liberty props

JohnWilkesIn 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.[1] 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.[2] 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.


One Response to liberty props

  1. Pingback: Stamping Out Dissent — The Libertarian Standard

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