Why does a crown represent power?
Headdress of the mighty
In the Middle Ages, crowns were viewed as a gift given by God. Even religious dignitaries like the popes did not want to do without a crown. Today the crowns have lost their sacred mysticism and stately dignity. But in some countries they are still part of the courtly ceremonies and cast a spell on the viewer.
The ancient, mythical roots of every crown lie in the wreath and hat. Thousands of years ago, the rulers in the great monarchies of antiquity adorned themselves with venerable hats or wreaths, for example in Egypt or the Orient.
In the most varied of cultures, the symbol of rule was worn on the head - for example among the Inca, Maya, Aztecs or in the Orient: the high hat, often wrapped in a ribbon or cloth, is an old oriental symbol of rule.
In other cultures the wreath was common as a headdress; it should protect and strengthen its bearer, for example among the Sumerians and Etruscans.
In the Greek democracies, priests, speakers or Olympic winners wore the so-called Stephanos, a wreath of leaves that pointed to the special importance or performance of the wearer at cults, festivals, conferences or sports events.
The winners of the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens were given a similar wreath to commemorate this. In ancient Rome, the laurel wreath was a high honor and the prerogative of the supreme ruler.
It consisted of a two-part leaf thread made of precious metal with large leaves attached to purple. The Latin word for wreath is "corona", and from "corona" comes the word "crown".
Golden splendor in Byzantium
Golden browbones - tiaras - set with sparkling gemstones: These widely recognizable symbols of power were worn by the Byzantine emperors. It was mostly a coronet made of round or square plates connected by two pearls - the forerunners of the western plate crowns in the Middle Ages.
Above the forehead, a large rectangular jewel with a semicircular golden top symbolized the wealth, power and dignity of the Eastern Roman emperor.
When Emperor Flavius Tiberius Constantinus ruled between 578 and 582, another element was added: a shining golden cross over the forehead jewel - the ultimate sign of victory, because according to Christian belief, Christ triumphed over death on the cross.
Military crown helmet - fixed point in battle
Even before the triumphant advance of Christianity in Europe began, Germanic military leaders had worn metal ornate buckled helmets during the war in order to be widely recognizable for riders and infantry in the confusing turmoil of battle.
But a leader also had to show his dignity and power clearly in everyday life, if only because most people could neither read nor write and therefore had to rely on symbols.
Not least because of this symbolic power, crowns achieved paramount importance in all of the great European monarchies of the Middle Ages.
The tiara - crown for popes
Not only emperors and kings demonstrated their power with crowns, but also popes. The papal crown (tiara) has its origin in the high headgear of ancient Persian and Assyrian kings. The early papal tiaras were still reminiscent of a bishop's cap (miter): Pope Constantine I (708-715) wore a tall, but simple, lace cap made of white fabric without any decoration.
The tiara later developed into a triple crown: about 30 centimeters high, with hanging ribbons and three crown hoops, which, depending on the interpretation, symbolized the divine trinity or the main papal tasks (priestly, pastoral, teaching power).
It was not until 1964 that the tiara had served its purpose as a papal symbol of power: Pope Paul VI. gave away his tiara for the benefit of poor people.
The imperial crown - queen of all crowns
The most important and noble European crown is the medieval imperial crown. No other crown developed such a great effect and symbolic power. Made of pure gold and decorated with multicolored precious stones, it is now kept under heavy guard in the treasury of the Vienna Hofburg together with the imperial insignia (imperial orb, scepter, sword).
Their material, ideal and historical value is priceless, their creation shrouded in mystery. For around 800 years it was a shining symbol, the epitome of the empire that emerged from Eastern Franconia around 1000 and was later called the "Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation" until 1806.
At that time, this empire comprised large parts of what is now Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, parts of eastern France, Burgundy, Switzerland, Austria and almost all of Italy.
The sphere of influence of the East Franconian, later German king, thus extended from today's German-Danish border in the north to Sicily in the south, from Strasbourg in the west to Magdeburg in the east.
The imperial crown was indispensable for the German royal coronations in Aachen, because in the imagination of the Middle Ages it was it that made its bearer ruler. Crown and empire formed an inseparable unit. All East Franconian, then German kings and emperors wore the imperial crown.
In addition to its political significance, the imperial crown also had a religious meaning: it shows the idea of Christ as King of kings. The eight plates, arranged in an octagon, were considered a symbol of perfection in the Middle Ages. The number symbolism, stone setting and color scale should probably represent an image of the heavenly Jerusalem.
The high bow and forehead cross were probably only placed on it under Emperor Konrad II (1024-1039). From then on, the bow crown was the most elegant ornament of the Roman-German emperors, who always orientated themselves on questions of court etiquette to the ancient Byzantine traditions.
Because of its great political importance, the imperial crown has been a sought-after object for blackmail, robbery, fraud and profiteering over the centuries. Rulers and rival kings tried to gain possession of this outstanding symbol of rule.
The imperial crown often had to be brought to safety in different places until it finally found a safe home in Vienna.
It only lost its function with the end of the Holy Roman Empire: In 1806, Napoleon asked Emperor Franz II to lay down the imperial crown. This obeyed and at the same time declared the Holy Roman Empire dissolved so that no other prince could lay claim to the imperial crown.
No place for crowns in the age of democracy
As early as the 19th century, crowns were often considered to be outdated, annoying, or perhaps required by etiquette. The then newly established or re-established kingdoms such as Italy, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands or Greece also did without a real royal crown made of gold and precious stones. They contented themselves with the symbolic crown in their coat of arms.
In the 20th century, the century of democracies, the crown lost its importance. The old coronation sites of the continent are at best the scene of church services and attractions for tourists: the cathedral in Reims, the Marienmünster in Aachen, the Frankfurt Imperial Cathedral, the Basilica of San Ambrogio in Milan and St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague.
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