Throughout history, certain colors have been closely associated with royalty and conveyed status, wealth, and power. Three colors in particular – purple, red, and gold – have long been synonymous with rulers and monarchies across cultures and continents. Understanding the origins and symbolism behind these three royal colors provides insight into their enduring connection to regal authority.
The color purple has perhaps the oldest and most enduring association with royalty. In many ancient civilizations, purple dye was extremely rare and expensive to produce, making purple garments a status symbol afforded only to the wealthiest citizens and rulers. The rarity and expense of purple clothing helped establish it as a color representing luxury, ambition, and nobility.
One of the most prized sources of purple dye was the secretions of certain sea snails found in the Mediterranean Sea. It took thousands of snails to produce enough dye for a single garment, making purple fabric tremendously precious. As a result, purple garments became synonymous with high social rank, reserved for emperors, kings, and magistrates.
In ancient Rome, the color purple was specifically associated with the emperors. Roman magistrates would wear togas with purple trim, and Julius Caesar was known for wearing a wholly purple toga. The phrase “born to the purple” refers to the tradition of emperors being born into imperial families clothed in purple.
This royal association spread to other cultures. During the Byzantine Empire, rulers wore long purple robes as a symbol of their imperial authority. In medieval Europe, purple robes and capes signified kings and queens. And in the Catholic church, cardinals continue to wear purple vestments to show their station beneath the Pope.
Over time, lighter shades of purple have also been adopted by royalty. Lavender and lilac shades are considered more gentle and feminine iterations of purple, favored by queens and princesses. But from ancient times to today, purple across all hues has remained the color most evocative of extravagance, prestige, and royal lineage.
The bold, striking shade of crimson red has long conveyed power, strength, and exalted status. In many cultures, red has been closely tied to warfare, with red dyes used to color armor and uniform accents. The powerful symbolism of bloodshed in battle amplified red’s association with authority and high rank.
In imperial China, red was strictly designated as the color of the emperor. Chinese emperors presided over their courts seated on a red throne and often wore red robes and hats. After abdication, former emperors would switch to wearing yellow, while the reigning emperor alone could wear red.
In Europe, red was traditionally the color of kings and princes; it signified the ruler’s absolute authority and willingness to spill blood to defend the realm. Red banners, capes, and livery all projected regal pomp and martial dominance. Cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church also wear red vestments and hats to show their status as “princes of the Church” underneath the Pope.
Ancient Romans had complex sumptuary laws restricting common citizens from wearing solid purple or red garments, which were reserved for political elites. While purple signified the highest imperial class, red designated lower-tier nobility and important magistrates. Red’s association with power and prestige continues today with the red carpet treatment given to VIPs and celebrities.
Royalty have often selected more subdued, cooler hues of red, such as crimson, scarlet, or burgundy, which project opulence without aggression. But whether shimmering or sanguine, red has maintained an enduring connection to authority, nobility, and rulership across history and cultures.
The color gold conveys material wealth, extravagance, and success. Its association with royalty comes from gold’s rarity, value, and its connection to the sun. Gold threads were woven into royal garments and crowns were fashioned from gold to enhance their luxurious authority.
The shiny yellow metal has been a symbol of monetary wealth since ancient times. Rare and brilliantly lustrous, gold was fashioned into currency, jewelry, artifacts, and adornments to display affluence. Royalty often adopted visual aesthetics that aligned themselves with the qualities of gold.
Gold also takes on a “divine” association because of its close symbolic link to the sun. In many ancient cultures, gold was considered the flesh or tears of the sun god. Ancient tombs and monuments were often saturated with gold accents and adornments as a tribute to the sun god or to secure a close association. As rulers closely linked themselves with deities, gold became a natural, visual metaphor for their godly authority.
During Europe’s medieval and Renaissance eras, golden crowns, scepters, thrones, and orbs were potent symbols of a monarch’s temporal and divine right to rule. The throne room decor of kings and queens shone with abundant gilding as a display of their wealth and supremacy as divinely chosen rulers.
Royal garments were embroidered with gilded threads or accessorized with golden jewelry. King Midas from Greek mythology famously turned everything he touched into gold, representing the avarice of rulers and the extravagant abundance they sought. Gold’s royalty symbolism continues today with golden state coaches, palaces, Jubilee celebrations, and opulent decor.
The colors purple, red, and gold have enduring symbolism tied to elements of royalty like wealth, stature, luxury, and divine authority. Purple denotes nobility, ambition, exclusivity, and prestige. Red represents power, aggression, and the martial authority of kings. Gold conveys material wealth, extravagance, and divine rulership favor. Even as royal aesthetics have evolved across eras and cultures, these three colors have maintained their regal associations.
Understanding the origins and history of purple, red, and gold provides insights into their long-standing connection to royalty. From ancient emperors to medieval kings to modern ceremonials, these colors have been intentionally chosen to evoke attributes of status, pedigree, privilege, and the right to rule. Their vivid visual symbolism continues to infuse regalia, banners, textiles, uniforms, architecture, art, and more with associations of royalty.
|Nobility, ambition, exclusivity, prestige
|Power, aggression, martial authority
|Wealth, extravagance, divine rulership
So whether gazing upon imperial Roman togas, Chinese emperors’ thrones, medieval European gowns, or modern ceremonial pomp, one can easily identify the colors historically associated with royalty and understand their symbolic significance. Their rich visual legacy persists as a memorable expression of rulership.