Symbols can serve as powerful visual means to communicate and link various ideas and concepts.
Since the beginning of mankind’s history, symbols have served as evocative vehicles of the conception of all human knowledge.
Strength and power, the capacity to exert great force or resist it, has been among the most primordial of understood concepts in various human societies.
Below are 30 of the most important ancient symbols of strength and power:
1. Golden Eagle (Europe & Near East)
Golden eagles are massive, powerfully built birds of prey with no natural predators and capable of downing prey much larger than themselves, such as deer, goats, and even wolves. (1)
Unsurprisingly, because of their awe-inspiring feats and ferocious nature, the bird has symbolized strength and power across many human cultures even before recorded history.
Many societies associated the Golden Eagle with their chief deity.
For the Ancient Egyptians, the bird was a symbol of Ra; for the Greeks, a symbol of Zeus.
Among the Romans, it became a symbol of their imperial and military might.
Since then, it had been adopted widely in many emblems, coat of arms and heraldry of European kings, and emperors. (2)
2. Lion (Old World Cultures)
Similar to the eagle, the lion has served as symbols of power and strength as well as that of monarchs across numerous cultures since time immemorial.
Sekhmet, the Egyptian goddess of war and the vengeful manifestation of Ra’s power, was often depicted as a lioness. (3)
In Mesopotamian mythology, the lion is one of the symbols of the demigod Gilgamesh, who was noted for his legendary exploits and superhuman strength. (4)
In ancient Persia, the lion was associated with courage and royalty. (5)
Among the Greeks, the lion may have also symbolized power and strength as noted in some of the fables of the famed Greek storyteller, Aesop. (6)
3. Oriental Dragon (China)
Unlike their Western counterparts, dragons in East Asia held a much more positive image.
Across the region, since ancient times, dragons have symbolized power, strength, prosperity, and good luck.
Historically, the dragon was closely associated with the Emperor of China and was used as an imperial symbol of authority. (7)
According to legends, the first ruler of China, the Yellow Emperor, was, at the end of his life, said to have turned into an immortal half-dragon before ascending to heaven. (8)
4. Tobono (West Africa)
Tabono symbol – Adinkra symbol for strength
Adinkra are symbols that represent various concepts and are featured heavily in the fabrics, pottery, logos, and even architecture of many West African cultures, particularly the Ashanti people. (9)
Shaped like four joined oars, the Tabono is an adinkra symbol for strength, persistence, and hard work.
‘Strength’ in its context isn’t implied to be physical but rather relating to one’s willpower. (10)
5. Pempamsie (West Africa)
Pempamsie Symbol – Adinkra symbol for strength
The pempamsie is another adinkra symbol that represents concepts relating to strength.
Resembling the links of a chain, the symbol implies steadfastness and hardiness as well as strength achieved through unity. (11)
6. Hamsa (the Middle East)
The Hamsa (Arabic: Khamsah) is a palm-shaped symbol popular throughout the Middle-East representing blessings, femininity, power, and strength.
It is predominately used to ward off evil eyes and bad luck in general. (12)
The history of the symbol can be traced back all the way to ancient times, being used in Mesopotamia as well as Carthage.
Likely, it also may have some relation to the Mano Pantea, a similar hand symbol used throughout ancient Egypt. (13)
7. Jaguar (Mesoamerica)
The jaguar is one of the largest feline species and an apex predator of the New World tropics.
Many pre-Columbian cultures saw the fierce beast as a scared animal and used it as a symbol to depict strength and power. (14)
In the later Mayan civilization, the symbol of the jaguar also came to represent royalty, and a number of its monarchs bore the name Balam, the Mayan word for the animal.
Among the neighboring Aztec, the animal was equally revered.
It was a symbol of the warrior and a motif of their elite military force, the Jaguar Knights. (15)
8. Alim (Celts)
Celtic Ailm Symbol
The ailm is a very ancient Celtic symbol of obscure origin, but it comes with a very deep meaning.
The plus sign represents strength, endurance, and resilience, and the circle around it denotes wholeness and the purity of the soul.
The symbol is also closely associated with (and likely inspired by) the European Silver Fir, a hardy tree that remains evergreen even in the harshest of weather conditions. (16)
9. Oak Tree (Europe)
Image Courtesy: Max Pixel
Across many ancient European cultures, the mighty oak was considered a sacred tree and strongly associated with strength, wisdom, and endurance.
In the Greco-Roman civilization, the tree was considered sacred and was one of the symbols of their chief deity, Zeus/Jupiter. (17)
The tree was also religiously significant to the Celts, Slavic, and Norse, being also closely associated with their thunder gods.
The Celtic word for the tree was drus, also an adjective for the words’ strong’ and ‘firm.’ (18)
10. Boar (Old World Cultures)
Etruscan art – Ancient ceramic boar Vessel / 600-500 BC
Daderot / CC0
Because of its tenacious and often fearless nature, across many cultures of the old world, the boar has often embodied the warrior’s virtues and a test of strength.
In virtually all Greek heroic mythos, the protagonist fights or kills a boar at one point. (19)
Among the Germanic tribes, it was common to have images of the boar engraved on their swords and armor, serving as a symbol of strength and courage.
Among the neighboring Celts, the animal was considered sacred and may have been equally revered as such. (20)
In Hinduism, the boar is one of the avatars of Vishnu, one of the main deities in the Hindu pantheon and associated with such qualities as omniscience, energy, strength, and vigor. (21)
In East Asia, the boar has long been associated with such traits, such as courage and defiance.
Among Japanese hunters and mountain people, it is not uncommon for them to name their son after the animal. (22)
11. Bull (Old World Cultures)
The Bull is also another animal that came to symbolize power and strength in many old-world cultures.
The Ancient Egyptians used the word ‘ka’ to refer to both the animal and the concept of power/life force. (23)
In the Levant, the bull was associated with various deities and symbolized both strength and fertility. (24)
Among the Iberians, the bull was associated with their war god, Neto, and also among the Greco-Romans, with their chief deity, Zeus/Jupiter.
The bull was also considered a sacred animal among the Celts, symbolizing strong will, belligerence, wealth and virility. (25)
12. Was-scepter (Ancient Egypt)
The Was-scepter is a symbol frequently featured in Ancient Egyptian religious art and relics.
From its image is the derived Egyptian hieroglyph character was, meaning ‘power.’ (26)
13. Ur (Germanic)
Depiction of an Aurochs
Heinrich Harder (1858-1935) / Public domain
Ur/Urze is a Proto-Germanic rune for the Aurochs, a now extinct massive ox-like bovine that once roamed the ancient lands of Eurasia.
Like the animal itself, it is a symbol representing beastly power, brute force, and freedom. (27)
Urze letter – Rune for power
ClaesWallin / Public domain
14. Club of Hercules (Greeks/Romans)
Hercules is a Greco-Roman mythical hero and deity.
As a son of Jupiter/Zeus, he was particularly known for his incredible strength, said to rival or even exceed that of many other Greek gods.
Among the symbols denoting his strength and masculinity is the wooden club (28), which he is often depicted holding in various paintings and portrayals.
15. Mjölnir (Norse)
Drawing of Mjölnir pendant (Thor’s hammer)
Prof. Magnus Petersen / Herr Steffensen / Arnaud Ramey / Public domain
In Germanic mythology, the Mjölnir is the name of the legendary hammer wielded by Thor, the Norse god associated with thunder, storms, fertility, and strength.
Across Scandinavia, hammer-shaped pendants have been found representing Mjölnir.
They were worn as symbols of the Norse god but also came to present the pagan fate in general with the introduction of Christianity in the region. (29)
16. Griffin (Old World Cultures)
Often depicted as a cross between a lion and an eagle, the griffin symbolizes courage, leadership, and strength. (30)
Though popularly associated with Medieval European mythology, the concept of the griffin is far more ancient, likely to have first originated in the Levant in the 2nd millennium BC (31).
It is likely to have inspired or taken further influence from many similar mythological creatures of various ancient cultures such as the Assyrian deity Lamassu, the Akkadian demon Anzu and the Jewish beast Ziz.
17. Verja (India)
In Vedic lore, the verja is the weapon and symbol of Indra, the Hindu god of power, lighting, and kingship as well as the lord of Heaven. (32)
It is said to be one of the most powerful weapons in the universe, embodying the properties of a diamond (indestructibility) and a thunderbolt (irresistible force).
Verja, as a symbol, is also prominent in Buddhism, donating, among many other things, spiritual firmness and strength. (33)
18. Iron (West Africa)
Ogun is a spirit that appears in several West African religions.
A god of war, authority, and iron, he is considered a patron deity for warriors, hunters, blacksmiths, and technologists. (34)
Unsurprisingly, one of his primary symbols is iron.
In Yoruba festivals, followers of Ogun wear iron chains and display knives, scissors, wrenches, and various other iron implements from daily life. (35)
19. Horse (Various)
Portrait of three horses – Symbol of strength and speed
Image Courtesy: Pexels
Since ancient times, across various diverse cultures, the horse has been a symbol of strength, speed, and intelligence.
Among the early Indo-Aryan people, the horse came to be held sacred for this exact reason. (36)
The horse is also featured heavily in Chinese symbolism, being the most recurrent animal in Chinese culture and arts after the dragon.
The horse was a symbol of male strength, speed, perseverance, and youthful energy.
Among earlier Chinese traditions, the strength of the horse was considered to be even more potent than that of a dragon. (38)
Across the Pacific in the New World, the horse symbol held various meanings among the Native American tribes but, as with old-world cultures, a common association was with strength and power. (39)
20. Bear (Native Americans)
Indigenous art, Bear totem – The Bear is a spirit of strength
Brigitte Werner / CC0
The bear is the largest of terrestrial predators and a beast of incredible strength, being able to down such large herbivores as bulls and moose.
Unsurprisingly, among various native tribes of the New World, the animal was revered as such.
However, apart from physical strength, the bear symbol also could imply leadership, courage, and authority. (40)
21. Sphinx (Ancient Egypt)
Sphinx of Giza – Symbol of kings
Image Courtesy: Needpix.com
The Sphinx is an amalgamation of a king’s head and a lion’s body, hence symbolizing strength, dominance, and intelligence.
In addition, the form may have served to represent the pharaoh as “the link between mankind and the gods.” (41)
As a mythological creature, it is depicted in both Egyptian and Greek traditions, being portrayed as a being of ferocious strength and serving as guardians to entrances to royal tombs and temples. (42)
22. Wolf (Native Americans)
While in many parts of the old world, the wolf was often associated with rather negative traits, in the New World, the wolf was associated with courage, strength, loyalty, and hunting success. (43)
Among native tribes, the wolf was revered as an animal of power, credited with the creation of Earth and, in the traditions of the Pawnee tribe, to the first creature to have experienced death (44).
Because of their social nature and extreme dedication to their packs, wolves were also believed to be closely related to humans. (45)
23. Fasces (Etruscan)
F l a n k e r / Public domain
Long before the symbol became co-opted by 20th-century political movements, the fasces represented among the Etruscans and the later Romans the concept of strength through unity.
In ancient Rome, fasces with a single-headed ax was also widely used to symbolize penal power and imperial authority. (46)
24. Elephant (Africa)
African bull elephant – African symbol of strength
Image Courtesy: Needpix.com
The theme of elephants as a symbol of power and strength has been common across many cultures of Africa since time immemorial.
Its depiction is often used on some of the most important ritual objects used in ancestor veneration and rites of passage.
Aside from the previously mentioned traits, the animal is also revered for its stamina, intelligence, memory, and social qualities. (47)
25. Circle (Old World Cultures)
The circle is one of the oldest symbols of significance in various old-world cultures.
It often signified the highest absolute powers, representing perfection, totality, and the infinite.
In Ancient Egypt, the circle depicted the sun, and thus, by extension, was a symbol of Ra, the supreme Egyptian deity. (3)
Alternately, it also implied the Ouroboros – a snake feeding on its own tail. The Ouroboros was itself a symbol of rebirth and completion.
Meanwhile, further north in Ancient Greece, it was considered the perfect symbol (monad) and was associated with the divine symbols and balance in nature.
Eastwards, among the Buddhists, it stood for spiritual power – the attaining of enlightenment and perfection. (48) (49) (50)
In Chinese philosophy, a circle symbol (Taiji) symbolized the “Supreme Ultimate” – the oneness before the duality of yin and yang and the highest conceivable principle from which existence itself flows. (51)
26. Aten (Ancient Egypt)
Represented by a sun disc with downward spreading rays, Aten was originally the symbol of Ra before becoming associated with the new supreme deity, Aten.
The concept of Aten was built upon the idea of the old sun god, but unlike Ra, was considered to carry absolute power in the universe, being omnipresent and existing beyond creation.
Likely, ‘Atenism’ represented an early step towards the emergence of organized monotheistic religions. (52)
Because the pharaoh was considered to be the son of Aten, by extension, his symbol also served to represent royal power and authority. (53)
27. Thunderbolt (Global)
For people of ancient times, seeing a thunderstorm must have been a humbling experience, the loud and destructive nature of lighting showcasing nature’s power.
Unsurprisingly, across many different cultures from various parts of the world, the thunderbolt was the symbol of the supreme divine power.
Many cultures associated the thunderbolt with their most powerful deities.
The Hittites and the Hurrians associated it with their chief god Teshub. (54) The later Greeks and Romans also did likewise with their ruling god, Zeus/Jupiter.
Among the Germanic people, it was a symbol of Thor, the protector of mankind, and physically the most powerful of the Æsir.
Across in the East, in India, it has been one of the symbols of Indra, the Hindu god of heavens and the one who is said to have killed Vritra, the great serpent embodying the concept of evil. (55)
In the New World, many natives believed lightning to be a creation of the thunderbird, a supernatural being of great power and strength. (56)
Among the Mesoamericans, it was a symbol of Huracan/Tezcatlipoca, an important deity associated with a wide range of concepts, including hurricanes, rulership, and magic. (57)
The association of divine power with the thunderbolt has also been present in monotheistic religions.
For instance, in Judaism, the thunderbolt served as a representation of divine punishment inflicted on humanity. (58)
28. Celtic Dragon (Celts)
In most cultures of the West, the dragon was a malevolent being associated with destruction and evil.
However, among the Celts, its association was completely different – being a symbol of fertility and (natural) power.
In Celtic mythology, the dragon was considered a guardian to other worlds and the treasure of the universe.
It was believed wherever a dragon passed, those portions of the land became more powerful than the areas surrounding them. (59)
29. Yoni (Ancient India)
Yoni statue / Symbol of Shakti
Daderot / CC0
The Yoni is the divine symbol of Shakti, the Hindu goddess that personifies power, strength, and cosmic energy.
In Hindu beliefs, she is the consort of Shiva, the supreme Hindu deity, and the feminine aspect of his divinity.
In Hindi vernacular, the word ‘Shakti’ itself is a word for ‘power’. (60) (61)
30. Six-Petal Rosette (Ancient Slavs)
The six-petal rosette is the primary symbol of Rod, the pre-Christian supreme deity of the Slavic people.
Surprisingly, unlike the ruling deity of other pagan religions, Rod was associated with more personal concepts like family, ancestors, and spiritual power rather than the elements of nature. (62)
Did you find this list incomplete? Tell us in the comments below what other symbols we should add that depicted strength or power in ancient cultures.
Feel free to share this article with others in your circle if you found it a worthwhile read.
- Golden Eagles Take Down Deer and Wolves. Roaring Earth . [Online] https://roaring.earth/golden-eagles-vs-deer-and-wolves/.
- Fernández, Carrillo de Albornoz &. The Symbolism of the Eagle. New Acropolis International Organization . [Online]
- Wilkinson, Richard H. The Complete Gods and Goddesses of Ancient Egypt. 2003, p. 181.
- Delorme, Jean. Larousse encyclopedia of ancient and medieval history. s.l. : Excalibur Books, 1981.
- The Archytype of Lion, in Ancient Iran, Mesopotamia & Egypt. Taheri, Sadreddin. 2013, Honarhay-e Ziba Journal, p. 49.
- The Æsop for Children. U.S Library of Congress . [Online] http://www.read.gov/aesop/001.html.
- Ingersoll, Ernest. The Illustrated Book of Dragons and Dragon Lore. s.l. : Lulu.com, 2013.
- Yellow Emperor. China Daily . [Online] 3 12, 2012. https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/life/yellow_emperor_memorial_ceremony/2012-03/12/content_14812971.htm.
- Appiah, Kwame Anthony. In my father’s house : Africa in the philosophy of culture. s.l. : Oxford University Press, 1993.
- Tabono Play Hard Work Hard. Chic African Culture . [Online] 10 7, 2015.
- PEMPAMSIE. West African Wisdom: Adinkra Symbols & Meanings. [Online]
- Badawi, Cherine. Egypt – Footprint travel guide. s.l. : Footprint, 2004.
- Beyond the Exotic: Women’s Histories in Islamic Societies. [book auth.] Amira El-Azhary Sonbol. s.l. : Syracuse University Press, 2005, pp. 355-359.
- Lockard, Craig A. Societies, Networks, and Transitions, Volume I: To 1500: A Global History. s.l. : Wadsworth Publishing, 2010.
- Smith, Michael E. The Aztecs. s.l. : Blackwell Publishing, 2012.
- What you should know about the Celtic symbol for strength. [Online] https://www.irishcentral.com/roots/celtic-symbol-for-strength.
- Fraze, James George. The Worship of the Oak. The Golden Bough. 1922.
- Tree Worship. Taylor, John W. 1979, The Mankind Quarterly, pp. 79-142.
- Cabanau, Laurent. The Hunter’s Library: Wild Boar in Europe. Könemann. 2001.
- Mallory, Douglas Q. Adams & J.P. Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture. s.l. : Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1997.
- Macdonell. Vedic Mythology. s.l. : Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1898.
- Knight, J. Waiting for Wolves in Japan: An Anthropological Study of People-wildlife Relations,. s.l. : Oxford University Press, 2003, pp. 49-73.
- Schwabe, Gordon &. The Quick and the Dead: Biomedical Theory in Ancient Egypt. 2004.
- Miller, Patrick. Israelite Religion and Biblical Theology: Collected Essays. s.l. : Continuum international publishing group, p. 32.
- MacCulloch, John A. Celtic Mythology. s.l. : Academy Chicago Publications, 1996.
- Allen, James P. Middle Egyptian: An Introduction to the Language and Culture of Hieroglyphs. s.l. : Cambridge University Press, 2014.
- URUZ rune meaning and interpretation. Need Magazine. [Online] https://www.needmagazine.com/rune-meaning/uruz/.
- Hercules. Mythology.net . [Online] 2 2, 2017. https://mythology.net/greek/heroes/hercules/.
- Davidson, H.R. Ellis. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. s.l. : Penguin, 1990.
- Stefan, Oliver. Introduction to Heraldry. 2002. p. 44.
- Griffin. Encyclopedia Britannica. [Online] https://www.britannica.com/topic/griffin-mythological-creature.
- Indra in the Rig-Veda. 1885, Journal of the American Oriental Society.
- The Vajra (Dorje) as a Symbol in Buddhism. Learn Religion . [Online] https://www.learnreligions.com/vajra-or-dorje-449881.
- Barnes, Sandra. Africa’s Ogun: Old World and New. s.l. : Indiana University Press, 1997.
- Ogun, the Warrior Orisha. Learn Religions . [Online] 9 30, 2019. https://www.learnreligions.com/ogun-4771718.
- Marg. s.l. : University of Michigan, Vol. 43, p. 77.
- Peter Schertz, Nicole Stribling. The Horse in Ancient Greek Art. s.l. : Yale University Press, 2017.
- Cunha, Luís Sá. THE HORSE IN ANCIENT CHINESE HISTORY, SYMBOLISM AND MYTH. Chinese Government Cultural Bureau. [Online] http://www.icm.gov.mo/rc/viewer/20009/883.
- Horse Symbol. Native Indian Tribes. [Online] https://www.warpaths2peacepipes.com/native-american-symbols/horse-symbol.htm#:~:text=The%20meaning%20of%20the%20horse%20symbol%20was%20to%20signify%20mobility,the%20direction%20taken%20by%20riders..
- The Bear Symbol . Native American Tribes . [Online] https://www.warpaths2peacepipes.com/native-american-symbols/bear-symbol.htm.
- SANDERS, DAVAUN. Sphinx Meanings. Ckassroom . [Online] https://classroom.synonym.com/sphinx-meanings-8420.html#:~:text=1%20The%20Sphinx%20in%20Ancient%20Egypt&text=The%20familiar%20depiction%20of%20the,dominance%20to%20a%20king’s%20intelligence..
- Stewart, Desmond. Pyramids and the Sphinx. 1971.
- Native American Wolf Mythology. Native Languages of the Americas. [Online] http://www.native-languages.org/legends-wolf.htm.
- Lopez, Barry H. Of Wolves and Men. 1978.
- Wollert, Edwin. Wolves in Native American Culture. Wolf Song of Alaska. [Online] https://www.wolfsongalaska.org/chorus/node/179.
- Fasces. Encyclopedia britannica. [Online] https://www.britannica.com/topic/fasces.
- Elephant: The Animal and Its Ivory in African Culture. Fowler Museum at UCLA. [Online] 3 30, 2013. https://web.archive.org/web/20130330072035/http://www.fowler.ucla.edu/category/exhibitions-education/elephant-animal-and-its-ivory-african-culture.
- Circles, Circles Everywhere. NRICH Project . [Online] https://nrich.maths.org/2561.
- Geometric Shapes and Their Symbolic Meanings. Learn Relgion . [Online] https://www.learnreligions.com/geometric-shapes-4086370.
- Symbolism of Circles in Egyptian Religion. Seattle Pi. [Online] https://education.seattlepi.com/symbolism-circles-egyptian-religion-5852.html.
- What is Taiji? Taiji Zen . [Online] http://www.taijizen.com/en/singlepage.html?7_2.
- al, Rita E et. Pharaohs of the sun : Akhenaten, Nefertiti, Tutankhamen. s.l. : Boston Museum of Fine Arts, 1999.
- Akhenaten: The Heretic King. s.l. : Princeton University Press, 1984.
- Tarhun. Encyclopaedia Britannica. [Online] https://www.britannica.com/topic/Tarhun.
- Berry, Thomas. Religions of India. s.l. : Columbia University Press, 1996.
- The Thunderbird of Native Americans. Legends of America. [Online] https://www.legendsofamerica.com/thunderbird-native-american/.
- Mockeries and Metamorphoses of an Aztec God: Tezcatlipoca, “lord of the Smoking Mirror”. s.l. : Guilhem Olivier, 2003.
- Girvin, Tim. THE LIGHTNING STRIKE OF IDEAS: THE MIGRATORY SYMBOLISM OF THE THUNDERBOLT. Girvin . [Online] 4 20, 2016. https://www.girvin.com/the-lightning-strike-of-ideas-the-migratory-symbolism-of-the-thunderbolt/.
- CELTIC DRAGON – SYMBOL OF POWER AND FERTILITY AT THE SAME TIME. Documentarytube.com . [Online] https://www.documentarytube.com/articles/celtic-dragon-symbol-of-power-and-fertility-at-the-same-time.
- Yoni. Encyclopaedia Britannica. [Online] https://www.britannica.com/topic/yoni.
- Shaivism. Encyclopaedia Britannica. [Online] https://www.britannica.com/topic/Hinduism/Shaivism.62.
- Iventis, Linda. Russian Folk Belief. 1989.