Ancient History > Ancient Symbols > Top 15 Symbols of Rebellion With Meanings

Top 15 Symbols of Rebellion With Meanings

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Symbols of rebellion have avidly been used throughout history to give a voice to the oppressed. These symbols highlight oppression and drive people to take a stance against it. Symbols of rebellion have been associated with art and expression, and together they give power to the public.

In this article, we have discussed many historical symbols of rebellion from the French Revolution. Many contemporary symbols have been discussed too, that have signified many recent causes. 

Listed below are the top 15 most important symbols of Rebellion:

1. Fasces

Roman Lictor with Fasces.
Roman Lictor with Fasces, street parade
Image Courtesy: commons.wikimedia.org, cropped

The fasces symbol was an extremely significant symbol of the French Revolution. It is originally a Roman symbol. It can be described as a bunch of birch rods with a sacrificial ax in the center.  During Roman times, this symbol represented concepts of union and accord within the Roman Republic.

It also signified the power of magistrates. Hence it was a symbol of power and authority. It is also drawn as a bundle of wooden rods with an ax in the center, bound together with leather thongs. (1) After the revolution, the French Republic continued with this symbol.

It represented unity and justice as well as state power. The symbol was also avidly used throughout the course of the revolution in conjunction with other symbols. (2)

2. Tricolor Cockade

French Tricolour Cockade.
French Tricolour Cockade
Angelus, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

During the French Revolution, the Tricolor Cockade was actively worn by revolutionaries. The cockade was created in 1789 by pinning the red and blue cockade of Paris to the white cockade of the French Ancien Regime.

Later on, different styles of the cockade signaled what faction one belonged to. But these styles were not consistent and varied by period and region. The French Tricolor flag originated from the Tri-color Cockade in the 1790s. The cockade also became part of the National Guard’s uniform. The National Guard was the police force that succeeded the French Militia. (3)

 In 1792, the Tri-color Cockade became the official symbol of the French Revolution. The three colors of the cockade represented French societies three estates. The Clergy were represented by the blue color, the nobility was represented by the white color, and red represented the third estate. The symbolic significance of the tricolor spread throughout France. In 1794, the three colors were made part of France’s national flag. (4)

3. The Liberty Cap

Women wearing Phrygian caps.
Women wearing Phrygian caps 
© Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons

The Liberty cap, also known as Pileus or the Phrygian cap, is a conical-shaped, brimless cap. This tip of the cap is pulled forward.

The Liberty cap or Bonnet rouge was first used symbolically in France in 1970 and became a popular symbol of French revolutionaries. This cap was originally worn by the ancient Romans, Illyrians, and Greeks. It is still popularly worn in Kosovo and Albania.

The liberty cap was used as an emblem during the course of the french revolution mainly because of its importance in ancient Rome. This cap was used in the Roman ritual of freeing slaves. Each slave was presented with a cap to signify freedom.

4. The Liberty Tree

US Freedom Tree / Liberty Tree.
US Freedom Tree / Liberty Tree 
Houghton Library, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The symbol of the liberty tree was first adopted in France in 1792. It symbolized the everlasting French republic. It also symbolized the revolution and national freedom.

Trees represent fertility in French folklore; hence it was used as a symbol of the revolution. The concept of the Liberty tree also traveled to the Americas. American colonies used the liberty tree symbol to celebrate their acts of freedom against British colonizers.

5. Hercules

Hercules with his club killing a centaur.
Hercules with his club killing a centaur
Roberto Bellasio via Pixabay

Hercules is an ancient Greek hero who symbolized power and strength. In pre-revolution France, Hercules was first adopted to represent the power of the monarchy. He implied the despotic authority of the king of France.

During the French Revolution, the symbol of Hercules was revived to represent revolutionary ideals. Hercules’ statue was placed at the station that commemorated Louis XVI’s fall. This was a symbolic gesture to show the power of the French people over their former oppressors. 

6. Peace Sign

Peace sign / CND Symbol.
Peace sign / CND Symbol
Gordon Johnson via Pixabay

The symbol representing peace is a very common symbol today. It is described as a circle with a vertical line drawn through the center. There are two sloping lines stemming diagonally from the central line. Originally this symbol was the logo for the Nuclear Disarmament Campaign in 1958.

Gerald Holtom, the designer who designed this symbol, also reported that it implied another meaning. The circle itself represented despair, the line in the center represented a person. The lines on either side represented arms held wide in despair. 

This, along with the black and white color scheme, was to represent a man standing with arms outstretched in despair before a black and white color scheme. It was reported that originally Holtom wanted to use the Christian cross to represent peace but did not like its association with the crusades.

This symbol became a good choice to represent peace as it was more universal. This symbol was never copyrighted so that people could feel free to use it anytime. (5)

7. Black Power Fist

Black power fist on red background.
Symbol of Black Power
Joekilil, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Black power fist symbol became prominent in 1966 when Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton formed the Black Panther Party. The purpose of the symbol and the party was black liberation and to end racially motivated police brutality.

Recently with the George Floyd murder, this symbol was used by millions on the streets to support the Black Lives Matter campaign. The Black Power Fist Symbol is a significant gesture of resistance, rebellion, and strength. 

When Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990 after twenty-seven years, he also raised his fist as a symbol of resistance. The Black Lives Matter campaign has used the black power fist symbol since 2014. The Black Lives Matter campaign has been successfully drawing attention to systematic racism directed towards black people. (6)

8. The Femme Fists

The Femme Fists.
Femme Fists
Illustration 186201856 © Lanali1 | Dreamstime.com

The Femme Fists symbol was created by New York-based artist Deva Perdue in 2016. Deva was inspired by the outcome of the 2016 presidential campaign.

The concept behind this important symbol was that the issue of race, ethnicity, and gender are all interconnected. The purpose of the symbol was to give light to these issues so as to raise funds for women’s rights organizations. During the women’s march of 2017, the Femme Fists symbol went viral.

The ‘For All Womankind’ posters were used in women’s marches all around the world. (7) The Femme fists symbol shows three fists that are raised and are of three different skin colors. The fists have bright crimson nail color painted on them. 

9. The Circle-A Symbol

Anarchist Symbol / Circled A symbol.
Anarchist Symbol / Circled A symbol
Linuxerist, Froztbyte, Arcy, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons 

The circle A symbol is composed of the letter ‘A’ surrounded by a circle. This is the universal symbol of anarchism. The circle-A symbol has been a prominent symbol since the 1970s within the boundaries of the global youth culture. (8)

Anarchy is the philosophy that completely rejects hierarchical notions. Self-organization is given more importance over state-controlled rules, even though many anarchists claim that symbols are unimportant within anarchism as a political movement. 

The circle-A symbol was particularly successful because the word anarchism begins with an A. This word, translated to many other languages, also starts with the A sound. The circle surrounding ‘A’ also stands for ‘O.’ O refers to order. This link was made by French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in a book. He uses the line that society seeks order in anarchy. (9)

10. Two Flag Antifa Sign

Antifascist action logo
Antifa Logo
Enix150, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Antifa is short for anti-fascists. This is not a concrete group of any sort but a kind of movement or an umbrella term that had ideals grouped on the left of the US political scale. This group describes itself as anti-capitalists, socialists, and anarchists. (10)

The Antifa movement was founded in 1932 as a militant, anti-fascist organization. However, the modern-day Antifa movement has nothing to do with its historical connection. Today Antifa has emerged as a network of anti-fascist groups. (11)

11. The Pink Triangle

An ACT UP member displaying the organization's trademark protest sign with an inverted, upward-pointing pink triangle.
Elvert Barnes from Baltimore, Maryland, USA, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

An ACT UP member displaying the organization’s trademark protest sign with an inverted, upward-pointing pink triangle.

LGBTQ rights groups have adopted the pink triangle as a representation of the gay community. This symbol was originated back in Nazi Germany when homosexuality was targeted.

A German legal clause was introduced that prohibited homosexual acts. Twenty-five thousand people were convicted under the act; they were sent to prison, sent to concentration camps, or sterilized. The pink triangle was used as a badge to indicate homosexuals. 

A large number of gay men were also killed during the Nazi regime. In the 1970’s gay liberation groups turned the pink triangle into a symbol of strength and began to use it in gay rights campaigning. The pink triangle became a sign of solidarity and pride for the homosexual community.

The resurrection of this sign also draws a parallel between current gay oppression and historical gay oppression. In the 1980s, the inverted pink triangle began to be used as a symbol of active resistance. (12)

12. The Umbrella

Hong Kong Umbrella Revolution.
Hong Kong Umbrella Revolution
Pasu Au Yeung, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Umbrella movement that demanded democracy gained popularity in Hong Kong. Art is often a primary part of activism. It is often a medium of expression and documents events. This was the case with the ‘Umbrella Revolution’ of Hong Kong.

Umbrellas are an everyday item used for protection against rain and the sun. In Hong Kong, it began to be used by protestors for protection against police pepper spray and tear gas. This is how the symbol came about. 

The Umbrella symbol gained an iconic status at the political level. It became a symbol of social grievance and resistance. And due to artist expressions accompanying the symbol, the streets of Hong Kong also became an artistic canvas of creativity. (13)

13. ‘Hands up, Don’t Shoot’ Gesture

Tattooed hands raising.
“Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” Gesture
Hongao Xu, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The ‘Hands up Don’t Shoot’ gesture is also known as the ‘Hands up’ slogan, in short. This is a popular symbol of resistance against police brutality. This gesture came into being after Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, Missouri. The slogan or gesture implies submission. One has their hands in the air, and this signals they are not a threat. 

Different witnesses have different accounts as to what Michael Brown was doing when he was shot. Some say he charged at the police officer, while others said he had his hands up in surrender. Despite the ambiguity of the situation, the hands-up slogan was adopted as a symbol of resistance against police brutality. (14)

14. Three Finger Salute

Three Finger Salute.
Three Finger Salute
Image by isaiahkim from pixabay.com

The three-finger salute is made by holding the ring, middle, and index fingers up while keeping your little finger and thumb together. Then, raise your hand up in a salute. This gesture was first featured in the fictional series, The Hunger Games. The three-finger salute was also adopted in pro-democracy protests in countries like Myanmar and Thailand in Southeast Asia. 

It was also adopted in Hong Kong. This salute was used as a pro-democracy symbol in Thailand after the 2014 Coup. It was made illegal in Thailand due to its use for this purpose. (15) This symbol was revived in Thailand once more after the political crisis in 2020. (16)

15. The Rainbow Flag

Rainbow Flag.
Rainbow Flag
Benson Kua, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The rainbow flag is a symbol of the LGBTQ community. The LGBTQ community stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer social movement.

The rainbow flag is also known as the LGBTQ pride flag or the Gay Pride Flag. The colors on the flag reflect the wide spectrum of human sexuality and gender. The colors also reflect the diversity of the LGBTQ community. 

The rainbow flag was first used in San Francisco as a symbol of gay pride but then soon became a representation of LGBT rights.

Conclusion

Symbols of rebellion have shed light on causes and movements throughout the course of history.

Which of these symbols were you already aware of? Have we missed any? Lets us know in the comments below!

References

  1. https://www.nps.gov/articles/secret-symbol-of-the-lincoln-memorial.htm
  2. Censer and Hunt, “How to Read Images” 
  3. Clifford, Dale, “Can the Uniform Make the Citizen? Paris, 1789-1791,” Eighteenth-Century Studies, 2001, p. 369.
  4. “Le drapeau français – Présidence de la République”  
  5. https://elephant.art/the-real-meanings-behind-six-symbols-of-protest-01072020/
  6. https://elephant.art/the-real-meanings-behind-six-symbols-of-protest-01072020/
  7. https://forallwomankind.com/about
  8. Baillargeon, Normand (2013) [2008]. Order Without Power: An Introduction to Anarchism: History and Current Challenges.
  9. https://elephant.art/the-real-meanings-behind-six-symbols-of-protest-01072020/
  10. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/6/2/what-is-antifa
  11. https://elephant.art/the-real-meanings-behind-six-symbols-of-protest-01072020/
  12. https://elephant.art/the-real-meanings-behind-six-symbols-of-protest-01072020/
  13. Ivan Watson, Pamela Boykoff and Vivian Kam (8 October 2014). “Street becomes canvas for ‘silent protest’ in Hong Kong”. CNN.
  14. Lopez, German (12 August 2019). “Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris’s controversial Michael Brown tweets, explained”. Vox.
  15. “Hunger Games salute banned by Thai military”. The Guardian. Associated Press. 3 June 2014. Retrieved 4 March 2021.
  16. Zheng, Sara (19 August 2020). “From Belarus to Thailand: Hong Kong’s protest playbook is spreading everywhere”. Inkstone. Hong Kong: South China Morning Post. Retrieved 6 March 2021.

Header image of “hand in peace sign” courtesy: Pink Sherbet Photography from USA, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Cite this article

The Editors of Give Me History, "Top 15 Symbols of Rebellion With Meanings," Give Me History, November 27, 2021, https://www.givemehistory.com/symbols-of-rebellion.

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