Globus cruciger

Danish globus cruciger. Part of the Danish Crown Regalia.

The globus cruciger (Latin, "cross-bearing orb") is an orb (lat. globus) topped (lat. gerere = to wear) with a cross (lat. crux), a Christian symbol of authority used throughout the Middle Ages and even today on coins, iconography, and royal regalia. It symbolises Christ's (the cross) dominion over the world (the orb), literally held in the dominion of an earthly ruler (or sometimes celestial being such as an angel). When held by Christ himself, the subject is known in the iconography of Western art as Salvator Mundi ("Saviour of the World"), or in statuary as the Infant Jesus of Prague. It is associated with the sceptre.


Christ as Salvator Mundi.
Statue of Jupiter holding the sceptre and orb.
The globus cruciger was used in the Byzantine Empire, as shown in this coin of Emperor Leontius (d. 705).

The visual symbolism of holding the world in one's hand, or perhaps even more ominously under one's foot, was a clear message used since antiquity. Citizens of Rome were familiar with the plain round globe as a representation of the world or universe, represented by Jupiter and thus the emperor's dominion and protectorate over it; for example a 4th-century coin from the reign of Emperor Constantine I shows him holding a globus in hand, and a 2nd-century coin from the reign of Emperor Hadrian shows the Roman god Salus with his foot upon a globus. The orbis terrarum was central to the iconography of the Tetrarchy, representing the Tetrarchs' claim of having restored security to the Roman world. At the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312, it is reported that Constantine I had a vision of the cross above the sun, as well as the words "In this sign, shall you conquer". Constantine's soldiers drew the cross on their shields, and defeated their foe, Maxentius.

With the growth of Christianity in the 5th century, the orb (in Latin scriptures orbis terrarum, the 'world of the lands', hence the word orb) was topped with a cross (hence globus cruciger), symbolising the Christian God's dominion over the world. Symbolically to Christians, the emperor held the world in his hand, on behalf of God. To non-Christians already familiar with the pagan globe, the surmounting of a cross sent a message about the triumph of Christianity. In medieval iconography, an object's scale and size indicated its importance relative to other, surrounding objects; the world is seen small and the ruler or celestial being large, to emphasise the importance of each element. Although the globe's symbolism was on a planetary scale, its use (in actual regalia and emblematic) was proliferated among Christian rulers over small parts of the earth, not even all sovereign.

The first known use was probably in the early 5th century, possibly as early as between 395 and 408 on the reverse side of the coins of Emperor Arcadius, but most certainly by 423 on the reverse side of the coins of Emperor Theodosius II.

The globus cruciger was used by powerful rulers and celestial beings alike; it adorned portrayals of both emperors and kings, as well as archangels. It first appeared on coins in the early 5th century and remained popular throughout the Middle Ages in coins, iconography and royal regalia. The papacy, holding universal canonical jurisdiction and in the Middle Ages once rivalling the Holy Roman Emperor for the supreme feudal status of liege lord of all other (Catholic) rulers, also maintained the symbol on top of the papal tiara ("triple crown"; there is no separate papal orb). The crowned orb was in general use as a finial on western royal crowns, whether actual objects or merely heraldic crowns, all over Europe, for example in Denmark, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia and Imperial Germany, among others. It may still be seen in the national arms of the surviving European monarchies. Even in the modern era in England, the Sovereign's Orb symbolises both the state and Church of England under the protection and domain of the royal crown.