In ancient Greece and Rome, the wreath made a statement meant to be noticed. They fashioned this early form of crown from linens, metals and plants in order to display influence, accomplishments, religious convictions and accomplishments. Ancient women commonly woven flowers, fragrant leaves, jewellery and gold into wreathes for their heads, but many of these early crowns served a far greater purpose.
Victory and Heroism
Greeks and Romans adorned triumphant military generals with laurel wreathes to celebrate victory in battle. The same honer was given to athletes and other heroes. Olympian champions earned the "kotinos," a wreath constructed from olive branches taken from a tree that grew behind Zeus' temple planted by the hero Heracles. Depending on the location of an athletic competition, the victor's wreath was made from various plants including pine needles and wild parsley.
Though he was considered a strong and agile deity, the god Apollo wore a laurel wreath in memory of Daphne, a woman who shunned his love before she transformed into a beautiful laurel tree. Despite Apollo's motives, the laurel also symbolised academic accomplishment. Modern institutions still associate with the ancient custom by using the term "baccalaureate," which translates to "laurel berries." The Greeks decorated favoured scholars, poets and playwrights with the aromatic laurel wreath, while theatre actors instead wore ivy wreaths during a performance.
Religion and Leadership
Priests and priestesses wore wreaths to mark important dates and celebrate religious festivals. Grape leaves and ivy wreaths pronounced the festival of Dionysus, the god of wine. The Greeks decorated statues of the gods with wreaths, mistakenly adopting the wreath as a Persian symbol of divinity. Soon, the wreath became synonymous with the diadem, and the Romans used it first to signify leadership, and later royalty.
The Life Cycle
The early Bronze Age Greeks honoured their dead with costly wreaths. Mycenaean tombs revealed crumbling skeletons wearing golden wreaths called "funerary diadems." In mythology, they assigned the same diadem to some of the Greek gods associated with the afterlife, including Hades and Dionysus, although Greek legend also says that the latter wrapped his head in a garland to relieve a wine-induced headache. Wreaths also marked the arrival of new life by hanging an olive wreath on the door after the birth of a male child.
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