Humanities › History & Culture Symbols of the Greek Goddess Athena Share Flipboard Email Print oriredmouse / Getty Images History & Culture Ancient History and Culture Mythology & Religion Figures & Events Ancient Languages Greece Egypt Asia Rome American History African American History African History Asian History European History Genealogy Inventions Latin American History Medieval & Renaissance History Military History The 20th Century Women's History View More By N.S. Gill Ancient History and Latin Expert M.A., Linguistics, University of Minnesota B.A., Latin, University of Minnesota N.S. Gill is a Latinist, writer, and teacher of ancient history and Latin. She has been featured by NPR and National Geographic for her ancient history expertise. our editorial process N.S. Gill Updated August 28, 2018 Athena, the patron goddess of the city of Athens, is associated with over a dozen sacred symbols from which she derived her powers. Born from Zeus's head, she was his favorite daughter and possessed great wisdom, bravery, and resourcefulness. A virgin, she had no children of her own but occasionally befriended or adopted others. Athena had a large and powerful following and was worshiped throughout Greece. She is represented most often alongside the following four symbols. Wise Owl The owl is considered Athena's sacred animal, the source of her wisdom and judgment. It is telling, too, that the animal most associated with her has such exceptional night vision, symbolizing Athena's ability to "see" when others cannot. The owl was also associated with Athena's namesake, the Roman goddess Minerva. Shield Maiden Zeus is often depicted carrying an aegis, or goatskin shield, emblazoned with the head of Medusa, the snake-headed monster whom Perseus slew, making a gift of her head to Athena. As such, Zeus often loaned this aegis to his daughter. The aegis was forged by the one-eyed Cyclops in Hephaestus's forge. It was covered in golden scales and roared during battle. Arms and Armor According to Homer in his "Iliad," Athena was a warrior goddess who fought alongside many of Greek mythology's most famous heroes. She exemplified tactical strategy and war in the name of justice, in contrast to her brother, Ares, who represented unbridled violence and bloodlust. In some depictions, including the famous statue Athena Parthenos, the goddess carries or wears arms and armor. Her usual military items include a lance, a shield (including at times her father's aegis), and a helmet. Her military prowess made her a goddess of worship in Sparta as well. Olive Tree The olive tree was the symbol of Athens, the city for which Athena was a protector. According to myth, Athena achieved this status by winning a contest Zeus held between her and Poseidon. Standing on the site of the Acropolis, the two were asked to offer the people of Athens a gift. Poseidon struck his trident on the rock and produced a salt spring. Athena, however, produced a beautiful and bounteous olive tree. The Athenians chose Athena's gift, and Athena was made patron goddess of the city. Other Symbols In addition to the symbols described above, a variety of other animals were sometimes pictured with the goddess. Their specific significance is not entirely clear, but she is often associated with the rooster, dove, eagle, and serpent. For instance, many ancient Greek amphorae (tall jars with two handles and a narrow neck) have been found decorated with both roosters and Athena. In some myths, Athena's aegis not a goat shield at all, but a cloak trimmed with serpents that she uses as a protective cover. She has also been depicted carrying a staff or spear around which a snake winds. The dove and the eagle could either symbolize victory in war or the meting out of justice in non-combative ways.