Labrys (Greek: λάβρυς, romanized: lábrus) is, according to Plutarch (Quaestiones Graecae 2.302a), the Lydian word for the double-bitted axe. (Greek: πέλεκυς, pélekus). The relation with the labyrinth is uncertain.
Coinage of Idrieus of Caria. Obv: Head of Apollo, wearing laurel wreath, drapery at neck. Rev: legend ΙΔΡΙΕΩΣ (“IDRIEOS”), Zeus Labraundos standing. Circa 351–50 to 344–43 BCE.
Plutarch relates that the word labrys was a Lydian word for “axe”: Λυδοὶ γὰρ ‘λάβρυν’ τὸν πέλεκυν ὀνομάζουσι. The word probably appears in Linear B inscriptions, and it may be Minoan. Many scholars including Evans assert that the word labyrinth is derived from labrys, and thus would imply “house of the double axe”. A priestly corporation in Delphi was named “Labyades”. The original name was probably “Labryades”, servants of the double axe. In Roman times at Patrai and Messene, a goddess Laphria was worshipped, commonly identified with Artemis. Her name was said to be derived from the region around Delphi.
However, in Crete the “double axe” is not a weapon and always accompanies women and not a male god. Beekes regards the relation of labyrinth with labrys as speculative, and rather proposes a relation with laura (λαύρα), “narrow street”, or to the Carian theonym Dabraundos (Δαβραυνδος). It is also possible that the word labyrinth is derived from the Egyptian loperohunt, meaning “palace or temple by the lake”. The Egyptian labyrinth near Lake Morris is described by Herodotus and Strabo. The inscription in Linear B, on tablet ΚΝ Gg 702, reads da-pu2-ri-to-jo-po-ti-ni-ja. The conventional reading is λαβυρίνθοιο πότνια (“mistress of the labyrinth”). According to some modern scholars it could read *δαφυρίνθοιο, or something similar, and hence be without a certain link with either the λάβρυς or the labyrinth.
A link has also been posited with the double axe symbols at Çatalhöyük, dating to the Neolithic age. In Labraunda in Caria, as well as in the coinage of the Hecatomnid rulers of Caria, the double axe accompanies the storm god Zeus Labraundos.
The Minoan double axe
In ancient Crete, the double axe was an important sacred symbol of the supposed Minoan religion. In Crete it never accompanies male gods, only female goddesses. It seems that it was the symbol of the arche of the creation (Mater-arche).
Double axes in the Near East
In the Near East and other parts of the region, eventually, axes of this sort are often wielded by male divinities and appear to become symbols of the thunderbolt, a symbol often found associated with the axe symbol. In Labraunda of Caria the double-axe accompanies the storm-god Zeus Labraundos. Similar symbols have been found on plates of Linear pottery culture in Romania. The double-axe is associated with the Hurrian god of sky and storm Teshub. His Hittite and Luwian name was Tarhun. Both are depicted holding a triple thunderbolt in one hand, and a double axe in the other hand. Similarly, Zeus throws his thunderbolt to bring storm. The labrys, or pelekys, is the double axe Zeus uses to invoke storm, and the relative modern Greek word for lightning is “star-axe” (ἀστροπελέκι astropeleki) The worship of it was kept up in the Greek island of Tenedos and in several cities in the south-west of Asia Minor, and it appears in later historical times in the cult of the thunder god of Asia Minor (Zeus Labrayndeus).
In the context of the mythical Attic king Theseus, the labyrinth of Greek mythology is frequently associated with the Minoan palace of Knossos. This is based on the reading of Linear B da-pu2-ri-to-jo-po-ti-ni-ja as λαβυρίνθοιο πότνια (“mistress of the labyrinth”). It is uncertain, however, that labyrinth can be interpreted as “place of the double axes” and moreover that this should be Knossos; many more have been found, for example, at the Arkalachori Cave, where the famous Arkalochori Axe was found.
On Greek coins of the classical period (e. g. Pixodauros) a type of Zeus venerated at Labraunda in Caria that numismatists call Zeus Labrandeus (Ζεὺς Λαβρανδεύς) stands with a sceptre upright in his left hand and the double-headed axe over his shoulder.
Ancient Roman mosaic in the Louvre depicting an Amazon warrior in combat with a hippeus, 4th century AD; from Daphne, a suburb of Antioch (modern Antakya, Turkey).
In Roman Crete, the labrys was often associated with the mythological Amazons.
Labrys jewelry of modern pagan and feminist movements
Religion and spirituality
It is sometimes used as a symbol of Hellenic polytheism.
As a symbol of the neopagan Goddess movement, the labrys represents the memory of pre-patriarchal matristic societies.
In feminist interpretations, the labrys is a symbol of matriarchy.
In Kyrgyzstan, “Labrys” is an LGBT rights organization. The group’s goal is to improve the quality of life for all LGBT individuals in their country as well as Central Asia.
As a Lesbian symbol
Since the 1970s, it has been used by the lesbian community as a lesbian feminist symbol to represent women’s strength and self-sufficiency.
It is used by Cretan folklore preservation societies and associations both in Greece and abroad, on occasion with the spelling “lavrys” reflecting modern Greek pronunciation.
In Greece, the labrys was employed as a symbol of Metaxism. During the totalitarian period of the 4th of August Regime (1936–1941), it represented the regime-sponsored National Organization of Youth (EON), as its leader, Ioannis Metaxas, believed it to be the first symbol of all Hellenic civilizations.
The labrys symbol was also used prominently by the Vichy France regime, being featured on the personal flag of Chief of State Philippe Pétain, on coins, and in various propaganda posters.
In the 1960s the labrys was also used by the Italian neo-fascist and far-right movement Ordine Nuovo, most prominently on their flag.
While double axes are common in modern high fantasy settings, in reality they were not commonly used in combat.
This artifact is a part of SwordTemple Library