The fleur-de-lis, sometimes spelled fleur-de-lys, is a stylized lily or iris commonly used for decoration. In fact, translated from French, fleur-de-lis means “lily flower.” Fleur means “flower,” while lis means “lily.”
The fleur-de-lis has been used in the heraldry of numerous European nations but is particularly associated with France, notably during its monarchical period. The fleur-de-lis became “at one and the same time, religious, political, dynastic, artistic, emblematic, and symbolic,”, especially in French heraldry.
The fleur-de-lis has been used by French royalty throughout history to represent saints of France. In particular, the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph are often depicted with lilies. One of the earliest surviving examples is on a gold helmet from the Scythians, a European nomadic people from the 7th to 3rd centuries BC. Other ancient examples occur worldwide.
For example, a statue of the Indian emperor Kanishka (AD 127 to 150) sported the symbol. It’s even debated whether the symbol is actually a lily, the flower the emblem is named after, or an iris, which more closely resembles the design and typical yellow color. One 18th-century historian even speculated that the name instead comes from the river Leie, where yellow irises are common and the Franks once lived.
Another theory connecting the fleur-de-lis with an iris comes from the German word for a yellow iris in the Middle Ages—either “Liesch” or “lies.” You can find the design at the top of fence posts, on the north point of a compass, on the pattern of fabrics, and in the details of countless designs. With each use, the fleur-de-lis holds unique symbolism. Another (debated) hypothesis is that the symbol derives from the Frankish angon. Note that the angon, or sting, was a typical Frankish throwing spear.
A possibly derived symbol of Frankish royalty was the bee, of similar shape, as found in the burial of Childric I, whose royal see of power over the Salian Franks was based over the valley of the Lys.
- The Scythians or Scyths, sometimes also referred to as the Classical Scythians and the Pontic Scythians were an ancient Eastern Iranian equestrian nomadic people who had migrated from Central Asia to the Pontic Steppe in modern-day Ukraine and Southern Russia from approximately the 7th century BC until the 3rd century BC. Skilled in mounted warfare, the Scythians replaced the Cimmerians as the dominant power on the Pontic Steppe in the 8th century BC. In the 7th century BC, the Scythians crossed the Caucasus Mountains and frequently raided West Asia along with the Cimmerians. After being expelled from West Asia by the Medes, the Scythians retreated back into the Pontic Steppe and were gradually conquered by the Sarmatians. In the late 2nd century BC, the capital of the largely Hellenized Scythians at Scythian Neapolis in the Crimea was captured by Mithridates VI, and their territories were incorporated into the Bosporan Kingdom. By the 3rd century AD, the Sarmatians and last remnants of the Scythians were overwhelmed by the Goths, and by the early Middle Ages, the Scythians, and the Sarmatians had been largely assimilated and absorbed by early Slavs. The Scythians were instrumental in the ethnogenesis of the Ossetians, who are believed to be descended from the Alans.[Back]
- Kanishka I, or Kanishka, was an emperor of the Kushan dynasty, under whose reign (c. 127–150 CE) the empire reached its zenith. He is famous for his military, political, and spiritual achievements. A descendant of Kujula Kadphises, founder of the Kushan empire, Kanishka came to rule an empire extending from Central Asia and Gandhara to Pataliputra on the Gangetic plain. The main capital of his empire was located at Puruṣapura (Peshawar) in Gandhara, with another major capital at Mathura. Coins of Kanishka were found in Tripuri (present-day Jabalpur). His conquests and patronage of Buddhism played an important role in the development of the Silk Road, and in the transmission of Mahayana Buddhism from Gandhara across the Karakoram range to China. Around 127 CE, he replaced Greek with Bactrian as the official language of administration in the empire. Earlier scholars believed that Kanishka ascended the Kushan throne in 78 CE and that this date was used as the beginning of the Saka calendar era. However, historians no longer regard this date as that of Kanishka’s accession. Falk estimates that Kanishka came to the throne in 127 CE. [Back]
- Childeric I (c. 437 – 481 AD) was a Frankish leader in the northern part of imperial Roman Gaul and a member of the Merovingian dynasty, described as a king (Latin rex), both on his Roman-style seal ring, which was buried with him, and in fragmentary later records of his life. He was the father of Clovis I, who acquired effective control over all or most Frankish kingdoms, and a significant part of Roman Gaul. [Back]