What Does a Laurel Wreath Symbolize?

laurel wreath
The laurel wreath originated in ancient Greece. The winners of academic and athletic competitions were awarded laurel wreath neck and headpieces. Ancient Romans wore laurel wreath crowns as a sign of power and authority.  

History and Meaning of the Laurel Wreath

Interweaving branches make the laurel wreath of a laurel tree to make a garland. It’s shaped into a circle or horseshoe. The laurel wreath is prominent in ancient Greek and Roman cultures and is recognized even today. 

The laurel wreath is a garland woven with laurel bay leaves that come from a laurel tree. The laurel tree, whose scientific name is Laurus nobilis, is native to the Mediterranean region. Laurel bay leaves were believed to heal physical ailments and activate spiritual powers.

laurel wreath
Laurel wreaths are common awards in athletic competitions.

According to Greek mythology, a laurel wreath crown is associated with gods and goddesses. Apollo is depicted wearing a laurel wreath crown in many artworks. The winners of the Olympics, Pythian Games, and poetic competitions were crowned with laurel wreaths to signify their win. 

The Romans used laurel wreath crowns to decorate successful commanders. Though the crowns were initially made from real laurel bay leaves, the Romans shifted to golden laurel wreaths (Corona Triumphalis) to award military commanders. 

Why Romans Used Laurels

The ancient Roman goddess Victoria (goddess of victory) is portrayed crowning emperors with a laurel wreath.

Many coins from ancient Rome have carvings of emperors with laurel wreaths adorning their heads. From Octavian Augustus to Constantine the Great, many Roman emperors wore laurel wreath crowns to symbolize victory and power. 

laurel wreath
This coin shows Homer and contains a laurel wreath.

The tradition of printing coins with gold laurel wreaths began in Rome as the emperors gained more power by defeating other rulers and expanding their kingdoms. The laurel wreath crown has been a symbol of importance for many centuries. 

Modern Use of Laurels in Academia

For the last two centuries, students who graduate from a university also receive laurel wreaths in Rome. This practice is continued in Sweden, where the honorary doctorates receive laurel wreaths. Master’s graduates in Finland are awarded laurel wreaths for getting a degree. 

Laurel Wreaths and the God Apollo

The Greeks use laurel leaf wreaths to honor the god Apollo, the son of Zeus.

Apollo pursued Daphne, a nymph, who wasn’t interested in him. She fled from the place and took refuge from a river god who turned her into a laurel tree. Apollo was saddened by this and used the leaves to weave a crown (leaf headband). He wore it on his head to symbolize his love for Daphne. 

A more extended version states that Apollo ridiculed Eros, the god of love. Eros was angered when Apollo said that a bow and arrows should be carried only by those worthy of the weapons. He shot Daphne to provoke immense hate and dislike for Apollo and shot Apollo to have unconditional love for Daphne. 

When Apollo pursued Daphne, she sought help from her father, who turned her into a laurel tree. Apollo vowed to take care of the tree forever. He made her immortal and used the leaves to weave a crown. The laurel tree is called Daphne in Greek. 

laurel wreath
This sculpture of Apollo features a laurel wreath on his head.

Additional Theories about Apollo & Laurel Wreaths

However, there are more theories about Apollo and laurel wreaths. One says that Apollo conducted the Python (Pythian) Games once every four years. The games tested several participants in various fields like music, poetry, drama, wrestling, dancing, etc. Apollo presented the laurel wreaths to winners. The terms nobel laureate and poet laureate come from this theory. 

The third story is that Apollo defeated and killed a dragon called Python and took over its oracle. After that, the laurel wreath became a sign of victory. 

What Do the Laurel Leaf Branches Symbolize?

The laurel tree is evergreen and dioecious. It grows 30 feet tall and bears yellow flowers that turn into small berries. The laurel bay leaves have been used for garnishing since ancient times.

But, the leaves and branches have special symbolic meanings. 

Laurel Leaf Branch Symbolism

  • Honor and social status 
  • Victory and Power 
  • Success and prosperity 
  • Protection (from natural events like lightning and unknown attacks) 
  • Purity (purify a space of negative energy) 
  • Good luck (gifted when saying goodbye to a dear one) 
  • Moving on (gifted to dear ones faces challenging situations) 
  • Strong bonding and love (gifted to spouse on anniversaries) 
  • New beginnings (gifted to new mothers, similar to daisies) 

People from many cultures use laurel leaves or grow trees at home to ward off evil spirits. It’s a sacred plant in some countries. Roman Emperor Tiberius wore a laurel wreath to stay protected. 

What Does the Laurel Mean in the Bible?

The laurel wreath is mentioned in the Bible (New Testament) and is considered a sign of spirituality. It’s represented as a laurel crown made using bay laurel leaves.

The laurel wreath also signifies leadership in the Bible. Like the Greeks and Romans, the kings and queens mentioned in the Bible wore crowns woven with laurel leaves. The laurel is a tree of hope in the Bible.

Additionally, the leaves are associated with the resurrection of Christ, and the leaves also aid spiritual awakening and creativity.

Laurel Wreath Tattoo Meaning

Some people get laurel wreaths tattooed on their bodies for good luck and creativity. The laurel wreath tattoo symbolizes intelligence and excellence in modern times. It also generates calmness and makes the person feel relaxed. 

Achievers and ambitious people tend to get laurel wreath tattoos. It’s up to the person as to what their tattoo represents for them. 

The laurel wreath is always a good sign. It’s considered a worthy gift for several occasions. If you want to share positivity, good luck, and prosperity with others, you gift them a laurel wreath (in any form). Seeing a laurel wreath in a dream signifies achieving your goals and attaining success.

If you found this article interesting, check out our post on another popular Roman symbol – the Chi Rho symbol.


Vanessa's liberal arts background has prepared her well for Symbol Scholar. A self-proclaimed theology nerd, Vanessa has interests in world religions, Reformation theology, history, and more. When she's not working, Vanessa enjoys spending time with her family, reading, exercising, and watching professional basketball.

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