Sun of Vergina – Ήλιος της Βεργίνας

The Sun of Vergina is a symbol that was widely used by Ancient Greeks.

Although it is a Panhellenic Symbol, it became famous due to the Macedonians who were using it as Symbol of the Argead Dynasty-the Royal house of Macedon:


vergina sun philip

The typical Sun of Vergina is a 16-pointed Sun. It can also be found in other styles: 12-pointed or 8-pointed.

What was the meaning of this symbol??

–In the typical 16-pointed Sun , the 4 rays represent the 4 elements: Earth-Ocean-Fire-Air.
The other 12 rays represent the 12 Gods of Olympus.
You can see the explanation in the following animation :

–In every form, the Sun of Vergina symbolized Virginity: Goddess Athena was a Virgin, so this Sun was associated with her.
We can also find this symbol associated with Apollo.

–All the versions (16,12 and 8-pointed Sun) are associated with another famous Greek symbol, the “Delphian Epsilon”, symbol of Apollo:

The Sun of Vergina became common art design in coins, craters, wall-drawings etc LONG BEFORE the Macedonian royal house (the Argead Dynasty) used it.

After the unification of the Greek (Hellenic) nation under the leadership of Alexander the Great, the Sun of Vergina became the symbol of the Hellenic Ethnogenesis.

In the following replies, you will be able to see some pieces of Ancient Greek art containing the Sun of Vergina, BEFORE THE RISE OF THE GREEK KINGDOM OF MACEDONIA. These sun symbols are found in various Greek places, apart from Macedonia.

Moreover, there will be a small historical flashback, in order to see the evolution of this symbol throught the ages :

2000 BC: This is the time where ancient Greeks first started using the Sun symbol.
It was not standardized yet, it was a early form of the Sun of Vergina:

780BC: The Sun of Vergina has been standardized. The following art work shows the destruction of Troy. We can clearly see the Sun symbol in the warrior’s hump.
It was found in Mykonos island :

The following images are just a small sample, showing the wide usage of the Sun of Vergina in Greek Art:

Spartan Hoplite – 780 BC:

Spartan Amphoreus –

It dates from the 6th century BC, that is, well before Macedonia’s later dominance in the Greek world. In this fine example of ancient pottery, the Sunburst here is not just an incidental decorative motif but rather constitutes the central theme. Its appearance on this household item from distant Sparta, at such an early date, is one of the most compelling pieces of evidence for the panhellenic nature of this ancient symbol. In addition, this item perhaps alludes to a more specific connection between Sparta and her Dorian cousin of the north.

This vase can now be found in the Louvre Museum, Paris. 6th Century BC:

An amphora from the Pontus region (the southern shore of the Black Sea) dating from the second half of the sixth century BC. Priam and the god Hermes lead Hera, Athena and Aphrodite to Paris whose task will be to decide which of these goddesses is the most beautiful. According to the legend each of these goddesses made offers to Paris so that they might win the contest. Hera promised to make him ruler of the world, Athena vowed that he would never be vanquished in battle. Paris eventually chose Aphrodite as she promised him the love of Helen, the most beautiful mortal woman in the world. The Trojan War was a direct result of this fateful contest:

Exekias was a famous vase-painter and potter of ancient Athens. The scene on this page, from an amphora of the third quarter of the 6th century BC (now at the National Museum of Athens), is one of his most famous works. It is considered one of the finest surviving examples of ‘Black Figure’ vase painting.


Achilles and Ajax, two major Greek heroes of Homer’s Iliad are depicted here relaxing over a game of dice during a lull in the fighting. Achilles has just won; he has just thrown a ‘four’ while Ajax has to accept a ‘three’:

Third Quarter of the 6th century BC:

Achilles and Ajax

The cloaks of both these Homeric figures are studded with numerous 8-ray Sunbursts.

The return of Hephestus560 BC:

Below is a pyxis (box-like vase) from the second half of the 6th century BC signed by the prolific Athenian potter Nikosthenes. It depicts the hero Herakles with the Gods of Olympus. The seal on the lid of this vessel features the familiar 16-ray Sunburst. Like the garments of Achilles and Ajax on the Exekias vase, the clothes of one of the figures on the front of the pyxis is also adorned with sunbursts:

Athena and Hermes540 BC

heracles olympians pyxis



Athena and hermes

Heracles and Lernaia Hydra- 525 BC:

Oddyseus blinds the Cyclop, Magna Grecia- 520 BC:

Greek Amphoreus, Magna Grecia500 BC

Heracles- Olympia- 500 BC:

Goddess Athena5th century BC:

Hades-the Greek underworld5th century BC:

An Athenian citizen-soldier of about 450 BC. He is wearing a linen cuirass (body armour), a style which had largely replaced cuirasses made of bronze by about the middle of the 6th century BC:

The shoulder pieces of his cuirass are decorated with 8-ray Sunbursts. The grotesque face of the Gorgon Medusa, a very common Greek symbol and one of the attributes of the goddess Athena, hangs on his chest.

Heracles and Athena, 480 BC:

Another Attic vase (dated c. 480 BC), shows a warrior wearing an ΅Attic’ helmet and carrying a large, decorated shield. A sixteen-ray sunburst adorns the shoulder piece that is visible:-

c. 480 BC:

The shoulder pieces of yet another hoplite from an Athenian vase of 450 BC above), are likewise decorated with 8-ray Sunbursts. This scene captures the solemn mood of the hoplite warrior’s departure for battle. He is shown clasping his father’s hand while his wife (or mother) carries a phiale (cup) which will be used for the ritual libation of farewell:
450 BC:

Inside the temple of Nemesis in Thamnous436 BC:

Ancient Greek hoplites, Museum of Napoli, 400 BC:

The Legent of godess Dimitra-400BC:

Canos Vase –400 BC:

Detail of Canos Vase- The Persian king Darius, seated on his throne, holds a Council of War and decides to invade Greece. Below him are Persians bearing tribute. Above Darius are the Gods of Olympus. Among them, flanked by Zeus and Athena, is a female figure, a personification of Greece [Hellas] herself. Athena has placed her arm on Greece and together with Zeus appears to be consoling her in view of her impending struggle and tribulations (see Canosa vase detail below):
Two 16-ray Sunbursts complete the line-up of Greece and the Hellenic pantheon while a further two Sunbursts appear in the top-most scene of the vase.

400 BC:

Greek Hoplite vs Persian Soldier, 4th century BC:

Greek Hoplite vs Persian Soldier, 4th century BC:

The Greek hero Perseus:

Fourth century BC

Athena Promahos

Three youths in battles one of whom carries a shield emblazoned with the Sunburst:

An epaulette depicting a sunburst.


On Greek Shields and Helmets
The shields of ancient Greek hoplites (heavy infantry) invariably bore a symbolic design known as the episema, which had a ritual or heraldic significance. Surviving representations of these devices attest to a vast diversity of design and inspiration. Although often unique to the individual, (a phenomenon resulting in a plethora of emblems: roosters, lions, tripods, gorgons, birds, bulls, serpents, boars etc), whole armies often presented a uniform design. Such was the case of SpartaΆs soldiers who were easily recognizable by the legendary Lambda (‘Λ’: the Greek ‘L’, the first letter of ‘Lacedaimonia’, the land of the Spartans) on their shields, in addition to their scarlet cloaks.

At least two of the hoplites competing in the armed foot-race from a Greek amphora of the 4th century BC (below), carry shields featuring a solar episema. Athletic contests were held in honour of the gods at Greek festivals. The armed foot-race was a very popular event, so much so, that 25 shields were on hand at Olympia for the use of the contestants. A Panathenaic amphora by Nikomachos from the same period (not shown) likewise depicts three nude warriors racing, two of whom carry shields emblazoned with Sunbursts.

Nudity in battle, as depicted on this late classical Athenian wine-jug (below), was an artistic convention designed to distinguish Greek from barbarian. Greek warriors never actually fought without body armour; nor did they hunt in this way as the famous painting by Gnosis of Alexander hunting would have us believe. A Greek hoplite is here engaged in battle against three Persians (not all of whom are visible). This scene reflects the growing confidence felt by Greeks in the wake of their defeat of Persia in the early 5th century and XenophonΆs successful Persian venture in the early 4th century BC. The Greek hoplite proudly carries a shield adorned with the evidently quite common Sunburst episema:

An Attic red figure krater now in the Antikenmuseum (in Basle, Switzerland; not shown) depicts a scene from the Amazonomachy, the mythical battle between Theseus and his Athenians against the invading Amazons. Significantly, one of the Athenian warriors engaged in the melee, who is also fighting in ?heroic nudity?, holds a shield with a 16-ray Sunburst.

The ‘Polygnotos’ stamnos (445-430 BC; below) dealing with the same theme, shows Theseus himself carrying a shield decorated with a Sunburst. [A combat scene from an amphora painted by the so-called Suessula Painter (c. 400 BC; not shown) likewise depicts a Greek soldier carrying a shield decorated with a somewhat faded yet still discernible Sunburst].

An early krater from Magna Graecia from the last quarter of the fifth century BC painted by the so-called Sisyphus Painter incorporates a number of different scenes. Horse riders are apparently engaged in a race in the top-most scene. Women are shown playing musical instruments in the middle, while the bottom scene has the legendary battle between the Centaurs and the Lapiths as its theme. One of the Lapith warriors is carrying a large shield with a distinct 16-ray Sunburst episema:

The bust of Xanthippus, who led the Athenians to victory over the Persians at Mycale (479 BC), reveals that the brow-piece of his helmet was adorned with a 16-ray Sunburst. Xanthippus was the father of Pericles, the great Athenian statesman of the ‘Golden Age’ of Athens:


This reproduction of a scene from a 4th century BC vase found at Ruvo, presents the familiar tale of Jason and the Golden Fleece. Jason is about to spear the dragon guarding the prized fleece. Herakles makes an appearance and swings his trademark club while Medea stands nearby and is in the process of lulling the dragon to sleep with her sorcery. One of JasonΆs companions (bottom right) carries a shield with an 8-ray Sunburst:

This mixing bowl by the so-called Nazzano painter (c. 400 BC), depicts a scene from the sack of Troy by the Greeks. Neoptolemos is shown brandishing the child Astyanax by the leg (centre of scene) while Aphrodite intercedes to protect Helen from the wrath of her husband Menelaos, king of Sparta (bottom left of scene). The helmets of both Neoptolemos and Menelaos are adorned, like that of Xanthippus, with Sunbursts. The Trojan king Priam lies on the ground (bottom right) at the feet of a Greek soldier who is raising his sword threateningly at him. The soldier’s shield, once again, displays the familiar shape of the Sunburst:

A sixty-four ray variant of the Sunburst appears on a shield of a Greek soldier engaged in combat against a Persian cavalryman (below). The scene is from an Attic red-figure vase.

It is evident that the Sunburst was indeed a common Greek episema. As Greeks, the ancient Macedonians were later to adopt this emblem onto the shields of the Macedonian army and, with AlexanderΆs conquests, take it to the edge of the known world.


In the Temples of Attica

From the late 17th century AD, and in particular the 18th century, classical Greek civilization began to attract the ever-growing interest, curiosity and imagination of western Europeans. One manifestation of this was the numerous “journeys of discovery” undertaken by various scholars to the soil of “rediscovered Hellas” itself, which was then still part of the Ottoman Empire. Two such individuals were the young architects James Stuart and Nicholas Revett, who in 1751 arrived in Attica and immediately set about accurately recording the architectural details of surviving buildings of classical Athens and its surroundings. The four volume “Antiquities of Athens”, published in 1762, is the product of their research.

The diagrams on this and the following page are taken from reproductions by Stuart and Revett, and other antiquaries, of solar emblems found in the coffers (sunken ornamental ceiling panels) of various classical Greek temples of Attica.

From the Hephaistion (also known as the Theseion), coffers from the wing of the pronaos of the temple, 449 BC:


Coffers from the Ionian stoa of the Propylaea (entrance to the Acropolis) the Sunburst also appeared in the coffers of the Parthenon itself, 437 BC;:

The emblem as it appears in the coffers of the Temple of Nemesis at Rhamnous, 436 BC:

From the coffers of the Propylaea at Eleusis (2nd century BC), itself a fairly close replica of the Athenian Propylaea on the Acropolis:

The similarity of these Attican solar emblems with the Sunburst of the Macedonian royal dynasty is astonishing to say the least. It is important to remember that most of the Attican emblems recorded by the 18th century antiquaries pre-date ancient Macedonia’s ascendancy by at least a century.

It is quite clear, given its appearance on some of the best known temples of classical Greece, that the peculiarity of this symbolic representation of the sun, is indeed a Panhellenic phenomenon.

Goddess Athena figure 4th century BC:

Athenian Hoplite, 4th century BC:

Greek hoplite, 4th century BC:

A further link of the Sunburst to the Greek world (other than Macedonia) – particularly its evidently very common Athenian association – can be explained through the following image taken from Volume 19 (September 2009) of Ιστορικες Σελιδες magazine. It represents a modern reconstruction of an Athenian hoplite from the Medontidae clan (‘The Old Royal House – the clan of Solon’) whose main symbol was apparently an 8-ray version of the Sunburst (although other symbols, including 16-ray Sunbursts, also applied):

This excellent site gives even more information about this very theme:…ONTID_CLAN.pdf

Athena and Hercules, 4th centuryBC:

Greek coins:

Goddess Athena,4th century BCLouvre Museum:

Phrixus and Elli4th century BC:

One side of a coin from the Ionian island of Kerkyra has a floral motif arranged as a Sunburst. The word KOPKYPAI (Kerkyra) can be read on the periphery:

Rays of the Sun God

There is some debate, largely academic, as to whether the emblem on the gold chests found in the royal tomb at Vergina (the ‘Sunburst’ itself), represents a star or the sun. The evidence strongly points to the latter.

Helios, the sun god of the ancient Greeks, was usually represented riding a chariot which was drawn by four, often winged, horses. His chariot rose daily into the heavens from the east and after blazing across the sky plunged into the western sea, thus bringing on the night. The sun’s brilliant light emanated from the fiery crown that adorned HeliosΆs head.

The sun god made the fruits of the earth ripen – fertility being a common and obvious symbological association of the sun. When swearing an oath Greeks would often call upon Helios as a witness, as they believed he ‘saw and heard everything’.

Although originally distinct deities, Helios was confused, as early as the 5th century BC, with Apollo (originally the god of music, the arts, archery, healing and prophecy – and later of light), so that Apollo frequently took on the function of the sun god himself. The epithets Phoebus ‘the brilliant’, Xanthos ‘the fair’ and Chrysokomes ‘of the golden locks’ used to describe Apollo, point to this solar connection.

The liveliest cult of Helios in the ancient Greek world existed on the island of Rhodes. Each year during the Halieia festival which was celebrated with much splendour and with athletic contests, the Rhodians threw a team of four horses into the sea as a sacrifice to him. In honour of what was effectively their national deity and to commemorate their heroic defence against Demetrius PoliorcetesΆs army, the people of Rhodes commissioned the celebrated sculptor Chares of Lindos to create a huge statue of Helios.

This statue, which is known to us as the ‘Colossus of Rhodes’, was one of the wonders of the ancient world. It was completed in 292 BC, 12 years after work began on it. It stood at the entrance of RhodesΆs harbour and was over 35 metres tall. Helios was represented with a crown of sun-rays, a spear in his left hand and a flaming torch held aloft in his right.. Descriptions of this ancient statue inspired the design of FranceΆs gift to the people of the USA in 1884 – the Statue of Liberty – as the inscription at the base of this New York landmark acknowledges.

Less than a century after its completion (in 224 BC), an earthquake destroyed the statue and it was never again erected. The metal was finally sold for scrap in 653 AD.

The rays emanating from the sun god’s head, as they must have appeared on the Rhodian statue’s crown, and as we know them to actually be depicted on surviving works of art, reinforce the conviction that the inspiration for the Sunburst derives from the traditional representation of the Greek sun god Helios. It is not difficult to see that stylized rays emanating from a fiery core is in fact a shorthand reference to this solar deity rather than to a star.

Perhaps the most compelling evidence linking the Sunburst used by the ancient Macedonians (and the ancient Greeks in general) with the sun god is this representation of Helios from the Temple of Athena at Troy. The shape of the rays around Helios’s head and the very way they are configured is remarkably similar to the Sunburst and strongly points to a close relationship between the two.


Helios(God of Sun)- Temple of Athena , Troy:

Propylaia of Elefsina: 360 BC:

The tradition passed from ancient Greek to Byzantine period.
As I have mentioned in my previous posts, Athena was the virgin Godess. When Christianity “arrived” in Greece, Greeks replaced Athena with the Madonna(the mother of Jesus Christ). So , all the temples of Athena became churches of Madonna (including the Parthenon) and all the symbols that had connection with Athena, became Madonna’s symbols. So did the Sun of Vergina: It became the symbol of Madonna!

The Byzantine Artists were calling the Sun of Vergina as “Aeiparthenon”, that means “For ever Virgin”.
A typical image of Madonna includes 3 Suns of Vergina (Aeiparthena). These 3 suns, as Byzantinologists say, symbolize the fact that Mary remained a virgin before the conception, during the gestation and after the birth of Jesus Christ.

The following images show the usage of the Vergina Sun in the Byzantine Empire:

This is the Panagia from the Monastery of Panagia Soumela in the Pontus:

Eleventh century Greek church of Saints Anargyroi in Kastoria. In the first image we observe a sixteen-ray Sunburst ‘proudly and poignantly’ appearing on the base of the elaborate cross to which the Makedonomachoi swore an oath for their holy struggle to unite Macedonia to Greece – during the very early nineteenth century.

The symbol in Hagia Sofia of Constantinople. Thanks to Antonis F. for the photo!

Hagia Sofia - Constantinople


This image is from the same church and depicts a medieval Byzantine knight holding a tapering oval shield adorned with two eight-ray Sunbursts – the artists perhaps having been influenced by recollections of the shields of the ancient Macedonians.


In my birthplace, Patras, the largest temple of the Balkans is located: St Andrew.
Look at Madonna’s image inside the temple:

Furthermore, here is a collection of Madonna’s images in my house :

We have to note though that the “Aeiparthenon” symbol is not always like the Vergina Sun, it can be different in other Madonna images.
Also we have to mention that other non-Greek christians copied that style of art and started using the “Aeiparthenon” symbol that looked like the Vergina Sun in their churches: We can find the Vergina sun in Serbian,Bulgarian and Russian churches too!

Apart from Madonna, the Vergina Sun was used a s decorative inside churches. Here are some examples:

St Nicolas in Mistras, Peloponnesus:

Osios Loukas church Beotia:

Last judgment- Mistras , Peloponnisus:

This is the story of the famous Greek symbol-The Vergina Sun.

I hope you enjoyed viewing the images.

I have to say something last, though : Our Slav neighbours in the North of Greece are claiming all these symbols as theirs. After viewing this topic, you may have realized why Greeks oppose to the usurpation of their history.

Truth shines like the Sun of Vergina. Truth will prevail!

The Sun of Vergina is in fact the SUN OF THE GREEKS


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