To be victorious means everything to some people. In the old days, it wasn’t just an ego thing. Just think about prehistoric people battling carnivorous beasts, Roman gladiators pitted against each other, or soldiers in a battle in any time of human history.
It may sound a bit pompous, but it’s true – to be victorious was a matter of life and death.
It is no wonder that symbols of victory have a strong association with historical entities and events – great civilizations, great battles, or historical struggles. Some of them evolved in various ways and have become omnipresent across multiple cultures. A number of them keep their former strength today and are embedded in jewelry, prints, and tattoos by people that feel like they need additional courage boost in their lives.
What are some of the most recognized symbols of victory across the world?
Read on to find out.
Laurel Wreath is one of the best-known symbols of victory. Originating in ancient Roman times, it has had various uses throughout history – from being regularly included on war medals to – most famously – being depicted on Olympic games medals.
In the Ancient Roman Pantheon, Victoria, the Goddess of victory, was always pictured holding a laurel wreath in her hands – that is why the association of this object with victory was so strong. Ancient Rome had a strong military and warrior culture, so the symbol was all the more important for that fact. The highest honor given to victors of war was Corona Triumphalis – made out of laurel leaves.
Today, the symbol successfully preserves its original meaning. Besides sports medals and other honors, many printed certificates now feature laurel wreath graphics, and in some colleges, the graduates receive a laurel wreath for their accomplishments.
Laurel Wreath is also famous for being a logo of the clothing company Fred Perry. Once a popular brand with the working-class and (non-racist) Skinhead movement of 1960s and 1970s England, it was subsequently hijacked by neo-nazi groups – first in the 1980s by the English extreme right football hooligans, and more recently, groups such as the US’ Proud Boys.
The laurel wreath is an appealing symbol to these groups both for its association with Ancient Rome and war culture and heroism. Still, the company is fighting to separate itself from these associations and keep an inclusive image.
In ancient times, when the palm-rich Middle East used to be a cradle of advanced agricultural civilization on one side of the world, and other cultures as well relied on palm products for sustenance (e.g., Pacific and Southeast Asia), the palm branch was a symbol of goodness, stability and victory. In the Mesopotamian region, it was commonly seen as a symbol in temples and was featured on coins as well.
Also, the rulers were often welcomed by palm branches when visiting a certain territory. That is why Jesus Christ was welcomed in Jerusalem by children putting palm branches in front of him, symbolizing his mythical future victory over death and him becoming the Messiah to Christian believers. Palm Sunday is the holiday that remembers this event.
Dhvaja Victory Banner/Flag (Hinduism/Buddhism)
Here is an interesting symbol from East Asia that has both warfare victory and spiritual victory meanings.
Dhvaja, meaning flag banner, used to be a military standard in ancient Indian warfare. In Hindu or Vedic tradition, it is presented as a high column (dhvaja-stambha) and is erected in front of temples. Different flags belong to different deities.
However, the Buddhistic tradition had its own take on the symbol, giving it a slightly different meaning. Rather than being a symbol of physical protection and victory in a battle, in Buddhism Dhvaja is a symbol of the Buddha’s spiritual victory over the four Maras – the main demonic forces.
Different iterations of Dhvaja can be seen on the roofs of Tibetan monasteries. The variations occur due to another Tibetan tradition – different forms of the victory banner – eleven of them, depict eleven specific methods of overcoming “defilements” (Kleshas).
V Sign (Hand gesture)
Here is a victory sign which you may have been using even without knowing its original meaning.
The V sign, or Victory hand, as a hand gesture is created when you raise your middle finger and your index finger, parted, to make a V shape while clenching all other fingers.
It is important to note that the true V sign always features the palm turned towards the outside world. If the palm is turned towards a person making the sign, it is called the inverted V sign and is considered an offensive gesture, especially across the Commonwealth, and is similar in meaning to the “middle finger.”
The regular ‘V’ was introduced as a symbol of victory during World War 2. It first appeared on 18 May 1939, in the French daily, Le Monde Quotidien – the paper featured a headline ‘V pour victoire‘. In 1941, the Allied Forces introduced both the letter V and the Victory hand sign as a part of the anti-Nazi, resistance-inducing campaign.
The first noted Allied proclamation was by then-Belgian Minister of Justice and director of the Belgian French-language broadcasts on the BBC, Victor de Laveleye. In a broadcast, he that Belgians should use V for victoire (French for “victory”) and vrijheid (Dutch for “freedom”) as a rallying emblem. He said that, quote: “the occupier, by seeing this sign, always the same, infinitely repeated, [would] understand that he is surrounded, encircled by an immense crowd of citizens eagerly awaiting his first moment of weakness, watching for his first failure.”
The Germans tried to hijack the sign by assigning it to their own troops as a sign of their victory over the nations they had conquered at the moment. However, as the Third Reich’s power faded, the memory of their V sign usage remained limited to historical documents and hasn’t survived in the popular culture.
After World War 2 and during the era of the Vietnam War in the 1960s, the V hand was “hijacked” once again by the counterculture movement to become a peace sign.
Today, the V hand is often gestured in photographs without any particular meaning, except for it being considered cute, especially in modern East Asian popular culture.
Here is a famous V-sign celebration given by Winston Churchill on Downing Street.
St. George’s Ribbon
Have you ever been to Eastern Europe during the springtime and had seen black-and-orange ribbons on cars and other objects in public?
In Russia and other post-Soviet counties, the stripped black-and-orange ribbon is a symbol of World War 2 victory over Nazi Germany. It is usually put on display in days or weeks before the 9th of May – The Victory Day – and remains to be seen in the subsequent days as well.
Although it was the communist Soviet Union that defeated the Third Reich, the ribbon actually originates from the times of Imperial Russia. The St. George’s ribbon was the highest military award in Imperial Russia; it has been established in 1769 by the renowned Russian ruler Catherine the Great.
It is a great irony that this ribbon wasn’t used during or right after the event it now commemorates – the victory in the “Great Patriotic War” – because it was banned by the communist revolutionaries all the way back in 1917.
The Saint George’s Ribbon as a symbol of victory was only revived in 2000, becoming a symbol of how modern Russia is trying to make peace between its two histories – the imperial one and the communist one. Its 21st-century “reuse” makes the St. George’s Ribbon the most novel victory symbol on our list.
Here is a controversial victory sign – not because of its origin or nature, but because the Nazis hijacked this symbol as well – this time with more success than in the case of the Victory hand.
Tiwaz rune is a Viking symbol associated with coming out from a battle as victorious. That was documented In the Sigrdrífumál, a poem in the Poetic Edda. It says that the one who wants to become a victor has to inscribe the rune on his battle weapon and then call the name of Tyr, a Germanic deity.
The symbol presents as pretty much as elegantly as other runes – as stylish arrow sign. Unfortunately, the Nazis had a great feeling for incorporating elegant symbols (with the most famous example being the Swastika). They used the Tiwaz rune in their propaganda about the “superior” Aryan race; the Neonazi movement continues to do so, giving this rune a negative connotation even in the present era.
Hopefully, one day, the pure ancient power rid of racism will be returned to this symbol. Education about its true origins and meanings is one of the ways to do that – and that is why I’ve included it on this list.
Ancient or more recent, victory symbols have a specific aura. That makes them susceptible to being misused by societal forces looking to gain power violently, such as in the case of the Tiwaz rune. On the other hand (no pun intended), the opposite process can happen as well – as in the case of pacification of V-hand – a few young people today know about its origins.
These twists and turns make Victory signs an intriguing subgroup of symbols. Study them carefully, without judgment and with care. Perhaps some of them will bring a new victorious energy into your life – or at least a newfound interest in historical science.