The Swastika: The Earliest Known Symbol & its Migrations
Dispersion of the Swastika
Indo-Bactrian, the Indo-Sassanian, or the later Hindu or subsequent Mohammedan, and he gives in a note the approximate dates of these dynasties: Early native Buddhist monarchs from about 500 B. C. to the conquest of Alexander, about 330 B. C.; the Indo-Parthian or Scythic from about 126 B. C.; the second Hindu dynasty from about 56 B. C.; the Indo-Sassanian from A. D. 200 to 636, and subsequent to that the Indo-mohammedan form the eleventh to the the close of the thirteenth century; the Afghan dynasty to the eighteenth century, when it was destroyed by Nadir Shah. (See. p. 772)
Swastika on coins in Mesembria and Gaza. --- Mr. Perey Gardner, in his article, "Ares as a Sun-god," (1) finds the Swastika on a coin of Mesembria in Thrace. He explains that "mesembria is simply the Greek word for noon, midday (meshmbria)." The coins of this city bear the inscription MES , which Greg (2) believes refers by a kind of pun to the name of the city, and so to noon, or the sun or solar light. The answer to this is the same given throughout this paper, that it may be true, but there is no evidence in support of it. Max Müller (3) argues that this specimen is decisive of the meaning of the sign Swastika. Both these gentlemen place great stress upon the position which the Swastika held in the field relative to other objects, and so determine it to have represented the sun or sunlight; but all this seems non sequitur. A coin from Gaza, Palestine, ancient, but date not given, is attributed to R. Rochette, and by him to Munter (fig. 235). The Swastika sign is not perfect only two arms of the cross being turned, and not all four.
Swastika on Danish gold bracteates. --- Fig. 236 represents a Danish gold bracteate with a portrait head, two serpents, and a Swastika with the outer ends finished with a curve or flourish similar to that of the Jains (fig. 33).
There are other bracteates with the Swastika mark, which belong to the Scandinavian countries. (4) Some of them bear signs referring to Christian civilization, such as raising hands in prayer; and from a determination of the dates afforded by the coins and other objects the Swastika can be identified as having continued into the Christian era.
The coinage of the ancient world is not a prolific field for the discovery of the Swastika. Other specimens may be found than those here given. This search is not intended to be exhaustive. Their negative information is however, valuable. It shows, first, that some of the early stamps or designs on coins which have been claimed as Swastikas were naught but the usual punch marks; second, it shows a limited use of the Swastika on the coinage and that it came to an end in very early times. Numismatics afford great aid to archæology form the facility and certainty with which it fixes dates. Using the dates furnished by the coinage of antiquity, it is gravely to be questioned whether the prolific use of the Swastika in Asia Minor (of which we have such notable examples on specimens of pottery from the hill of Hissarlik, in Greece) did not terminate before coinage began, or before 480 B. C., when the period of finer engraving began, and it became the custom to employ on coins the figures of gods, or tutelary deities, and of sacred animals. Thus the use of the Swastika became relegated to objects of commoner use, or those having greater relation to superstition and folklore wherein the possible value of the Swastika as an amulet or sign with power to bring good luck could be better employed; or, as suggested by Mr. Greg, that the great gods which, according to him, had the Swastika for a symbol, fell into disrepute and it became changed to represent something else.
United States of America
Fains Island and Toco Mounds, Tennessee. --- That the Swastika found its way to the Western Hemisphere in prehistoric times can not be doubted. A specimen (fig. 237) was taken by Dr. Edwards Palmer in the year 1881 from an ancient mound opened by him on Fains Island, 3 miles from Bainbridge, Jefferson County, Tenn. It is figured and described in the Third Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, (5) as follows:
A shell ornament, on the convex surface
of which a very curious ornamental design
has been engraved. The design, enclosed by a circle, represents a cross
such as would be formed by two rectangular tablets or slips slit longitudinally
and interlaced at right angles to each other. The lines are neatly and
deeply incised. The edge of the ornament has been broken away nearly all
The incised lines of this design (fig. 237) represent the Swastika turned to the left (though the description does not recognize it as such). It has small circles with dots in the center, a style of work that may become of peculiar value on further investigation, but not to be confounded with the dots or points in what M. Zmigrodzki calls the Croix swasticale. The mound from which this specimen came, and the objects associated with it, show its antiquity and its manufacture by the aborigines untainted by contact with the whites. The mound is on the
1. "Numismatic Chron.," pt. I, 1880. See p. 788 of this paper. [Back]
2. Archæologia, XVIII, pt. II, 1885, p. 306. Back
3. Athenæum, August 20, 1892. Back
4. "Viking Age," II, figs. 1307, 1309. Back
5. Page 436, fig. 140. Back