The Laurel leaf wreath design has captivated our attention with its distinction for centuries. The circular shape of interlocking branches is a historic crowning emblem that resonates victory, power and glory. Since antiquity, the laurel wreath has been regarded as a powerful symbol of victory. Interestingly, it is said that the laurel leaf wreath was the forerunner of the crown itself. Tied historically to classical ancient Greek, Roman and Biblical times, the laurel leaf has held its esteem for centuries. Victory, achievement and status.
The Bay Laurel (Larus noblis of the plant family Lauraceae) is also known as Sweet Bay, Bay Tree, True Laurel, Grecian Laurel, Laurel Tree or simply Laurel. The laurel is native to the Mediterranean region and is an aromatic evergreen tree or large shrub with green, glossy long and broad leaves that are characteristically finely-serrated with wrinkled margins.
History states that in Ancient Greece, beginning in 776 BC, wreaths of laurel leaves crowned victors of athletic competitions of the ancient Olympic games. Wreaths of bay laurels were also awarded at the Ancient Greek Pythian Games which were held at Delphi in honor of Apollo (every four years from the 6th century BC). According to Greek Mythology, Apollo, the Olympian God and son of Zeus, was in love with a nymph named Daphne. As the tale continues, Daphne fled from Apollo, asking the river God for help; she turned into a Bay Laurel tree just as Apollo approached her. Apollo embraced the tree, cut off a branch to wear as a wreath and declared the plant sacred. Thus, this myth spurred the presentation of the laurel wreaths, in honor of Apollo, to the victors of these games. History carried onward this infamous crown of leaves…
Gaius Julius Caesar (100-44 BCE)is noted as perhaps the most memorable ruler to wear the adornment of the laurel wreath. The historic presentation of the the laurel wreath occurred when Caesar was awarded the “Cororna” or “Civic Crown” (the laurel leaf crown) for valor from fighting in Asia Minor. Interestingly, after accepting this award, it is said that Caesar began wearing a robe, scepter and crown. Who knew?
Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) understood the importance and the appeal of the ancient Greek wreath of laurel. Wise to its historic image, and the tradition of its victorious shape and visual mark of success that it represented, it was chosen as one of his gilded napoleonic emblems of his French Empire. The very coronation of Napoleon in 1804 included the laurel wreath crown made of gold, which was worn by Roman Emperors, further relaying his importance in power, authority and legendary status. Napoleon’s desire to emulate the inspiration and glory of the unbeaten Roman conquerors eventually led to busts sculptures of himself wearing the wreath and, like Caesar had done before him, having his image on coins, graced with a wreath of laurel leaves on his head. Unfading glory and historic distinction, indeed.
During the Renaissance Era, history states that great poets were crowned with laurel leaves to signify them as Princes among Poets. The laurel leaf also represents a high degree of education and the value of commitment and dedication. The words “Baccalaureate” and “Poet Laureate” and the honorary expression “Resting on one’s laurels” are all referenced to the laurel leaf. “Resting on one’s laurels” is said to refer to someone relying entirely on past successes for continued fame or recognition and “Look to one’s laurels” is said to encourage an individual to take inspiration from past achievements to conquer a new task. Alas, further validation of significance of this iconic emblem.
The laurel leaf motif’s appearance on architecture and exterior and interior details has never faded from enrapturing those that stumble upon its grand, stylistic form. The incorporation of this timeless and iconic emblem into our lives is, indeed, timeless. The round wreath of laurel, which is also said to symbolize eternity, is an ageless addition to our world. Classic and grand, the elegant motif can certainly make a grand appearance in many forms. Regal and simplistic, the fashionable and historic arrangement of leaves can add a exquisite look. Timeless and powerful, regal and enduring.
Consider the history and meaning of the historic laurel leaf. It is no wonder that this timeless motif has been imprinted on iconic Olympic gold medals that ornament the victors of physical achievement. In praise of this classic, timeless motif that represents tradition, honor and excellence- Congratulations to the accomplishments of the Olympiads!
“With laurel crowned as conqueror, there he lived in joy and honour”
-Geoffery Chaucer, The Knights Tale, Circa 1385