10 Symbols Of War And Their Meanings
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War has always been part of different societies across cultures and periods of time all over the world. Wars have been waged for various reasons and people have been fighting each other for thousands of years even before documentation was available.
From tribal wars to religious conflicts and territorial disputes, and even in mythologies in most cultures, the world has seen it all and is still bearing witness to warfares today.
Here’s a list of some of the most well-known symbols that represent war from different cultures.
10 Symbols Of War And Their Meanings
1. Two Arrows (Native American)
In Native American culture, arrows are the main weapon used for attack and defense.
An arrow pointed to the left is meant to ward off evil. An arrow pointed to the right denotes protection. And an arrow pointed down signifies peace. Two arrows depicted together – the two arrows symbol – represents war for Native Americans.
The two arrows symbol is meant to mimic the arrows being thrown between two fighting warriors.
2. Z (Russian)
The intriguing letter Z symbol was first seen hand-painted on Russian tanks and military trucks on the Ukrainian border before Russia’s invasion in February of 2022.
It is a curious symbol because the Cirillic Russian alphabet does not contain the letter Z; instead, a figure that resembles “3” is used for the “z” sound.
The Russian defense ministry has stated that Z meant Za pobedu, meaning “for victory.” From a military marking, the Z insignia has become the primary symbol of public support for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
3. Mjölnir (Norse)
In Norse mythology, mjölnir is the thunder god Thor’s hammer. Viewed as the finest weapon in the universe, mjölnir has often been used as an amulet since the Viking Age.
While it is a divine instrument used to endow blessings, mjölnir has also come to symbolize war since it is also employed as a destructive weapon.
4. Achilles’ Shield (Greek)
In Greek mythology, Achilles, although almost invincible because of his divine roots, uses a shield and armor to battle Hector. His mother, a nymph, asks the god of metalsmithing to make Achilles a new shield. This shield has come to symbolize war and life in wartime.
In time of peace, however, Achilles’ shield symbolizes the world beyond the battlefield. It serves as a reminder that life includes dances and celebrations, as well as marketplaces and harvested crops.
6. Xochiyáoyotl (Aztec)
Xochiyáoyotl or a flower war was a ritual war fought between the Aztec tribe and its enemies. This kind of war was generally less fatal than a typical war, but long-running ones could become increasingly deadly in the passage of time.
The Aztec people considered dying during a xochiyáoyotl to be more noble than being killed in a typical war, so the flower war was important to them. They thought souls of those who died in flower wars would be transported to heaven.
Over time, depictions of a xochiyáoyotl have come to symbolize war among the Aztec people.
5. Akoben (African)
Depicted as a war horn used for sounding battle cries, the akoben is a symbol that represents vigilance and wariness, as well as hope and loyalty.
The akoben was used to warn the tribe of imminent danger so that the tribesmen could prepare for the enemies’ attack. It was also blown to call soldiers and fighters to the battlefield.
The akoben symbol was created by one of the largest ethnic groups of the Akan people of West Africa to serve as a reminder to always be vigilant and prepared.
7. Tūmatauenga (Māori)
In Māori culture, Tūmatauenga – or “Tū” for short – is the primary god of war, guarding over the realms of war, as well as hunting, fishing, food cultivation, and cooking.
Tū was born to the sky father and the earth mother who were locked in an everlasting embrace. He and his brothers were in the darkness, trapped between their parents. Tū suggested to kill them to let light into the world, but his brothers only wanted to force them apart. The latter happened, after which Tū waged a war against his brothers.
The Māori god of war inspired the New Zealand Army’s Māori name: Ngāti Tūmatauenga. The Māori people celebrated war parties and went on hunting trips in his honor, making offers in the event of war.
Tūmatauenga has come to symbolize warfare as he was its originator. According to Māori beliefs, people make war today because Tū provided the example.
8. Shanka (Hindu)
A shanka is used as a trumpet in Hindu rituals. In the past, it was used as a war horn. Akin to the West African akoben, the shanka is blown to sound a battle cry and warn the people of an attack from the enemy.
The shankha or conch shell symbol has religious importance in the Hindu religion. It is a sacred symbol of the Hindu god Vishnu. In history, it was viewed as a symbol of battle or war.
9. The Boar (Celtic)
The boar was a very significant animal among the ancient Celts, especially during the Iron Age. They admired and respected the ferocity of this animal and its ability to defend itself when threatened.
Consuming the meat of this animal was believed to bestow one with strength when faced with danger. As a symbol, the boar was one of the most popular in Celtic mythology.
Boars has appeared throughout mythology as magical, often devastating supernatural beasts. The boar symbol represents valor and ferocity for the warriors, appearing as a crest on their helmets.
Moccus, the boar-god of the continental Celtic tribe of Lingones, was invoked as the protector of boar hunters and warriors.
The boar is also linked with the Celtic god Vitiris, a deity favored by warriors.
10. Svetovit (Slavic)
Svetovit, also called Sventovit or Svantovit, is the Slavic god of abundance and war. His name is interpreted to mean “strong lord” or “holy lord.”
With the help of Svetovit’s horse and horn, the priests performed divinations. In Slavic myths, Svetovit rides his horse at night to fight his enemies.
Svetovit is depicted with four heads, a horn, and a sword. This serves as a symbol that represents war as well as abundance.