June 21, 2013 1 Comment
In my previous post, "worshipping the wrong goddess," I wrote, that "the words and symbols of liberty and independence inspired generations of freedom fighters, not just the ones we call the Founding Fathers."
My wife asked me what symbols I was referring to.
One very puzzling symbol I’ve encountered but had never bothered to look into is the "liberty cap" (or "liberty hat") and "liberty pole" (a pole with a liberty cap on it).
One example is the main image of this post, which I came across when I blogged about the British classical liberal John Wilkes.
What in the world is that pole with the weird upside-down bowl on top?
While looking into the history of Lady Liberty, I came across the blog "18th-century American Women" by Barbara Wells Sarudy, who explains:
This 18th century Lady Liberty freeing a bird from its cage, giving political liberty to the United States from Britain, while holding a liberty cap hung on a pole. Lady Liberty was almost always depicted in a classical costume. Before the Roman Empire, similar felt caps were worn by liberated slaves from Troy & Asia Minor to cover their previously shorn heads, until their hair grew back. Here the cap symbolized a more intimate emancipation from personal servitude as a subject of the British Empire rather than united, national liberty. The caps were sometimes referred in Latin as pilleus liberatis. In classical literature, the cap atop a pole was a symbol of freedom evolving from the period when Salturnius conquered Rome in 263 BC; and he raised the cap on a pikestaff to show that he would free the slaves who fought with him. The cap was such a popular symbol that it was also depicted on some early US coins.
I enjoy discovering that Junius Brutus Booth isn’t the only link between John Wilkes and Caesar’s republican assassins. Here’s Wikipedia on the liberty pole:
A liberty pole is a tall wooden pole, often used as a type of flagstaff, planted in the ground, surmounted by a Phrygian cap—a cap historically worn by Ancient Rome’s freed slaves. The symbol originated in the immediate aftermath of the assassination of Roman dictator Julius Caesar by a group of Rome’s Senators in 44 BC. Immediately after Caesar was killed, the leaders of the assassination plot, went to meet a crowd of Romans at the Roman Forum; a Phrygian cap from a freed slave was placed atop a pole to show the Romans, that symbolized that the Roman people had been freed from the rule of Caesar, that the assassins claimed had become a tyranny because it overstepped the authority of the Senate and thus betrayed the Republic. Since then, the symbol has been used by movements in support of republicanism.
(Notice that Sarudy and Wikipedia disagree on the origin — by a couple of centuries. I’ll look into that, but please tell me if you know anything about it.)
Oh, and here’s a blog entirely devoted to the "liberty hat."
More to come.