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The Anatomy of a Roman Legionary Standard

Let's dissect the symbols of Roman legion standards on a coin of Trajan minted in Rome circa 113 AD. We will compare it to the relief below with better details.

Note the standard to the left on the above coin. At the top is the front of a ship with a prominent ram. A crescent symbol is placed below to emphasize the terror of Roman naval warfare. The double crescent symbol is clearly visible in the stone relief. This is a dual solar and lunar crescent of a solar eclipse. The terror of a solar eclipse is a natural military symbol. The dot in the circle above is made to represent a star. Remember the ancients would view stars in the sky through their own uncorrected refractive error. Myopia, hyperopia, and astigmatism went uncorrected without glasses. Stars would appear as orbs in the sky and the frequent smoke from fires in cities and army camps would add to this effect. To the ancients the largest star in the sky was the moon. Very early in their culture the Romans incorporated moon worship with the addition of the Sabine woman. Every other light in the night sky was considered a planet, Jupiter the largest. The Romans had a clear understanding of the concept of a spherical earth, the rotation of stars in the sky, and lunar and solar eclipses. The star or orb can be incorporated above the crescent alone to represent a solar eclipse. Sequential orbs on a standard or signum had the dual use to pay homage to deities the legion worshiped and also likely reflected light on the battlefield in a way to communicate troop movements.

The eagle is the liaison between Jupiter and man. It was worshipped by the legions and is at the top of the center standard on the coin of Trajan. The banner is rolled up on the coin and is unfurled on the stone relief. Note that the sun or an image of the emperor is below the eagle on the coin. This image is not present on the relief. The emperor was the "son of god." Another image is at the base of the central standard, possibly the emperor or a caesar. The image on the standards infuriated the Jews during the governorship of Pontius Pilate. Pilate removed legion standards from Jerusalem after almost causing a riot. Emperor worship was not accepted by Jews and legionary standards were the most offensive and feared symbols the Romans brought to ancient Israel. Most likely a legion standard was present outside the walls at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Mary, the Mother of God would have had to endure this offense with the public execution of her Son. Roman political and military power would have been on display to pilgrims at Passover as they entered Jerusalem from the western gate. Rebels being crucified with the Roman standard would have lessened the chance of revolt.

The hand on the far right standard represents the "will" of the legion devoted to the emperor. His image is below the hand. These hands appeared after the time Nero but represent the devotion of the will and faith of the Roman legions. Jesus Christ praised the faith of a Roman Centurion above all the faith of Israel.

The gate, walls, and armored formations on the relief are more representative of second and third century standards. Wreaths are present as well. The hook at the base would be used around the shoulders of the legionary standard bearer. The standard bearer was the banker of the legion and would be in charge of the money. The greatest weapon of the Roman Empire was their money which survives to this day in such large amounts and is one of the reasons why so many images of legion symbols are on coins. In Roman mythology the solar eclipse also represents when Romulus and Remus were conceived by Mars, the Roman god of war. The solar eclipse is not only a sign of terror and conquest but a symbol of "planting" Roman colonies in foreign lands. Many Roman coins show the Roman standard present when oxen and a plow are refounding cities in the name of the emperor.

I find it profoundly interesting the processional symbol of Our Lady of Gudalupe is connected to the first century AD Roman legionary standard. Mary spoke of the Roman god Pluto in her conversations with Juan Diego. She wanted to replace Aztec paganism which she equated to Roman paganism with the true worship of her Son Jesus Christ. The symbolism of Lady of Guadalupe cannot be fabricated and is genuine. The image she gave us only makes sense when viewed thru the lens of a first century Jewish Galilean women under the terror of Roman occupation. As Jesus turned the cross into a symbol of resurrection, he also allowed his mother, 1500 years later to change the Roman legionary standard into a symbol of love and compassion.

Above coin photo, Athena Numismatics

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