Laurel Wreath/Crown Symbol, Its Meaning and History

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In today’s post we are going back to ancient Greece and delving into one of the most interesting symbols of the time. Here is all you need to know about the laurel wreath symbol/crown, its meaning, history and modern uses.

What is a Laurel Wreath/Crown ? 

The laurel wreath symbol is an insignia that came into existence as a result of the popularity of the laurel wreath crown. 

The laurel wreath crown is a foliage headband that was highly renowned in Ancient Greece.

The laurel wreath crown, as the name suggests, is a garland made from interlocked leaves and branches.  It was originally made from the leaves of the bay laurel plant (botanical name: Laurus nobilis).

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Laurel Wreath/Crown Symbol, Its Meaning and History
Laurel Wreath – © Paolo Schorli at ShutterStock

These leaves have a smooth and shiny texture, and are slightly fragrant in nature. Foliage from other plants such as the cherry laurel (botanical name: Prunus laurocerasus) or butcher’s broom (botanical name: Ruscus hypoglossum) was also sometimes used to make the laurel wreath.

It was presented as an award that was worn over the head or around the neck as an emblem of victory, or to commemorate an important event.   

The laurel wreath crown and the laurel wreath symbol have been of great importance for a very long time.

Here is a brief history of this legendary icon. 

History of the Laurel Wreath Symbol/Crown

In Ancient Greece, laurel wreaths were awarded to the winners of athletic competitions in the Olympics. 

In Greek mythology, crowns made from laurel leaves are closely associated with gods and goddesses. The Olympian God, Apollo, the son of Zeus, is depicted wearing the laurel wreath in various instances. 

The wreath was used as a status symbol by the rich and influential people of the time. Laurel wreath crowns were first instituted by Apollo. It is said that Apollo unrelentingly pursued his love interest, Daphne, a nymph who didn’t feel the same way about Apollo and fled to save herself.

She sought help from the river god who turned her into a laurel tree. The grief-stricken Apollo used the branches and leaves from the tree for consolation, and made them into a crown.

In other accounts, it is said that Apollo instituted the Python Games, in which winners were awarded a laurel crown. These games were held every four years and included both physical and artistic competitions such as wrestling, drama, music, poetry, and dancing. Victors were awarded ‘laurel’ wreaths, hence giving way to terms such as Nobel laureate and poet laureate. 

Another myth says that Apollo killed the dragon, Python, and assumed its power over the oracle. And this is how the laurel wreath became associated with victory and power.   

A cursory look at history will reveal that laurel crowns were printed on currency, for instance, Charlemagne’s head which is adorned with a laurel crown on coins. Van Dyck painted a portrait of Charles V on Horseback, which depicts him wearing the laurel crown. Even Napoleon, a popular emperor, is often shown in paintings wearing a golden laurel wreath.  

The laurel wreath has also been mentioned in the Bible in Revelation 6:2, in which John describes seeing a conqueror wearing the crown and sitting on a white horse. 

Meaning of the Laurel Wreath Symbol – What Does the Crown Represent?

The leaf used in making laurel crown is believed to have physical and spiritual cleansing abilities. The laurel crown is also associated with Victoria, known in Greek mythology as the goddess of victory.

Over time, Apollo’s iconic crown symbolized victory, which is why it is used to crown geniuses, wise men, and heroes. It is also imprinted on shields and depicted in various other styles in architecture. 

In Christianity, it signifies triumph and victory or to be more specific, the resurrection of Jesus that would put an end to every conflict in this world, eventually bringing about true peace.

Besides symbolizing victory, laurel leaves are believed to be a symbol of success, fame, and prosperity. It was commonly believed that laurel leaves could inspire creativity through symbolic dreams when placed under the pillow at night for inspiration. 

This idea also continued into the 21st century as many colleges around the world crown their graduates with laurel wreaths as a sign of their achievements. In fact, the terms laurel and baccalaureate have originated from laurel leaves, signifying great success. 

Modern Uses of the Laurel Wreath Symbol and the Laurel Crown 

In the modern world, the laurel wreath, both as a symbol and in physical form, is closely associated with educational institutes and academics. 

In Rome, it is customary for all students to receive a laurel wreath when graduating. The tradition has been practiced in Rome for the last two hundred years, and has now been adopted by various universities and colleges in other parts of the world as well.

For example, graduates of the Mount Holyoke College wear laurel wreath crowns or carry strings of laurel leaves during the ceremony.

Postgraduates from the University of Helsinki, Finland are also presented with a laurel wreath upon the completion of their studies, whereas in Sweden, a laurel wreath is given to those who have completed the doctorate’s degree at the Faculty of Philosophy and received an honorary mention.

Moreover, all senior students at Reed College receive a laurel wreath after submitting their thesis.

The laurel wreath is commonly used in logos and heraldry. 

The Boy Scouts organization displays the laurel wreath symbol on its badges for the commissioner’s position. These are given to dedicated members in honor of their services, and to appreciate their vigorous efforts. 

In heraldry, the laurel wreath symbol is usually used along with a shield. Either the wreath contains an image of a shield in its center or it is displayed on the shield itself. Together, they symbolize victory and power. 

Much like in ancient times, the laurel wreath is still also a popular element in the fashion industry. However, its use is no longer limited to headbands only. Today, you can find a wide range of jewelry items that incorporate the laurel wreath in some form or another.

Gold and silver rings and bracelets shaped like a laurel wreath look really stunning. Contemporary artisans often incorporate gemstones into the design for a touch of class and beauty. 

Moreover, you will also see the bride at groom at traditional Greek-themed wedding ceremonies wearing the laurel crown as a symbol of their eternal love. 

Wreaths made from fresh laurel leaves are often a prominent decorative item at memorial services. The laurel wreath symbol is also carved on headstones as a tribute to all that the person accomplished during their lifetime.

If you enjoyed reading our post about the laurel wreath symbol, its meaning and history, you will probably be very interested in browsing Mythologian’s huge symbols and meanings section. Please kindly visit it by going to the top menu to read more about symbols. Thanks for reading, see you in the next post!

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