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ver Doublethaler of Augsburg, 1626.2 millenia a specialized language of symbols has been developed for use on coins and medals. These symbols communicate messages about sovereignty—the nature of the issuing nation and of its rulers, and how the they wished to be viewed. Symbols of sovereignty can be divided into three major categories:

Symbols representing corporate political entities (democracies, oligarchies, federations, republics)

Symbols representing political entities ruled by individuals (dictatorships, minor principalities, monarchies, empires).

Symbols with meanings transcending the political organization of the issuer, including gods and various creatures, real and mythical.

Among the symbols of individual sovereignty are those listed below:

  • Crowns are the symbols of individual sovereignty par excellence. They are almost always worn by rulers to indicate their rank and are often made of precious metals and adorned with precious stones. In fact, the term crown has come to be applied to the royal office itself.
  • Coronets are smaller crowns worn by noble persons or the five orders of peers: dukes, marquesses, earls, viscounts, and barons.
  • Fillets are headbands or ribbons tied around long hair to keep it out of the eyes.
  • Diadems were originally headbands made of cloth, and later became metal headbands worn as symbols of power.
  • Miters are tall caps having an archlike outline in the front and the back, and are worn by high church officials. The shape is supposed to represent the cloven tongues of fire that descended on the apostles on the day of Pentecost.
  • Orbs are symbols of dominance and universal rule.
  • Scepters are emblems of royal authority.
  • Swords as symbols of power and strength.
  • Tiaras are ornamental coronets worn by women or, in ecclesiastical usage, the Pope. The term is also applied to high headdresses or turbans worn by the ancient Persians and others.
  • Turbans are Eastern cloth headdresses wound either about a cap or directly about the head.
  • Wreaths are circular bands of flowers, foliage, or the like.

French six livres coin of 1793.Symbols of corporate sovereignty, often developed in opposition to monarchies and associated with liberty or freedom, include a wide range of objects, gods, and personifications of ideas. The the use of gods associated with the issuing authority through identification or by perceived attributes goes back to the ancient Greeks. The Romans invented many of the symbols and personifications still used today as symbols of corporate sovereignty. Among these are:

  • Fasces, originally a symbol of the Roman Republic, this symbol (an axe wrapped in a bundle of rods) was resurrected during the French Revolution, and later used in the U.S. Mercury dime. The symbol has fallen from favor as a symbol of political freedom since its adoption by Mussolini as a symbol of the Italian Fascist party.
  • Liberty, personified as a woman in many different forms—she represents a synthesis of ancient personifications often used to represent cities or nations on coins. (For example, Roma, or any number of representations of cities throughout the Roman world and later, Britannia as the personification of Great Britain.)
  • Liberty cap, originally worn by freed slaves in the Roman world (the pileus libertatis), the liberty cap was adopted as a symbol of political freedom, first by the Dutch in 1681, and then during the revolutions of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

The third class of symbols is represented by the following:

  • Eagles are among the most popular of images to appear on coins, beginning in ancient Greece and continuing into the present. They have represented many things including divine patronage as the avatars of Zeus, imperial power, national endurance, and majesty.
  • Lions have been popular since the earliest days of coinage as symbols of power and strength.
  • Sun rays have represented the sun god, divinity, and in the Christian world divine intervention and favor.
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Last updated: 03/11/2008