Lion and Sun

Sign of Lion in Persepolis; Achaemenid Persian relief University of Chicago Oriental Institute

The Lion and Sun (Persian: شیر و خورشید‎, romanized::Šir-o xoršid, pronounced:; Classical Persian: ) is one of the main emblems of Iran (Persia), and was an element in Iran's national flag until the 1979 Iranian Revolution. The motif, which illustrates ancient and modern Iranian traditions, became a popular symbol in Iran in the 12th century. The lion and sun symbol is based largely on astronomical and astrological configurations: the ancient sign of the sun in the house of Leo, which itself is traced back to Babylonian astrology and Near Eastern traditions.

The motif has many historical meanings. First, as a scientific and secular motif, it was only an astrological and zodiacal symbol. Under the Safavid and the first Qajar kings, it became more associated with Shia Islam. During the Safavid era, the lion and sun stood for the two pillars of society, the state and the Islamic religion. It became a national emblem during the Qajar era. In the 19th century, European visitors at the Qajar court attributed the lion and sun to remote antiquity; since then, it has acquired a nationalistic interpretation. During the reign of Fat′h-Ali Shah Qajar and his successors, the form of the motif was substantially changed. A crown was also placed on the top of the symbol to represent the monarchy. Beginning in the reign of Fat′h-Ali, the Islamic aspect of the monarchy was de-emphasized. This shift affected the symbolism of the emblem. The meaning of the symbol changed several times between the Qajar era and the 1979 revolution. The lion could be interpreted as a metaphor for the Shia Imam Ali or it could be symbolizing Rostam, the legendary hero of Iranian mythology. The Sun has alternately been interpreted as symbol of motherland or Jamshid, the mythical Shah of Iran. The many historical meanings of the emblem have provided rich ground for competing symbols of Iranian identity. In the 20th century, some politicians and scholars suggested that the emblem should be replaced by other symbols such as... ...read more

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