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What is the significance of the orb and sceptre?

What is the significance of the orb and sceptre?

The orb and sceptre are traditional regalia and symbols of monarchical power and authority. They have been used in coronation and investiture ceremonies for centuries across different cultures. Understanding the history and meaning behind these iconic objects provides insight into the nature of kingship, governance, and sovereignty.

Origins and Early Use of the Orb

The orb likely originated from the globus cruciger, or “cross-bearing orb,” used as a Christian symbol of authority. The cross represented Christ’s dominion over the world, so placing a cross above an orb symbolized a ruler’s divine right to wield power on Earth. Orbs without crosses were used as symbols of royal authority and sovereignty as early as the 5th century CE in ancient Persia.

In Western Europe, orbs surfaced in imperial coronations starting with the Holy Roman Empire. They became prevalent in royal coronations by the Middle Ages. The orb’s round shape mirrors the sphere’s perfection and worldwide reach. By holding the orb, monarchs cement their right to exercise lordship over their realms.

Symbolism and Meaning of the Orb

The orb represents the sphere of power and dominion granted from divine authorities to earthly monarchs. By holding the orb, a ruler shows they wield God-given authority over their territory. The orb bears the world – symbolically, the realm – under the monarch’s command.

Sovereigns oath to rule justly and protect the realm and subjects. The orb signifies that ultimate authority rests in the monarch to make decisions regarding the kingdom’s governance. Yet they temper this authority with wisdom, justice, and duty to citizens’ wellbeing. The orb’s symbolism evokes notions of rounded wholeness, infinity, continuum, and order – ideals associated with good rulership.

Origins and Early Use of the Sceptre

The sceptre also traces origins back to antiquity across different cultures as a symbol of royal power. Egyptian kings held sceptres representing their dominion. In ancient Greece, rulers carried sceptres representing sovereignty.

In western Europe, sceptres became widespread in royal investitures starting in the Middle Ages. The sceptre’s rod shape echoes a staff’s form, evoking shepherds’ guiding flocks with care, wisdom, and protection. Sceptres symbolized the monarch’s duty to steer the kingdom justly and benefit subjects.

Symbolism and Meaning of the Sceptre

The sceptre embodies the sovereign’s absolute authority to govern the realm and command subjects. By grasping the sceptre, monarchs cement their status as highest earthly authority within the kingdom. Sceptres represent the monarch’s ability to punish enemies, reward loyal service, and enact their will regarding policy and law.

Yet the sceptre also symbolizes the weighty responsibility that accompanies this power. Monarchs must wield authority to protect citizens’ rights and promote their welfare – not exploit power at the people’s expense. The sceptre’s likeness to a shepherd’s staff reinforces this obligation of wise, just rule on subjects’ behalf.

Use in Coronation Ceremonies

During coronations, monarchs receive sceptres and orbs to represent assuming their full powers and responsibilities as sovereign. The new ruler holds these items while taking oaths to faithfully discharge their office’s duties towards God and country.

In British coronations, the Sovereign receives multiple sceptres symbolizing varied roles:
– Sovereign’s Sceptre with Cross: overall royal authority
– Sceptre with the Dove: equitable governance and mercy
– Sceptre with St. Edward’s Crown: leadership of the Church of England

After crowning, the new monarch receives the orb to signify their realm’s dominion. Grasping these objects visibly signals the Sovereign’s investiture with lawful power to rule the kingdom.

Modern Ceremonial Use

While no longer actively used to govern, the orb and sceptre maintain symbolic importance in ceremonies today. They represent continuity of monarchical tradition and the Crown’s centuries-old authority.

The United Kingdom’s monarchs still receive the orb and sceptres at coronations. The orb and sceptre appear on royal coats of arms, flags, and other national symbols as icons of the Crown. During annual State Openings of Parliament, the British monarch ceremonially enters carrying the orb and sceptre, underscoring the Crown’s constitutional authority.

Other European monarchies also incorporate orbs and sceptres in investitures and formal state ceremonies. While symbolic, these objects remain powerful emblems of sovereign right and might.


The orb and sceptre’s longevity testifies to their enduring political and symbolic significance. Originating in antiquity, these iconic objects represent the monarch’s divine mandate to wisely govern their realm. Their ritual use ceremonially invests monarchs with lawful authority over their subjects. Today, the orb and sceptre continue appearing in state pageantry as symbols of the Crown’s traditional power, though now largely ceremonial. Their rich history makes the orb and sceptre enduring relics of rulership still commanding respect.

Location Date of First Use
Ancient Persia 5th Century CE
Holy Roman Empire 10th Century CE
England 12th Century CE