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Zeus' head and thunderbolt on a coin from Epirus, 234 BC. Epirus234bc.jpg
Zeus' head and thunderbolt on a coin from Epirus, 234 BC.
The thunderbolt pattern with an eagle on a coin from Olympia, Greece, 432-c.421 BC. Greek Silver Stater of Olympia (Elis).jpg
The thunderbolt pattern with an eagle on a coin from Olympia, Greece, 432-c.421 BC.
Zeus' head and thunderbolt on a coin from Capua, Campania, 216-211 BC. Capua AE Quadrunx 670058.jpg
Zeus' head and thunderbolt on a coin from Capua, Campania, 216-211 BC.
Ptolemaic coin showing the Eagle of Zeus, holding a thunderbolt Pt eagle.png
Ptolemaic coin showing the Eagle of Zeus, holding a thunderbolt

A thunderbolt or lightning bolt is a symbolic representation of lightning when accompanied by a loud thunderclap. In Indo-European mythology, the thunderbolt was identified with the 'Sky Father'; this association is also found in later Hellenic representations of Zeus and Vedic descriptions of the vajra wielded by the god Indra. It may have been a symbol of cosmic order, as expressed in the fragment from Heraclitus describing "the Thunderbolt that steers the course of all things". [1]


In its original usage the word may also have been a description of the consequences of a close approach between two planetary cosmic bodies, as Plato suggested in Timaeus , [2] or, according to Victor Clube, meteors, [3] though this is not currently the case. As a divine manifestation the thunderbolt has been a powerful symbol throughout history, and has appeared in many mythologies. Drawing from this powerful association, the thunderbolt is often found in military symbolism and semiotic representations of electricity.

In religion and mythology

Neo-Attic bas-relief sculpture of Jupiter, holding a thunderbolt in his right hand; detail from the Moncloa Puteal (Roman, 2nd century), National Archaeological Museum, Madrid Puteal de la Moncloa (M.A.N. Madrid) 03.jpg
Neo-Attic bas-relief sculpture of Jupiter, holding a thunderbolt in his right hand; detail from the Moncloa Puteal (Roman, 2nd century), National Archaeological Museum, Madrid

Lightning plays a role in many mythologies, often as the weapon of a sky god and weather god. As such, it is an unsurpassed method of dramatic instantaneous retributive destruction: thunderbolts as divine weapons can be found in many mythologies.


The name "thunderbolt" or "thunderstone" has also been traditionally applied to the fossilised rostra of belemnoids. The origin of these bullet-shaped stones was not understood, and thus a mythological explanation of stones created where a lightning struck has arisen. [6]

In the modern world

The thunderbolt or lightning bolt continues into the modern world as a prominent symbol; it has entered modern heraldry and military iconography.

In iconography

In fiction

See also

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  1. DK B64.
  2. Plato (2008). Timaeus. 1st World Publishing. p. 15, paragraph 22C-D in original. ISBN   9781421893945 . Retrieved August 3, 2012.
  3. Clube, Victor; Napier, Bill (1982). The cosmic serpent: a catastrophist view of earth history . Universe Books. p.  173ff. ISBN   9780876633793.
  4. "Lightning Bolt- Symbol And Meaning". My Myth Stories. Retrieved 2021-11-16.
  5. Dictionary of Roman Coins
  6. Vendetti, Jan (2006). "The Cephalopoda: Squids, octopuses, nautilus, and ammonites". UC Berkeley. Retrieved 2013-06-07.
  7. Geoffrey Peckham. "On Graphical Symbols". Compliance Engineering. Archived from the original on December 16, 2011. Retrieved August 3, 2012.