The Eagle on Coins:
Divine King of the Birds and Symbol of States

Why are both emperor Frederick II and the future Napoleon III represented in connection with eagles?

Image of the reverse of a penny of Frederick II (1215-1250), Norimberg imperial mint.

Norimberg, imperial mint, Frederick II (1215-1250),
penny [rev].   The Fitzwilliam Museum

Gilded bronze medal of Louis Napoleon (1849).

Gilded bronze medal for the presidential election of Louis Napoleon, 1849.   The Fitzwilliam Museum

The eagle is one of the most popular heraldic symbols of all time. Even today the king of the birds constitutes the arms of such different States as the USA, Mexico, Germany, Austria, Poland, Syria and Indonesia. In the past the eagle very often represented the highest sovereignty, alongside the lion. Coins automatically reflect the highest authorities and the public sphere, as by definition the value and acceptance of a coin must always be guaranteed by an authority or by the state. So coins are not only sources for economic history or a medium for art work, but they can also give us extensive information about - official - religion and cult, political thought, and ideology.

The Greek World
The Roman World
Medieval and Early Modern Eras
Imperial Traditions in Modern States

Provenance of objects
German euro (reverse), 2002
The Fitzwilliam Museum


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Hosted by the Department of Coins and Medals, Fitzwilliam Museum.