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An ornamented golden Minoan double axe, often spuriously called a labrys
Bronze Age axe from the tholos tombs of Messara in Crete
Coinage of Idrieus of Caria, Obv: Head of Apollo, wearing laurel wreath, drapery at neck; Rev: legend ΙΔΡΙΕΩΣ ("IDRIEOS"), Zeus Labraundos standing with labrys in his right hand, c. 351–350 to 344–343 BCE[1]

Labrys (Greek: λάβρυς, romanizedlábrys) is, according to Plutarch (Quaestiones Graecae 2.302a), the Lydian word for the double-bitted axe. In Greek it was called πέλεκυς (pélekys). The plural of labrys is labryes (λάβρυες).


Plutarch relates that the word labrys was a Lydian word for 'axe': Λυδοὶ γὰρ ‘λάβρυν’ τὸν πέλεκυν ὀνομάζουσι.[a][2] ("For Lydians name the double-edged axe 'Labrys'"). Many scholars including Arthur Evans assert that the word labyrinth is derived from labrys and thus implies 'house of the double axe'.[3] A priestly corporation in Delphi was named Labyades; the original name was probably Labryades, servants of the double axe. In the Roman era at Patrai and Messene, a goddess Laphria was worshipped, commonly identified with Artemis. Her name was said to be derived from the region around Delphi.[4][5]

In Crete the "double axe" is not a weapon, and it always accompanies female goddesses, not male gods.[6] Beekes regards the relation of labyrinth with labrys as speculative, and rather proposes a relation with laura (λαύρα), 'narrow street', or to the Carian theonym Dabraundos (Δαβραυνδος).[7]

It is also possible that the word labyrinth is derived from the Egyptian, meaning: "the temple at the entrance of the lake". The Egyptian labyrinth near Lake Moeris is described by Herodotus and Strabo.[8] The inscription in Linear B, on tablet ΚΝ Gg 702, reads 𐀅𐁆𐀪𐀵𐀍𐀡𐀴𐀛𐀊   (da-pu2-ri-to-jo-po-ti-ni-ja). The conventional reading is λαβυρίνθοιο πότνια (labyrinthoio potnia; 'mistress of the labyrinth'). According to some modern scholars it could read *δαφυρίνθοιο (*daphyrinthoio), or something similar, and hence be without a certain link with either the λάβρυς or the labyrinth.[9]

A link has also been posited with the double axe symbols at Çatalhöyük, dating to the Neolithic age.[10](p 161) In Labraunda in Caria, as well as in the coinage of the Hecatomnid rulers of Caria, the double axe accompanies the storm god Zeus Labraundos. Arthur Evans notes,

It seems natural to interpret names of Carian sanctuaries such as Labranda in the most literal sense as the place of the sacred labrys, which was the Lydian (or Carian) name for the Greek πέλεκυς [pelekys], or double-edged axe[11]


on Carian coins, indeed of quite late date, the labrys, set up on its long pillar-like handle, with two dependent fillets, has much the appearance of a cult image.[11]

Minoan double axe[edit]

Drawing of a golden ring found at Mycenae depicting cult of the seated poppy goddess, in which the labrys is central and prominent

In ancient Crete, the double axe was an important sacred symbol of the Minoan religion.[12] In Crete the double axe only accompanies goddesses, never gods. It seems that it was the symbol of the arche of the creation (Mater-arche).[10](p 161) Small versions were used as votive offerings and have been found in considerable numbers; the Arkalochori Axe is a famous example. Minoan double axes have also recently been found in the prehistoric town of Akrotiri (Santorini Island) along with other objects of apparent religious significance.[13]

Ancient Thracian Odrysian Kingdom[edit]

The double axe appears to have carried important symbolism the ancient Thracian Odrysian kingdom related to the Thracian religion and to the royal power. It is argued that in ancient Thrace the double axe was an attribute of Zalmoxis. The double axe appears on coins from Thrace and is believed to be the symbol of the kings of the Odrysae, who believed they could trace their lineage to Zalmoxis.[14] A fresco from the Thracian tomb near Aleksandrovo in south-east Bulgaria, dated to c. 4th c. BCE, depicts a large-size naked man wielding a double axe.

Double axes in the Near East[edit]

In the Near East and other parts of the region, eventually, axes of this sort often are wielded by male divinities and appear to become symbols of the thunderbolt, a symbol often found associated with the axe symbol.[15] In Labraunda of Caria the double-axe accompanies the storm-god Zeus Labraundos. Similar symbols have been found on plates of Linear pottery culture in Romania.[10](p 162) The double-axe is associated with the Hurrian god of sky and storm Teshub. His Hittite and Luwian name was Tarhun.[16] Both are depicted holding a triple thunderbolt in one hand and a double axe in the other hand. Similarly, Zeus throws his thunderbolt to bring storm. The labrys, or pelekys, is the double axe Zeus uses to invoke storm and, the relatively modern Greek word for lightning is "star-axe" (ἀστροπελέκι astropeleki)[17] The worship of the double axe was kept up in the Greek island of Tenedos and in several cities in the south-west of Asia Minor, and it appears in later historical times in the cult of the thunder god of Asia Minor (Zeus Labrayndeus).

Ancient Greece[edit]

In the context of the mythical Attic king Theseus, the labyrinth of Greek mythology is frequently associated with the Minoan palace of Knossos. This is based on the reading of Linear B da-pu2-ri-to-jo-po-ti-ni-ja as λαβυρίνθοιο πότνια ("mistress of the labyrinth").[b] It is uncertain, however, that labyrinth can be interpreted as "place of the double axes" and moreover that this should be Knossos; many more have been found, for example, at the Arkalachori Cave, where the famous Arkalochori Axe was found.[original research?]

On Greek coins of the classical period (e.g. Pixodauros) a type of Zeus venerated at Labraunda in Caria that numismatists call Zeus Labrandeus (Ζεὺς Λαβρανδεύς) stands with a sceptre upright in his left hand and the double-headed axe over his shoulder.[18]

Roman Crete[edit]

Ancient Roman mosaic in the Louvre depicting an Amazon warrior with labrys in combat with a hippeus, fourth century A.D., from Daphne, a suburb of Antioch (modern Antakya, Turkey)

In Roman Crete, the labrys was often associated with the mythological Amazons.[19]

Modern uses[edit]


While double axes are common in modern high fantasy settings, in reality they were not commonly used in combat.[20]


Double-bit axes were common in North American forestry: One blade would be sharp and used for felling, whilst the other was a little blunter for limbing. As the forest workers (lumberjacks) were often away from civilization for long periods of time they needed a way to amuse themselves. Thus the sport of double-bit axe throwing was born. In recent decades the sport has been formalised with Swedish company Gränsfors Bruk writing the rules most widely accepted. There are now multiple clubs across Europe that throw double-bit. The sport of double-bit was formalised in the 1990s, whereas hatchet throwing was formalised in 2006.[21]


Religion and spirituality[edit]

The labrys is sometimes used as a symbol of Hellenic polytheism.[citation needed] As a symbol of the neopagan Goddess movement, the labrys represents the memory of pre-patriarchal matristic societies.[c][23]


In Greece, the labrys was employed as a symbol of Metaxism.[24] During the totalitarian period of the 4th of August Regime (1936–1941), it represented the regime-sponsored National Organization of Youth (EON), as its leader, Ioannis Metaxas, believed it to be the first symbol of all Hellenic civilizations.[24]

The labrys symbol was also used prominently by the Vichy France regime, being featured on the personal flag of Chief of State Philippe Pétain, on coins, and in various propaganda posters.[25]

In the 1960s the labrys was also used by the Italian neo-fascist and far-right movement Ordine Nuovo, most prominently on their flag.[26]

Social movement[edit]

Labrys jewelry of modern pagan and feminist movements

In feminist interpretations, the labrys is a symbol of matriarchy.[27][d][28]

Lesbian symbol[edit]

Labrys lesbian flag

In the 1970s, the labrys was adopted by the lesbian community, as a lesbian feminist symbol, representing strength and self-sufficiency.[29] The labrys lesbian flag, created in 1999,[30] involves a labrys superimposed on an inverted black triangle and set against a violet background.

In Kyrgyzstan, "Labrys" is an LGBT rights organization. The group's goal is to improve the quality of life for all LGBT individuals in their country as well as Central Asia.[31] Similarly, "Labrisz" is an association in Hungary for lesbian and bisexual women.


The double axe is used by Cretan folklore preservation societies and associations both in Greece and abroad, on occasion with the spelling "lavrys" reflecting modern Greek pronunciation.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Herakles, having slain Hippolyte and taken her axe away from her with the rest of her arms, gave it to Omphale. The kings of Lydia who succeeded her carried this as one of their sacred insignia of office and passed it down from father to son until it was passed to Candaules, who disdained it and gave it to one of his companions to carry. When Gyges rebelled and was making war upon Candaules, Arselis came with a force from Mylasa to assist Gyges; Arselis then slew Candaules and his companion and took the axe to Caria with the other spoils of war. And, having set up a statue of Zeus, Arselis put the axe in his hand and invoked the god, Labrandeus."[2]
  2. ^ Cf. the parallel construction of a-ta-na-po-ti-ni-ja, perhaps referring to the “Mistress of Athens”, i. e. Athena, on a different tablet (KN V 52) from Knossos.
  3. ^ "Women fought, as war leaders and in the ranks; women fought in troops, as regular soldiers; and the principal symbol of the Great Goddess, appearing widely throughout the Mediterranean and Asia Minor, was the double-headed battle axe or labrys."[22]
  4. ^ The forms taken by the labrys were classified by Caterina Mavriyannaki.


  1. ^ "Ex von Aulock Collection". Classical Numismatic Group (CNG). 2007. Retrieved 31 January 2019.
  2. ^ a b Plutarch. Moralia [Greek Questions]. 45, 2.302a.
  3. ^ The Oxford Classical Dictionary (4th ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. 2012. p. 960. ISBN 978-0199545568.
  4. ^ Sweeney, Emmet John (2009). Gods, Heroes and Tyrants: Greek chronology in chaos. Algora Publishing. p. 116. ISBN 9780875866826.
  5. ^ Platon, Nicolas; de Tournay, Béatrice (18 May 2015). La Civilisation égéenne: Le Bronze récent et la civilisation mycénienne [Aegean Civilization: The late Bronze Age and the civilization of the Mycenaeans]. Albin Michel. p. iii. ISBN 9782226341075.
  6. ^ Nilsson, vol. 1, p. 277.
  7. ^ Beekes, Robert (2009). Etymological Dictionary of Greek. Boston, Massachusetts: Brill. p. 819. ISBN 978-9004174184.
  8. ^ Tikkanen, Amy (14 October 2008). "Labyrinth". Encyclopædia Britannica.
  9. ^ For an overview, see
    Melena, José L.; Morpurgo Davies, A. (2014). "Mycenaean writing". In Duhoux, Y. (ed.). Companion to Linear B: Mycenaean Greek texts and their world. Bibliothèque des Cahiers de l'Institut de Linguistique de Louvain (BCILL 133). Vol. 3. p. 73 – via Academia.edu.
  10. ^ a b c Schachermeyr, Fritz (1964). Die minoische Kultur des alten Kreta [The Minoan Culture of Ancient Crete] (in German). Stuttgart, Germany: Kohlhammer. OCLC 325167. Abb. 85
  11. ^ a b Evans, A. (November 1900). "Mycenaean tree and pillar cult and its Mediterranean relations". Journal of Hellenic Studies. § XXI, page 108 ff – via Internet Archive (archive.org).
  12. ^ Rutter, Jeremy (29 November 2017). "Minoan Religion". Archived from the original on 23 September 2015. Retrieved 29 November 2017.
  13. ^ "Μοναδικά νέα ευρήματα ανακαλύφθηκαν στο Ακρωτήρι Θήρας". Η Εφημερίδα των Συντακτών (in Greek). 30 January 2020. Retrieved 24 July 2021.
  14. ^ Francis, Jane E.; Kouremenos, Anna, eds. (2016). Roman Crete: New Perspectives (1st ed.). Oxford, England, United Kingdom: Oxbow Books. p. 46. ISBN 978-1785700958.
  15. ^ "Minoan Religion". Dartmouth College. Archived from the original on 18 July 2012.
  16. ^ "Tarhun". Encyclopædia Britannica. 20 July 1998.
  17. ^ Nilsson, M. (1967). Die Geschichte der griechischen Religion [The History of Greek Religion] (in German). Vol. I. Munich, DE: C.F. Beck Verlag. p. 267 ff.
  18. ^ Jewitt, Llewellynn Frederick William (1890). English Coins and Tokens. Swan Sonnenschein & Company.
  19. ^ Francis, Jane E.; Kouremenos, Anna, eds. (2016). "Chapter 5. The double axe (λάβρυς) in Roman Crete and beyond: the iconography of a multi-faceted symbol". Roman Crete: New Perspectives (1st ed.). Oxford, UK / Havertown, PA: Oxbow Books. pp. 43–57. ISBN 978-1-78570-095-8.
  20. ^ "Axes: Hephaestus's labrys". Sword Temple. 17 March 2020. Retrieved 21 September 2020.
  21. ^ "Yxanvändning" [Axe Throwing]. Gränsfors Bruks AB. Sweden. 2 February 2019.
  22. ^ Miles, Rosalind (1989). "The Great Goddess". The Women's History of the World. Topsfield, MA: Salem House. p. 33. ISBN 0-88162-348-2.
  23. ^ Keller, Mara (1988). "Eleusinian Mysteries" (PDF). Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. 4 (1): 42. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 September 2015. Retrieved 21 June 2016.
  24. ^ a b Markessinis, Andreas (22 August 2006). "The labrys / pelekys: The symbol of thundergod Zeus and of the EON". Metaxas Project. Retrieved 31 August 2014.
  25. ^ Karlsgodt, Elizabeth (2011). Defending National Treasures: French art and heritage under Vichy. Stanford University Press. pp. 126–128. ISBN 978-0804770187.
  26. ^ Giannuli, Aldo; Rosati, Elia (5 October 2017). Storia di Ordine Nuovo: La Piú Pericolosa Organizzazione Neo-Fascista Degli Anni Settanta [History of Ordine Nuovo: The most dangerous neo-fascist organization of the seventies] (in Italian). Milan, IT: Mimesis Edizioni. ISBN 978-8857538433.
  27. ^ Mavriyannaki, Caterina (1983). "La double hache dans le monde hellénique à l'âge de bronze" [The Double Axe in the Hellenic World at the Bronze Age]. Revue Archéologique. Nouvelle Série, Fasc. 2 (in French) (2): 195–228. JSTOR 41737054.
  28. ^ Biedermann, Hans (1992). Dictionary of Symbolism: Cultural icons and the meanings behind them [Knaurs Lexikon der Symbole]. New York, NY: Facts on File. p. 24. ISBN 0-8160-2593-2.
  29. ^ Lesbian symbol:
    Zimmerman, Bonnie, ed. (2000). "Symbols, Christy Stevens". Lesbian Histories and Cultures: An Encyclopedia (1st ed.). Garland Publishing. p. 748. ISBN 0-8153-1920-7.
    Myers, JoAnne (2003). Historical Dictionary of the Lesbian Liberation Movement: Still the Rage (1st ed.). Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press. p. 156. ISBN 978-0810845060.
    "Gay symbols through the ages". The Alyson Almanac: A treasury of information for the gay and lesbian community. Boston, MA: Alyson Publications. 1989. pp. 99–100. ISBN 0-932870-19-8.
    Murphy, Timothy F., ed. (2000). Reader's Guide to Lesbian and Gay Studies (1st ed.). Chicago, IL: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers. p. 44. ISBN 1-57958-142-0.
    Pea, Georgie (9 August 2013). "LABRYS Tool of Lesbian Feminism". Finding Lesbians. Archived from the original on 12 November 2020. Retrieved 10 July 2018.
  30. ^ Bendix, Trish (8 September 2015). "Why don't lesbians have a pride flag of our own?". AfterEllen. Archived from the original on 9 September 2015. Retrieved 24 June 2020.
  31. ^ "Labrys". Labrys Kyrgyzstan. 2004–2014. Archived from the original on 22 May 2013. Retrieved 11 May 2016.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]