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French Revolution


History >> French Revolution

There were many symbols that represented the French Revolution. Some of the symbols were worn by people to show their support for the revolution (tricolor cockade and the Phrygian cap). Some were meant to bring unity under the new government (the French flag and the Marseillaise). Still others were meant to strike fear in the hearts of the enemies of the revolution (guillotine).

Tricolor Cockade

Tricolor Cockade

The tricolor cockade was a red, white, and blue circular emblem that people wore pinned to their hats or their coats to show they supported the revolution. It first gained meaning to the revolutionaries when a red and blue cockade (the colors of Paris) was presented to the king after the Storming of the Bastille. Later, Lafayette added white to the cockade to represent the king and the entire nation of France.

Eventually, the tricolor cockade became the symbol of the revolutionary government. Those who wore the cockade were considered committed members of the revolution. Those who didn't were often suspected of treason and might be thrown into jail or even executed.

Drawing of French revolutionaries
Revolutionaries Wearing Phrygian Caps
Source: Costumes of all nations
Phrygian Cap

The Phrygian cap, also known as the liberty cap, was another item worn by revolutionaries. It was a brimless, felt cap that was usually red. By the middle of the French Revolution, members of the assembly were required to wear the cap. The meaning of the cap came from Ancient Rome where slaves were given a Phrygian cap when they were set free.

The French Flag

The revolution adopted a new flag called the Tricolore. It had the same red, white, and blue colors of the tricolor cockade. The Tricolore is the official French Flag today.

La Marseillaise

"La Marseillaise" was adopted as the official national anthem of France in 1795 during the French Revolution. The lyrics were written in 1792 by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle. He wrote the song to commemorate France declaring war on Austria. The original name for the song was "War Song for the Rhine Army", but the song soon became known as "La Marseillaise" because it was often sung by troops from the city of Marseille.

Painting of an execution by guillotine
The Guillotine by Unknown
The Guillotine

The most fearsome of the symbols of the French Revolution was the guillotine. This device was used to execute enemies in a quick and efficient manner. A guillotine was made of a large wood frame that allowed for a heavy metal blade to be raised and then dropped with force to behead the victim. Thousands of nobles and suspected enemies were executed during the revolution using the guillotine earning it a number of nicknames including "The National Razor", "The Widow", "The Machine", and "The Woods of Justice".


Another symbol used by the revolution was the fasces. A fasces is a bundle of wooden rods tied around an axe. The idea for the fasces came from Ancient Rome and represented the unity and power of the revolutionary government.

Interesting Facts about the Symbols of the French Revolution

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  • More on the French Revolution:

    Timeline and Events
    Timeline of the French Revolution
    Causes of the French Revolution
    Estates General
    National Assembly
    Storming of the Bastille
    Women's March on Versailles
    Reign of Terror
    The Directory
    Famous People of the French Revolution
    Marie Antoinette
    Napoleon Bonaparte
    Marquis de Lafayette
    Maximilien Robespierre

    Symbols of the French Revolution
    Glossary and Terms

    Works Cited

    History >> French Revolution

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