Throughout the ages, power has been represented and visually imposed through symbols that reflect the might and authority that a king, an emperor, dictator, state, religion, institution or even corporation wants to project upon the rest of society.
From the earliest times, people have resorted to symbols that signal authority and power. The vestiges of Roman influence created in this way remained an inspiration long after their civilisation disappeared, reappearing many centuries later in the symbolism, architecture and titles of successive empires.
Today, we continue to be surrounded by this intrinsically human preoccupation with the projection of power and wealth – be it on a national, corporate or private level.
It wasn’t long after the Neolithic period, when mankind evolved from roving bands of extended families into settled communities building villages and towns, that the first vestiges of power began to appear.
To be fair, the tribal chieftains had already distinguished themselves from the rest of their kin by wearing longer mantels or elaborate headwear, but it was when the first civilisations developed that the classic sense of power projection was properly born.
Kings, priests, warriors and other notables developed ever more elaborate forms of dress that immediately indicated their rank, wealth and authority, though it is through edifices, weaponry and heraldic insignia that they truly marked their territory as a message to both their immediate subjects and neighbouring leaders of note.
To do this, leaders chose symbols in much the same way that companies today create logos to represent their business, philosophy and aspirations, and very often they took the form of stylised animals.
Naturally, powerful creatures were chosen, so that the heraldic tradition that was born as far back as the Sumerian and Babylonian periods some 7,000 years ago included lions, eagles and bulls, while the ancient Egyptians also added subtler representations of snakes, hyenas and cranes.
Each of these animals represents a specific characteristic of power or of a godlike deity, just as the pantheon of man/animal creatures in classical India and China did.
Today, the elephant features of the Hindu God Ganesh are still highly visible in the street life of India, where in other parts of the world this type of symbolism has faded in importance but continues to surround us…
Words Michel Cruz