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One of the most prominent figures and allegorical personifications to ever exist is Lady Justice, the supposed moral compass across all judicial systems. Almost all high courts in the world feature a sculpture of Lady Justice, distinguished by the many symbolic insignia she wears and carries.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the origins of Lady Justice and the meanings behind the symbols she’s featured with.
History of Lady Justice
Contrary to popular belief, the concept of Lady Justice did not come from just one culture or civilization. It actually dates to the time of Ancient Greece and Egypt.
For Greeks, there was Themis, the Greek goddess of justice, law, order, and good counsel. Themis uses the scales of justice to always remain balanced and pragmatic. However, Themis literally translates to divine law and order, instead of human ordinance.
Meanwhile, Ancient Egyptians had Ma’at of the Old Kingdom, who represented order and justice carried with her a sword and the Feather of Truth. Egyptians believed that this feather (usually depicted as an ostrich feather) would be weighed against the heart of the soul of the deceased to determine whether or not he or she could pass through the afterlife.
However, the modern concept of Lady Justice is most similar to the Roman goddess Justitia. Justitia has become the ultimate symbol of justice in Western civilization. But she is not the Roman counterpart of Themis. Instead, Justitia’s Greek counterpart is Dike, who is Themis’ daughter.
In Roman art, Justitia is often depicted with the sword and scales alongside her sister Prudentia who holds a mirror and a snake.
Below is a list of the editor’s top picks featuring the Lady Justice.
Symbols of Lady Justice
There may be more than one version or depiction of Lady Justice, but there are four elements that are almost always present in her statues:
- The Sword
In ancient times, a guilty verdict was executed with a literal swing of the sword on the neck of the accused. The symbolism is thus used to convey the idea that justice, when enforced, should be swift and with finality.
Swords likewise symbolize authority and respect, denoting that justice stands by its every ruling and decision. However, notice that Lady Justice’s sword is unsheathed, meaning justice is always transparent and is never just an implement of fear.
The double-edged blade of Lady Justice’s sword signifies that rulings can always go either way, depending on the circumstance and evidence presented by both parties.
- The Blindfold
Originally, Lady Justice was depicted without any impediments to her sight. In the 16th century, though, artists started rendering the woman as blind, or with blindfolds covering her eyes.
This is a poignant symbolism depicting objectivity and impartiality – an assurance that anyone who approaches the court to seek justice will not be judged for their appearance, power, status, fame, or wealth, but solely for the strength of the claims/evidence they are presenting.
- The Weighing Scale
Without her sight, the only way Lady Justice can decide is through a thorough weighing of the evidence and claims presented before her. Everything, including what the law states and what jurisprudence dictates, should be carefully and accurately weighed in order to find the most justiciable decision. This is what the balance scales depict in the imagery of Lady Justice.
The fact that the scales hang freely from Lady Justice’s grasp is symbolic of the fact that evidence should stand on its own without tangible foundation on speculation, whatsoever.
- The Toga
Just like the laurel wreath that usually accompanies Lady Justice in drawn, printed, or virtual renderings, her toga outfit is used to signify the mantle of responsibility and high-level philosophy that accompanies those who practice law and enforce justice.
Other Depictions of Lady Justice
While it is common to see Lady Justice wearing a toga and a blindfold while holding scales and a sword in either hands, that is not the only way she is depicted.
Romans have depicted Justitia on coins with a royal crown or diadem. Another coin design shows her seated while carrying an olive twig, which Romans believe she brought to their country.
Some depictions of Lady Justice also show her seated on a throne while holding two plates in each hand, symbolizing that she can be the actual personification of justice.
And sometimes, Lady Justice is shown to be crushing a snake underfoot, with the reptile being a common symbol for evil.
All in all, Lady Justice statues and drawings have been placed in almost every courtroom around the world to remind us to practice good judgment and reason in accordance with the law. As the personification of justice, it becomes the ultimate symbol of impartiality and fairness that apply to everyone regardless of power, religion, race, and stature.