In hoc signo vinces

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Detail from The Vision of the Cross by assistants of Raphael, depicting the vision of the cross and the Greek writing "Ἐν τούτῳ νίκα" in the sky, before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge.
Sample of use of "In hoc signo vinces" in a 1721 Portuguese coin

In hoc signo vinces (reconstructed Latin pronunciation [ɪn hoːk ˈsɪŋnoː ˈwɪnkeːs], ecclesiastical pronunciation [in ok ˈsiɲo ˈvintʃes]) is a Latin phrase meaning "In this sign you will conquer." It is a translation, or rendering, of the Greek phrase "ἐν τούτῳ νίκα" en touto nika (Ancient Greek: [en tóːtɔ͜ːi níkaː]), literally meaning "in this [you will] conquer".


Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius was an early Christian author (c. 240 – c. 320) who became an advisor to the first Christian Roman emperor, Constantine I, guiding his religious policy as it developed, and tutor to his son.[1] His work De Mortibus Persecutorum has an apologetic character, but has been treated as a work of history by Christian writers. Here Lactantius preserves the story of Constantine's vision of the Chi Rho before his conversion to Christianity.[2] The full text is found in only one manuscript, which bears the title, Lucii Caecilii liber ad Donatum Confessorem de Mortibus Persecutorum.

The historian bishop Eusebius of Caesaria states that Constantine was marching with his army (Eusebius does not specify the actual location of the event, but it is clearly not in the camp at Rome), when he looked up to the sun and saw a cross of light above it, and with it the Greek words "(ἐν) τούτῳ νίκα" ("In this, conquer"),[3] a phrase often rendered into Latin as in hoc signo vinces ("in this sign, you will conquer").[4]

At first, Constantine did not know the meaning of the apparition, but on the following night, he had a dream in which Christ explained to him that he should use the sign of the cross against his enemies. Eusebius then continues to describe the Labarum,[5] the military standard used by Constantine in his later wars against Licinius, showing the Chi-Rho sign. The accounts by Lactantius and Eusebius, though not entirely consistent, have been connected to the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, having merged into a popular notion of Constantine seeing the Chi-Rho sign on the evening before the battle.

The phrase appears prominently placed as a motto on a ribbon unfurled with a passion cross to its left, beneath a window over the Scala Regia, adjacent to the equestrian statue of Emperor Constantine, in the Vatican. Emperors and other monarchs, having paid respects to the Pope, descended the Scala Regia, and would observe the light shining down through the window, with the motto, reminiscent of Constantine's vision, and be reminded to follow the Cross. They would thence turn right into the atrium of St. Peter's Basilica, ostensibly so inspired.

Use by nobility[edit]

The phrase is the motto on some Byzantine coins (e.g. the folles of Constans II[6] or the silver miliaresia (coined between 977 and 989) of Basil II and Constantine VIII[citation needed]).

It appears on the coat of arms borne by Jan III Sobieski and other members of the Sobieski line;[citation needed] it is also on the coat of arms of the Irish noble dynasty of O'Donnell of Tyrconnell, the Noble House of Vassallo, and is the motto of the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George.[citation needed]

It was used as a motto by the Portuguese monarchy.[citation needed] According to the legend, King Afonso I of Portugal saw the sign of the "quinas" -Portugal's heraldic symbol- at the battle of Ourique, adopting them as the national symbol and the motto as a consequence. This legend is told in The Lusiads by Luís de Camões.[citation needed]

Cultural references[edit]






  1. ^ "Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius". Online Catholic Encyclopedia. New Advent. 
  2. ^ Roberts, Alexander; Donaldson, James, eds. (1871). "The manner in which persecutors died. Chapter 44". The works of Lactantius. Volume II. Ante-Nicene Christian Library: Translations of the writings of the Fathers. Down to A.D. 325 XXII. Edinburgh. p. 203. 
  3. ^ Eusebius. "1.28". Vita Constantini. p. 944. 
  4. ^ Haaren, John H.; Poland, A. B. (2006) [1904]. Famous Men of Rome. Yesterday's Classics. p. 229. ISBN 978-159915-046-8. 
  5. ^ Eusebius, Vita Constantini 1.31, p. 946.
  6. ^ Grierson, Philip (1982). Byzantine Coins. University of California Press. p. 111. ISBN 0-520-04897-0. 
  7. ^ Chadwick, Owen. 1981. The Popes and European Revolution. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-826919-6. p. 474.
  8. ^ Helene P. Kokkone, Katerina Korre-Zographou, Chrysa Daskalopoulou (1997). Ελληνικές Σημαίες, Σήματα, Εμβλήματα (in Greek). Athens: G. Tsiberiotes. ISBN 960-7795-01-6. 
  9. ^ "Εμβλήματα: XXII ΤΘΤ" (in Greek). Hellenic Army General Staff. 
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  18. ^ "College Seal". College of the Holy Cross. Retrieved 25 March 2014. 
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  20. ^ "Story of Coat of Arms". 24 November 2010. Retrieved 4 January 2012. 
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  22. ^ "Sigma Chi Crest". 
  23. ^ Pall Mall Example
  24. ^ Chris Harrald et al. The Cigarette Book: The History and Culture of Smoking