Today, many of us may take it for granted, but throughout most of history, for the common person, freedom has been perceived as an exception rather than a fundamental basic right.
Only in the Age of Enlightenment, when the discourse was deliberately created by thinkers of the notion that every individual is created equal and thus in possession of certain rights, did the concept of freedom as a right truly enter into mainstream society.
In this article, we have compiled the top 23 symbols of freedom & liberty throughout history.
1. Phrygian Cap (West)
Hat symbol of freedom / Women wearing Phrygian caps
© Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons
The Phrygian cap is a type of ancient felt cap that was associated with people of the Balkans and Anatolia during the Hellenic age.
In the 18th century, following the revival of Greco-Roman Iconography in Western Society, the cap became adopted as a symbol of liberty.
Particularly in the American and French Revolution, it also came to signify republicanism and anti-monarchist sentiments.
This symbolism would further get imported into Latin America following the rise of anti-colonial movements. (1) (2)
Today, the Phrygian cap is depicted on the coat of arms of a number of republics or republican institutions where otherwise a Crown would be used.
2. Bald Engle (USA)
American symbol of freedom / Bald eagle
Image Courtesy: pixy.org
The bald eagle is a species of fishing eagle indigenous to North America.
It is a national symbol of the United States, and is widely associated with freedom and liberty.
Interestingly, one of the country’s founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin held a personally negative view of the eagle.
In a letter, he referred to it as a “bird of bad moral character [who] does not get his living honestly.” (3) (4)
3. Pileus (Ancient Rome)
The Pileus was a conical cap given to slaves after their manumission. In the ceremony, a slave’s head would be shaved, and he would wear instead of his hair an undyed Pileus. (5)
The hat was also one of the official symbols of Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom (6) and whose image has inspired many modern personifications of liberty such as Columbia in the United States and Marianne in the French Republic.
4. Statue of Liberty (USA)
Representing Libertas, the Roman goddess of liberty, the statue is one of the most widely recognized icons of the United States and a symbol of freedom, human rights, and democracy. (7)
Designed by the famous French sculptor Bartholdi in 1886, the statue was “a gift from the people of France to the people of the United States.” (8)
At the feet of the statue lies broken chains and shackles, commemorating the national abolition of slavery that occurred during the civil war. (9)
Many who fled Europe to escape oppression saw the statue as a sign of welcome to their new home and hope of a better future. (10)
5. Vindicta (Ancient Rome)
Another symbol of the goddess Libertas was the Vindicta, with which she was often depicted in Roman iconography.
The Vindicta ceremonial rod was used in the manumission of slaves. In the ceremony, the master would bring his slave to the lictor, who would proceed to lay the rod on the head of the slave and formally declared him free. (6) (11)
6. Gadsden Flag
While at the risk of being appropriated by far-right movements today, the Gadsden flag had originally served as a symbol of civil liberty and resistance to government tyranny. (12)
Named after the American general and politician Christopher Gadsden, the flag was designed during the American Revolution.
By then, the rattlesnake has come to be seen as among the symbols of American independence, the animal representing vigilance, liberty, and true courage. (13)
7. Liberty Bell (USA)
Liberty Bell is today among the most recognized and iconic symbols of American Independence.
On it is ascribed the words, “Proclaim LIBERTY Throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants Thereof.” The Bell actually predates the country, having been commissioned by the Colonial Provincial Assembly in Pennsylvania sometime in 1752.
Following the US independence, it actually fell into relative obscurity until it became adopted as the official symbol of the growing abolitionist movement in the 1830s. (14)
Some years later, the Bell would gain nationwide fame after a story circulated that it was rung by an aged Bellringer on July 4, 1776, upon hearing of the Congress’ vote for independence. Although the historicity of it remains disputed. (15)
During the Cold War, the Bell became a symbol of Freedom in the West. Former citizens of Soviet-occupied Europe would tap the Bell as a “symbol of hope and encouragement to their compatriots.” (16)
8. Bonnet Rouge (France)
Louis XVI the last king of France wearing a Bonnet rouge (traditional revolutionary phrygian cap) / French red cap
Image courtesy: picryl.com
The Bonnet Rouge is yet another hat that sprang up during the Age of Revolution to serve as a symbol of liberty and freedom.
The association first emerged in the Kingdom of France in 1695 following a working-class anti-tax insurgency where members wore a red cap to better identify each other.
Following the event, the symbol of the bonnet rouge became entrenched in the imagination of French society.
Nearly a century later, the French people would again don the bonnet rouge as they rose up in revolution against the Bourbons. (1)
9. Liberty Tree (USA)
US Freedom Tree / Liberty Tree
Houghton Library, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The Liberty Tree is the name of a large elm tree that stood near the Boston Common. It was here that the first public act of defiance against British rule was made in the colonies and spawned the seeds of revolution that would emerge years later. (17)
Following the first protest, the area around the Liberty Tree became a frequent meeting point for groups dissatisfied with the British.
Because of what it represented to the patriots, the tree would get cut down by the British during the siege of Boston.
Inspired by the American example, across the Atlantic, it would also go on to become a symbol of the French Revolution. (18)
10. Broken Chains (Universal)
With chains being linked to bondage, confinement, and slavery, the breaking of them symbolizes its opposite – that of liberation, freedom, emancipation, and liberty.
Ironically, despite its widespread modern recognition as a symbol, very few (if any) authoritative sources exist that hint at its origin.
The most probable hypothesis is that the association arose during the French Revolution, where prisoners and slaves were freed by revolutionaries, with the chains they were bound to physically broken. (19) (20)
11. The French Tricolor (France)
Conceived in the midst of the French Revolution, the French Tricolor symbolizes the Republican principles of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity.
The simplicity of its design implied a radical break of the country with its monarchist past.
The flag’s iconic three-color scheme is derived from the cockade of France, which was adopted by revolutionaries as their official symbol.
The flag has been widely copied by a number of other countries both in Europe and the rest of the world.
In history, it has come to stand as a symbol of resistance against the totalitarian oppression of both the old (monarchism) and the new (communism and fascism). (21)
12. Bird in Flight (Universal)
Bird as a symbol of freedom / Flying seabird
Image courtesy: pxfuel.com
Birds, in general, have served as symbols of freedom. This is because of the observation that not only can they walk and swim like other animals but also possess the ability to take to the skies.
Thus, they are bound by no physical limitations to their movement. In other words, they possess complete freedom.
Partly behind the symbolism is also the bird’s association with divinity. Perceived as messengers of the heavens, they thus embody related aspects such as peace, spirituality, salvation, and freedom. (22) (23)
13. Marianne (France)
Symbol of France / Liberty leading the people
Eugène Delacroix, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Marianne is the national personification of the French Republic and embodies the qualities of liberty, equality, fraternity, democracy, and reason.
She is a ubiquitous state symbol being found on official government seals, postage stamps, and coins.
During the early days of the French revolution, Marianne sprang up as one of the many allegorical personifications of Republican virtues and was largely overshadowed by other figures such as Mercury and Minerva.
However, in 1792, she would be chosen by the National Convention as the official symbol of the state.
According to historians, the use of a woman to represent France was deliberate. It implied a breakup with the traditions of the old kingdom, which was ruled by kings and was embodied by masculine figures. (24) (25)
14. Circled A
Anarchist Symbol / Circled A symbol
Linuxerist, Froztbyte, Arcy, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The circled A is among the most widely recognized symbols of the Anarchism. It is a political ideology founded on the premise that all forms of involuntary hierarchies constitute oppression and thus, rejects all forms of formally established governments. (26)
Anarchism as a political movement first arose during the French Revolution and, from there onwards, the ideology continued to enjoy high popularity among young intellectuals and members of the working class. (27)
However, following their suppression by Socialists in Russia (28) and their defeat in the Spanish Civil War, the movement was severely weakened and was relegated to a mere undercurrent in Leftist discourse. (29)
15. Feather (Native Americans)
Native American symbol of freedom / Feather
Image Courtesy: pikrepo.com
The Native American tribes were a deeply spiritual people and attached to objects various abstract and cosmological meanings.
The feather, for instance, was a particularly sacred symbol representing honor, strength, power, and freedom.
It also signified the link between the owner, the Creator, and the bird from which the feather had come from.
It was a custom among certain native tribes to award a feather to warriors who had won a battle or had shown themselves to be particularly brave in war. (30)
16. Pine Tree (USA)
Appeal to Heaven Flag / Pine Tree Flag
DevinCook (talk). The pine tree graphic was created by IMeowbot (talk)., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The pine tree has long been an important symbol in North America, even before the arrival of the Europeans.
It was under a pine tree that the leaders of the 6 tribes which would form the Iroquois Confederacy would symbolically bury their weapons. (31)
Leading up to the American Revolution, the Pine tree has been adopted by the colonists as their flag symbol and signified their homeland and the struggle for independence.
The Pine Tree symbol is often depicted paired with the phrase, “An Appeal to Heaven.” This particular expression is a quote from the Liberal English philosopher, John Locke, who claimed that if a people are denied their rights and find no one to appeal to on Earth, then they may appeal to Heaven; effectively determine themselves whether their cause is just or not. (32)
17. Wings (Universal)
Wings as freedom symbol
Image courtesy: pickpik.com
Similar to a bird in flight, wings too are often represented as symbols of freedom and spirituality. They represent the ability of an entity to transcend the limitations set by nature.
This can also be taken metaphorically, with giving wings to someone implying them being able to transcend earthly conditions.
Thus, angels or departed souls are usually shown with wings in many artworks, past or present. (33) (34)
18. Two Golden Fishes (Buddhism)
Two golden fish / Buddhist fish symbol
Image Courtesy: pxfuel.com
A pair of golden fish is one of the eight Ashtamangala (auspicious signs) in Buddhism. Their symbol is associated with freedom and happiness, luck and fortune, as well as the two main pillars of Buddha’s teachings – peace and harmony.
Likely the association may have been drawn from observing fishes swimming freely in the water, with no worries of the unknown dangers that lurk in the depths.
Thus, it serves as a symbolism for a person willing to move freely around in this world of suffering and delusions with their mind in peace and liberated from worry. (35) (36)
19. Andean Condor (South America)
The largest known flying animal currently alive, the Andean Condor is a large New World vulture with a wingspan that can exceed 12 feet.
Unsurprisingly, given its great size, the bird has long served as a revered symbol among the society that it shares its habitat with.
Among the Andean natives, the condor has long been associated with power and health. In the modern context, the bird serves as an official state symbol in many South American countries and represents liberty and prosperity. (37) (38)
20. Hummingbird (East Asia)
Despite not being native to the region, hummingbirds have become an established symbol in East Asian culture.
The tiny hummingbird, known as the only bird to be able to fly backward and upside down, is associated with freedom, prosperity, and good news.
In Feng Shui traditions, it is recommended to hang pictures of hummingbirds in buildings to attract good luck and keep the place spiritually purified. (39)
21. Grapevine (Ancient Rome)
Symbol of Liber / Grapevine
Image courtesy: pxfuel.com
The grapevine was a symbol of Liber Pater, the Roman god of viticulture, wine, and freedom. An original Roman invention, Liber’s cult emerged soon after the overthrow of the Roman Kings and its transition into a republic.
He was a patron of the common folk, forming part of the Aventine Triad – the other two gods being Ceres and Libera.
The Aventine Triad can be perceived as a religious countercurrent to the Roman elite Capitoline Triad, composed of Jupiter, Mars, and Quirinus.
His festival, Liberalia, was a celebration of free speech and the rights attached to the coming of age. (40) (41)
22. Bow and Arrow (Ancient Greece)
Symbol of Artemis / Bow
Image courtesy: pikrepo.com
In Ancient Greece, Eleutheria was a name given to the aspect of the Artemis associated with liberty.
Formally, the goddess of the wilderness and the hunt, the primary symbol of Artemis was the bow and arrow.
In Greek mythology, she was a daughter of Zeus and Leto and the twin sister of Apollo and is said to have sided with the city of Troy during its invasion by the Greeks. (42) (43)
23. Fawohodie (West Africa)
In Akan culture, adinkras are woodcut symbols representative of various complex concepts or aphorism.
They are a ubiquitous part of West African society, being incorporated in pottery, fabrics, architecture and jewelry. (44)
The Fawohodie (meaning independence) is an adinkra symbol for freedom and emancipation. However, it also further implies that freedom often comes at a cost, and one must be willing to bear the responsibilities that come with it. (45) (46)
Over to You
Did you find this list incomplete? Feel free to let us know in the comments what other symbols of freedom we should add to the list. Also, don’t forget to share this article with others in your circles if you found it to be a worthwhile read.
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