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Solar symbol

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Helios with a radiate halo driving his chariot (Ilion, 4th century BC; Pergamon Museum)

A solar symbol is a symbol representing the Sun. Common solar symbols include circles with or without rays, crosses or spirals. In religious iconography, personifications of the Sun or solar attributes are indicated by means of a halo or a radiate crown.

When the systematic study of comparative mythology first became popular in the 19th century, scholarly opinion tended to over-interpret historical myths and iconography in terms of "solar symbolism". This was especially the case with Max Müller and his followers beginning in the 1860s in the context of Indo-European studies.[1] Many "solar symbols" claimed in the 19th century, such as the swastika, triskele, Sun cross, etc. have tended to be interpreted more conservatively in scholarship since the later 20th century.[2]


Solar diskEdit

The solar disk, crescent Moon and stars as shown on the Nebra sky disk (c. 1600 BC)

The basic element of most solar symbols is the circular solar disk. The disk can be modified in various ways, notably by adding rays (found in the Bronze Age in Egyptian depictions of Aten) or a cross. In Ancient Near East, the solar disk could also be modified by addition of the Uraeus (rearing cobra), and in Ancient Mesopotamia it was shown as winged.

Bronze Age writingEdit

Egyptian hieroglyphs have a large inventory of solar symbolism because of the central position of solar deities (Ra, Horus, Aten etc.) in Ancient Egyptian religion.

The main ideogram for "Sun" was a representation of the solar disk,
(Gardiner N5), with a variant including the Uraeus,

The "Sun" ideogram in early Chinese writing, beginning with the oracle bone script (c. 12th century BC) also shows the solar disk with a central dot (whence the modern character ), analogous to the Egyptian heroglyph.

Astronomical symbolEdit

The modern astronomical symbol for the Sun (circled dot, Unicode U+2609 ☉; c.f. U+2299 ⊙ "circled dot operator") was first used in the Renaissance. A diagram in Johannes Kamateros' 12th century Compendium of Astrology shows the Sun represented by a circle with a ray.[3] Bianchini's planisphere, produced in the 2nd century,[4] Bianchini's planisphere, produced in the 2nd century, has a circlet with rays radiating from it.[5]

Rayed depictionsEdit

Akhenaten worshipping Aten (14th century BC; 1903 drawing)

A circular disk with alternating triangular and wavy rays emanating from it is a frequent symbol or artistic depiction of the sun.


The ancient Mesopotamian "star of Shamash" could be represented with either eight wavy rays, or with four wavy and four triangular rays.

The Vergina Sun (also known as the Star of Vergina, Macedonian Star, or Argead Star) is a rayed solar symbol appearing in ancient Greek art from the 6th to 2nd centuries BC. The Vergina Sun appears in art variously with sixteen, twelve, or eight triangular rays.

Sun with faceEdit

Sun (ten rays) and Moon with faces in a manuscript miniature illustrating the fourth day of creation (c. 1200)[6]
Sun with a face and eight (alternating triangular and wavy) rays (fresco in Larbey, France, dated c. 1610)
Rayed depictions of the Sun with a human face are a Western iconographic tradition which became current in the Early Modern period.

The iconographic tradition of depicting the Sun with rays and with a human face develops in Western tradition in the high medieval period and becomes widespread in the Renaissance, harking back to the Sun god (Sol/Helios) being depicted as wearing a radiate crown on his head in classical antiquity.

Modern emblemsEdit

The Jesuit emblem, the flag of Uruguay, the flag of Kiribati, some versions of the flag of Argentina, the Irish Defence Forces cap badge, and the 1959–1965 coat of arms of Iraq are official insignia which incorporate rayed solar symbols.

The depictions of the sun on the flag of the Republic of China (Taiwan), the flag of Kazakhstan, the flag of Kurdistan, and the flag of Nepal have only straight (triangular) rays, while that on the flag of Kyrgyzstan has only curvy rays. The flag of the Philippines has short diverging rays grouped into threes.

Another form of rayed depiction of the sun is with simple radial lines dividing the field into two colors, as in the military flags of Japan and the current Flag of the Republic of Macedonia, and in the top parts of the flag of Tibet and the flag of Arizona.

The flag of New Mexico is based on the Zia_people's sun symbol which has four groups of four parallel rays emanating symmetrically from a central circle.

Modern pictogramEdit

Typical "clear weather" pictogram (triangular rays)

The modern pictogram representing the Sun as a circle with rays, often eight in number (indicated by either straight lines or triangles; Unicode Miscellaneous Symbols U+2600; U+263C) is used for weather forecasts, indicating "clear weather". Use of such pictograms originates in television weather forecasts in the 1970s.[7] The Unicode (version 6.0) Miscellaneous Symbols and Pictographs block introduced another set of weather pictograms, with a character "WHITE SUN" depicted without rays in the official chart at 1F323 🌣. The same block has also a "Sun with face" character, at U+1F31E 🌞.

The "sun with rays" pictogram is also used to represent the "high brightness" setting in display devices, encoded separately by Unicode (version 6.0) at U+1F506 🔆 (Miscellaneous Symbols and Pictographs block).


The "sun cross" or "solar wheel" (⊕, ⨁) is often considered to represent the four seasons and the tropical year, and therefore the Sun. In the prehistoric religion of Bronze Age Europe, crosses in circles appear frequently on artifacts identified as cult items, for example the "miniature standard" with an amber inlay that shows a cross shape when held against the light, dating to the Nordic Bronze Age, held at the National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen.[8] The Bronze Age symbol has also been connected with the spoked chariot wheel, which at the time was four-spoked (compare the Linear B ideogram 243 "wheel" 𐃏). In the context of a culture that celebrated the Sun chariot, it may thus have had a "solar" connotation (c.f. the Trundholm sun chariot).

The Arevakhach ("solar cross") symbol often found in Armenian memorial stelae is claimed as an ancient Armenian solar symbol. is one of the ancient Armenian symbols of eternity and light.[9]

Some Sami shaman drums have the Beaivi Sami sun symbol that resembles a sun cross.

Rotational symmetryEdit

The swastika can be derived from the sun cross,[10] and is another solar symbol in some contexts.[11] It is used among Buddhists ("manji"), Jains, and Hindus; and many other cultures, though not necessarily as a solar symbol. Also see Malkh-Festival.

Some forms of the triple spiral or triskelion signs have also been claimed as solar symbols.[year needed]

The "Black Sun" (German Schwarze Sonne) is a symbol of esoteric and occult significance based on a sun wheel mosaic with twelve-fold rotational symmetry incorporated into a floor of Wewelsburg Castle during the Nazi era, which was itself loosely based on swastika-like designs in Migration-period Zierscheiben. The Kolovrat, or in Polish "Kołowrót", represents the Sun in Slavic neopaganism. It is familiar to almost every ancient slavic culture.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ C. Scott Littleton, The New Comparative Mythology: An Anthropological Assessment of the Theories of Georges Dumézil (1973), p. 34. See also R. F. Littledale, "The Oxford Solar Myth, A Contribution to Comparative Mythology" in: Echoes from Kottabos, London (1906), 279–290 for a satire on this effect.
  2. ^ notably ciriticized by Richard Chase, The Quest for Myth (1951); see also Astralkult for the more general tendency of over-interpretation of mythology in terms of "astral" mythology.
  3. ^ Neugebauer, Otto; Van Hoesen, H. B. (1987). Greek Horoscopes. pp. 1, 159, 163. 
  4. ^ "Bianchini's planisphere". Florence, Italy: Istituto e Museo di Storia della Scienza (Institute and Museum of the History of Science). Retrieved 2010-03-17. 
  5. ^ Maunder, A. S. D. (1934). "The origin of the symbols of the planets". The Observatory. 57: 238–247. Bibcode:1934Obs....57..238M. 
  6. ^ Bibliothèques d'Amiens Métropole, ms. Lescalopier 30B (olim Kloster Weißenau), fol. 10v. S. Michon, "Un moine enlumineur du XIIe siècle : Frère Rufillus de Weissenau", Revue suisse d'art et d'archéologie 44 (1987), p. 4 (
  7. ^ Daniel Engber, Who Made That Weather Icon?, New York Times, 23 May 2013.
  8. ^ entry at the Nebra sky disk exhibition site (
  9. ^ Айк Демоян «Армянские национальные символы» = «Հայկական ազգային խորհրդանշաններ». — Ереван: «Пюник», 2013.
  10. ^ The Book of Signs by Rudolf Koch, p. 18 (1930, Dover reprint 1955).
  11. ^ Heraldry: Sources, Symbols, and Meaning by Ottfried Neubecker, p. 142 (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1976).

External linksEdit