AskDefine | Define aegis

Dictionary Definition



1 kindly endorsement and guidance; "the tournament was held under the auspices of the city council" [syn: auspices, protection]
2 armor plate that protects the chest; the front part of a cuirass [syn: breastplate, egis]

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative spellings


From aegis, from .




  1. A mythological shield associated with Zeus and Athena shown as a short cloak consisting of a goatskin. The aegis of Athena is usually shown with a border of snakes and with the head of Medusa in the center. The aegis is more an emblem of protection and power than an actual military shield.
  2. Protection, guidance. Usually used as ‘under the aegis’ because of its origin as protection of the shield of Athena.


mythological shield
protection, guidance

Related terms

Extensive Definition

"Aegis" () has entered modern English to mean a shield, protection, or sponsorship originating from the habitual costume of Ancient Libyan women that was worn by the goddess Athena as a vestige of religious traditions that spread by 4000 B.C. from Libya to the cultures of Crete, Minoan Greece, and early Helladic Greece. It likely was a protective covering in which a religious artifact or symbol was carried and protected with an image of the Gorgon. After becoming introduced into early Greek culture the association was continued among the later deities arising in the Ancient Greek pantheon, including on the mythological protective shields of Athene and Zeus. The name has been extended to many other entities, and the concept of a protective shield is found in other mythologies, while its form varies across sources.
The concept of doing something "under someone's aegis" means doing something under protection of a powerful, knowledgeable, or benevolent source. The word aegis is identified with protection by a strong force with its roots in Classical mythology, specifically Greek myth adopted by the Romans; there are parallels in Egyptian mythology and in Norse mythology as well. During the Ptolemaic Dynasty, the Greek word aegis was applied to the Egyptian item traditionally associated with Bast, the lioness deity shared by the Ancient Libyans (who also may have carried a warrior goddess tradition to Greece).

In Greek mythology

In later Classical mythology, the aegis () attested in the Iliad, is the shield or buckler of Zeus or of Pallas Athena, which according to Homer was fashioned by Hephaestus, furnished with golden tassels and bearing the Gorgoneion (the Gorgon head) in the central boss. Some The Attic vase-painters retained an archaic tradition that the tassels had originally been serpents in their representations of the aegis.
When the Classical Greek deities, the Olympians, shake the aegis Mount Ida is wrapped in clouds, the thunder rolls, and men are struck down with fear. "Aegis-bearing Zeus", as he is in the Iliad, sometimes lends the fearsome goatskin to Athena, a daughter reborn or escaping in these newer myths through his head after Zeus swallowed her mother, Metis (who already had fashioned the armor Athena wore as she emerged). In the Iliad when Zeus sends Apollo to revive the wounded Hector of Troy, holding the aegis, Apollo charges the Achaeans, pushing them back to their ships drawn up on the shore. According to Edith Hamilton's Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes , the Aegis is Zeus' breastplate, and was "awful to behold."

Locating the aegis

Later on Greeks always detected that there was something alien and uncanny about the aegis. It was supposed by Euripides (Ion, 995) that the Gorgon was the original possessor of this goatskin, yet the usual understanding is that the Gorgoneion was added to the aegis, a votive gift from a grateful Perseus.
There also is the origin myth that represents the aegis as a fire-breathing chthonic monster similar to the Chimera, which was slain and flayed by Athena, who afterwards wore its skin as a cuirass (Diodorus Siculus iii. 70), or as a chlamys. The image to the right shows that the aegis was represented exactly as the skin of the guardian serpent and scales are clearly delineated.
Still others say it was the skin of the monstrous giant Pallas whom Athena overcame and whose name she attached to her own (John Tzetzes, On Lycophron, 355).
In a late rendering by Hyginus, (Poetical Astronomy ii. 13) Zeus is said to have used the skin of the goat Amalthea (aigis "goat-skin") which suckled him in Crete, as a shield when he went forth to do battle against the titans.
Herodotus (Histories iv.189) thought he had identified the source of the aegis in Libya, which was always a distant territory of ancient magic for the Greeks:
Athene's garments and aegis were borrowed by the Greeks from the Libyan women, who are dressed in exactly the same way, except that their leather garments are fringed with thongs, not serpents.
Robert Graves in The Greek Myths (1955; 1960) asserts that the aegis in its Libyan sense had been a shamanic pouch containing various ritual objects, bearing the device of a monstrous serpent-haired visage with tusk-like teeth and a protruding tongue which was meant to frighten away the uninitiated. In this context, Graves identifies the aegis as clearly belonging first to Athena.
Another version describes it to have been a goat skin used as a belt to support the shield. When so used it would generally be fastened on the right shoulder, and would partially envelop the chest as it passed obliquely around in front and behind to be attached to the shield under the left arm. Hence, by metonymy, it would be employed to denote at times the shield which it supported, and at other times, a cuirass or chlamys, the purpose of which, it in part served.
In accordance with this double meaning, the aegis appears in works of art sometimes as an animal's skin thrown over the shoulders and arms, and sometimes as a cuirass, with a border of snakes corresponding to the tassels of Homer, usually with the Gorgon head, the gorgoneion, in the centre.
It often is represented on the statues of Roman emperors, heroes, and warriors as well as on cameos and vases. A vestige of that appears in a portrait of Alexander the Great in a fresco from Pompeii dated to the first century B.C., which shows the image of the head of a woman on his armor that resembles the Gorgon.
A current modern interpretation is that the Hittite sacral hieratic hunting bag (kursas), a rough and shaggy goatskin that has been firmly established in literary texts and iconography by H. G. Güterbock, as the most likely source of the aegis..

In Egyptian and Nubian mythology

The aegis also appears in Ancient Egyptian mythology. The goddess Bast sometimes was depicted holding a ceremonial sistrum in one hand and an aegis in the other – the aegis usually resembling a collar or gorget embellished with a lioness head. Plato drew a parallel between Athene and the ancient Libyan and Egyptian goddess Neith, a war deity who also was depicted carrying a shield.
Ancient Nubia shared many aspects of its mythology with Ancient Egypt and there is debate about the original source of some religious concepts that the two cultures share and, whether the assimilation was from Nubia to Egypt, the reverse, or through continuing exchanges. At one time the Kush of Nubia ruled Ancient Egypt. The culture of Nubia lasted longer than that of Egypt.
The image to the right was discovered in Sudan, which is the contemporary name for what was Nubia during the period in which the artifact was made, during the 300s B.C. The figure is that of Isis and she is wearing an aegis. It is likely to be an artifact of the flourishing culture of Meroë because of the use of Egyptian hieroglyphs and cartouches. The Meroitic culture succeeded that of the Kush in Nubia and established a new capital named, Medewi or Bedewi.

In Norse mythology

In Norse mythology, the dragon Fafnir (best known as the dragon slain by Sigurðr) bears on his forehead the Ægis-helm (ON ægishjálmr), or Ægir's helmet, or more specifically the "Helm of Terror". (However, some versions would say that Alberich was the one holding a helm, which are named as the German Tarnkappe, and has the power to make the user invisible, also the blood of Fafnir makes the skin of Sigfreid impervious to damage an armor, but for a small spot on his back where a linden leaf was stuck). It may be a helmet or a magical sign with a rather poetic name. Ægir is an unrelated Old Norse word meaning "terror" and the name of a destructive giant associated with the sea. "Ægis" is the genitive (possessive) form of ægir and has no relation to the Greek word aigis.


External links

aegis in Bulgarian: Егида
aegis in Czech: Aigis
aegis in Danish: Ægide
aegis in German: Aigis
aegis in Modern Greek (1453-): Αιγίδα
aegis in Spanish: Égida
aegis in French: Égide
aegis in Korean: 아이기스
aegis in Italian: Egida
aegis in Lithuanian: Egidė
aegis in Dutch: Aegis (mythologie)
aegis in Japanese: アイギス
aegis in Polish: Egida
aegis in Portuguese: Égide
aegis in Romanian: Aegis
aegis in Russian: Эгида
aegis in Finnish: Aigis
aegis in Swedish: Aigis
aegis in Turkish: Aegis
aegis in Chinese: 埃癸斯

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

abetment, advocacy, arm guard, armament, armor, auspices, backing, backstop, bard, beaver, brassard, breastplate, buckler, buffer, bulletproof vest, bulwark, bumper, care, championship, charity, coif, contraceptive, copyright, corselet, countenance, crash helmet, cuirass, cushion, dashboard, dodger, encouragement, face mask, favor, fender, finger guard, foot guard, fosterage, fuse, gas mask, gauntlet, goggles, goodwill, governor, guard, guardrail, guidance, habergeon, hand guard, handrail, hard hat, hauberk, headpiece, helm, helmet, insulation, interest, interlock, jamb, knee guard, knuckle guard, laminated glass, life preserver, lifeline, lightning conductor, lightning rod, lorica, mail, mask, mudguard, nasal, nose guard, pad, padding, palladium, patent, patronage, pilot, plate, preventive, prophylactic, protection, protective clothing, protective umbrella, rondel, safeguard, safety, safety glass, safety plug, safety rail, safety shoes, safety switch, safety valve, screen, seat belt, seconding, security, shield, shin guard, sponsorship, sun helmet, sympathy, tutelage, umbrella, visor, ward, windscreen, windshield
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