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The Roman Eagle: A Symbol and its Evolution

Greet, Benjamin James Robert (2015) The Roman Eagle: A Symbol and its Evolution. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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Abstract

This thesis studies the symbolism of the eagle throughout Roman history from the pre-Roman background to A.D. 211. Its aim is to discover whether the popular assumptions made concerning this well-known Roman symbol, i.e. that it represented Jupiter or Rome, were true or whether it has a range of meanings, previously undiscussed in scholarship. Using a combined methodology of semiotics and cognitive science, I examine the eagle in five chronological periods, each of which are divided into themes based on particular areas of the eagle’s symbolism. The first of these themes, ‘Physical Animal and Reality’, examines the ancient thought surrounding the actual eagle and its use in magic and medicine. The second, ‘Concepts and Characteristics’, examines the particular characteristics of an eagle (i.e. its eyesight and claws) used for symbolic purposes and the particular concepts (i.e. valour and criminality) it is used to express. The third, ‘Religion and Myth’, examines the divine nature of the eagle and its connection to deities, as well as its position in myth, astrology, and fringe religions. The fourth, ‘Martial and State Connections’, examines the origin of the eagle standard and its social and religious functions and the ways the eagle is used or connected to the Roman state or empire. Lastly, the fifth, ‘Political Aspects’, examines the eagle’s relationship to the symbolism of power, through either royalty, important republican figures, or emperors. Due to my methodology, which identifies that symbols have multiple and concurrent meanings, my conclusion outlines the many meanings of the eagle and how they relate to each other. These are categorised into macro-symbolism, which appears across the period, and micro-symbolism, that is defined by particular variables (i.e. location or gender). Lastly, the wider implications draw attention to the multivalences of all symbols in ancient culture and that problems of centre/peripheral identity are bound up within these symbolic expressions.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Roman history and culture, symbolism, eagle
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures (Leeds) > School of Languages Cultures and Societies (Leeds)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.684508
Depositing User: Mr Benjamin J R Greet
Date Deposited: 27 Apr 2016 09:47
Last Modified: 18 Feb 2020 12:47
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/12543

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