn
Pablo Carlos Budassi, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Saturn comes after Jupiter in terms of size. 

Saturn was fathered by Jupiter, so the planets have been named so, after father and son. Saturn gets its name from the god Saturn, known to have brought agriculture to Rome in Italy.

Saturn is not only the god of agriculture but also has been attributed to Cronus, the Greek titan whom Jupiter/Zeus overthrew.

There are other symbols of the planet, apart from agriculture. Saturn’s rings are known to signify power and influence.

10. Uranus

Planet Uranus.Pin

Planet Uranus
Pablo Carlos Budassi, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Uranus is the seventh planet of the solar system, named after Uranus, the Roman god of the skies and is counterpart to his Greek, Ouranos.

When the mythological events of ancient Greece and Rome were later mixed up, it is told that Uranus was dethroned by Saturn. This is why Uranus is known as a symbol of overcoming adversity. 

11. Earth

Planet Earth.Pin

Planet Earth
Pablo Carlos Budassi, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Earth was not considered a planet until after the sixteenth century AD and the intervention of Nicolas Copernicus. Till then, a number of researchers had tried to figure out the Earth but failed.

The Earth is the only planet in our solar system that has not been named after a Roman deity. However, Earth is often said to have gotten its name from Gaia, the Greek goddess.

The term ‘earth’ comes from the Germanic of Middle English Language. It symbolizes homeliness and returning to where we belong. It is often represented as a motherly planet since it is our home. 

12. Mercury

Planet Mercury.Pin

Planet Mercury
Pablo Carlos Budassi, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Mercury had already been discovered by Babylonian astronomers long before Rome rose to power. It took the name Mercury, however, much later.

Mercury covers its distance around the sun much faster than the other planets and maybe that is the reason why it is called Mercury

In ancient Rome, Mercury was an important god, attributed to as the god of the mind just as a lord of trade and communication. Mercury was viewed as the child of Jupiter and Maia, and the mythology of the god is often connected to that of the Greek god Hermes.

13. Neptune

Planet Neptune.Pin

Planet Neptune
Pablo Carlos Budassi, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Neptune is the last planet of the Milky Way Galaxy, found by one scientist where another had predicted it to be. At first, the planet had obviously been named after the scientist who had discovered it.

But when the mythological names were put in the mix, the idea of calling it Le Verrerier didn’t gain much favor, and Janus (Roman god with two heads) and Oceanus (god of Earth surrounding the river) were put forth. 

Later, due to the ocean-like blue of the planet, it was settled that the planet will be called Neptune after the Roman god of sea, the Greek Poseidon’s equivalent. 

14. Dwarves

Dwarf planet Pluto.Pin

Dwarf planet Pluto
Pablo Carlos Budassi, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There are several Dwarf planets in our solar system, and only around seventy have been identified. We will be mentioning only a few here.

Starting with Ceres. Since the dwarf has been known to have a muddy-green texture, the name Ceres has been assigned to it. It is attributed to the Roman goddess of greenery and agriculture.

Then, we have Pluto, which was named after the Roman God of the underworld, Hades’ equivalent. 

Haumea is a rather less known dwarf planet. Found in the Kuiper belt in early 2004, it is not named after a Roman or Greek god or goddess, but after the Hawaiian goddess of motherhood and labor.

Miscellaneous

Apart from animals and planets, Roman symbolism is found in Roman mythology more than anything else. Here is our rundown of the top miscellaneous Roman symbols. 

15. Minotaur

Sculpture of Theseus Fighting the Minotaur.Pin

Sculpture of Theseus Fighting the Minotaur
Wmpearl, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Green Minotaur from Greek mythology was an animal that was half-man, from the waist down, and half bull from the waist up.

It stayed at a place called the Labyrinth, an intricate work of the Crete King, King Minos. It was made, however, by separate deities. They were requested to construct it for keeping the Minotaur contained.

The chronicled site by the name of Knossos is typically recognized where the maze was built. The Minotaur was, later on, executed by Theseus. 

Minotaur represents evil and is referred to as the minion of evil or instrument of evil. This is why we see it carry out similar roles on TV and in movies.

16. The Asclepius Wand

Rod of Asclepius.Pin

Rod of Asclepius
Rod of Asclepius by David from the Noun Project

This wand is an old Greek symbol related to soothsaying, mending, and healing. The pole of Asclepius represents healing by the joining of the snake, which is actually shedding away at its skin.

This image of resurrection and richness is a picture of power befitting healing and recovery. 

Because of these representations of the Asclepius Wand, most of today’s medical brands associate themselves with its symbolism and often opt for this wand as their logo.

17. Fasces

Etruscan fasces.Pin

Etruscan fasces
F l a n k e r / Public domain

Fasces is an object made up of a bundle of rods. There is often an axe, or axes, protruding from its top.

The conventional Roman Fasces comprise a heap of birch bars white in color, integrated with a red calfskin lace and a chamber, including an axe that is bronze (or some of the time two axes) among the poles, the blade protruding from inside of the group. 

It was utilized as an image of the Roman Republic itself.

18. Gorgon

Three Gorgons on a building in Vienna.Pin

Three Gorgons on a building in Vienna
Image courtesy: en.wikipedia.org / CC BY 3.0

In Greek mythology, Gorgon was a horrible female beast with sharp teeth. Her powers allowed her to turn man to stone; all they had to do was look into her eyes.

This is why most of the paintings and sculptures found of the gorgon contain stone-turned men. The Gorgon wore a belt of snakes that interweaved as a braid crown, facing one another.

There were three of them: Medusa, Stheno, and Euryale. Just Medusa was mortal; the other two are goddesses. But Medusa is more famous than the other two.

19. Labrys

Labrys symbol / double-sided axe.Pin

Labrys symbol / double-sided axe
George Groutas, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This came to be a term for a two-faced axe which was, to the Greeks, known as Pelekys. Also known as Sagaris.

To the Romans, it was also known as a bi-pennis. This weapon-like mythical instrument and its symbolism are found in many religions, such as Byzantine, Thracian, Minoan, and Greek.

This Labrys can be found in the art and mythological literature all the way till the middle age. Today, it represents LGBT freedom, lesbianism, and overthrowing the patriarchy.

20. Solar Cross

Solar cross.Pin

Solar cross
Image courtesy: wikimedia.org / CC BY-SA 2.5

This is a circle surrounding a cross, hence the name Solar Cross. It has been a part of various religions, namely the Japanese, and made its way not too late in the Christian iconography. It is used in a number of religious rituals and ceremonies. 

21. Omphalos

Omphalos.Pin

A unique stone statue / Omphalos
Юкатан, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Omphalos is a religious stone or artifact also known as the Baetylus. The word itself has been translated from the Greek word “navel.”

As indicated by the ancient Greeks, the drawings on this stone tell the story of how Zeus sent two hawks to soar across the globe to scout for new territories the god could conquer.

22. Cimarutas

Depiction of a Cimaruta amulet.Pin

Depiction of a Cimaruta amulet
Frederick Thomas Elworthy, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

An ancient Italian ornament, the Cimaruta is a locket worn around one’s neck or hung above an infant’s bed. It is believed to offer protection from the evil eye and bad luck.

The locket is designed in such a way that it represents Diana Triformis, goddess of the moon, a lady, mother, and an old woman. 

It is made using silver and carefully molded as a twig with three fundamental branches. These represent the triple part of Diana Triformis, goddess of the moon, as a lady, mother, and hag.

Certain other manifestations of this locket represent richness, plentifulness, warding off evil, and protection. In another of its forms, where it has a sickle moon, said moons are known to be horns of a god.

Concluding Note

Those were our top 23 Roman symbols.

Which Roman symbol did you most like? Let us know in the comments below.

Be sure to share this article with others in your circle who enjoy ancient cultures.

References

  1. https://www.walksinsiderome.com/blog/about-rome/the-symbols-of-roman-history/
  2. https://classroom.synonym.com/were-themes-egyptian-art-8655120.html

Header image courtesy: isogood, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Editors of Give Me History

The editors of Give Me History work with specific content that they’ve had considerable expertise within academic projects or study. The contents of this article have additionally been reviewed by external experts before publishing.

Cite this article

The Editors of Give Me History, "Top 22 Roman Symbols & Their Meanings," Give Me History, July 2, 2021, https://www.givemehistory.com/roman-symbols.

Add comment