Gallic Rooster

The Latin word Gallus means both “rooster” and “inhabitant of Gaul”. Certain ancient coins bore a rooster, but the animal was not yet used as the emblem of the tribes of Gaul. Gradually the figure of the rooster became the most widely shared representation of the French people.

A Rooster

During the times of Ancient Rome, Suetonius, in The Twelve Caesars, noticed that, in Latin, rooster (gallus) and Gauls (Gallus) were homonyms. However the association of the Gallic rooster as a national symbol is apocryphal, as the rooster was neither regarded as a national personification nor as a sacred animal by the Gauls in their mythology and because there was no “Gallic nation” at the time, but a loose confederation of Gallic nations instead. But a closer review within that religious scheme indicates that “Mercury” was often portrayed with the cock, a sacred animal among the Continental Celts.

Julius Caesar in De Bello Gallico identified some gods worshipped in Gaul by using the names of their nearest Roman god rather than their Gaulish name, with Caesar saying “Mercury” was the god most revered in Gaul. The Irish god Lug identified as samildánach led to the widespread identification of Caesar’s Mercury as Lugus and thus also to the sacred cock, the Gallic rooster, as an emblem of France.

In the Middle Ages, the Gallic Rooster was widely used as a religious symbol, the sign of hope and faith. It was during the Renaissance that the rooster began to be associated with the emerging French nation. Under the Valois and the Bourbon kings, the royal effigy was often accompanied by this animal, meant to stand for France, in engravings and on coins.
Although still a minor emblem, the rooster could be found at both the Louvre and Versailles.

Gallic Rooster on top of a war memorial in La Rochelle

The Revolution established the rooster as the representation of the Nation’s identity. It featured on the écu coin, sporting the Phrygian bonnet, on the seal of the Premier Consul, and the allegorical figure Fraternity often carried a staff surmounted by a rooster.

Napoleon replaced the Republic with the Empire and the rooster with the eagle, for as the Emperor said: “The rooster has no power, he cannot be the image of an empire the likes of France.”

After a period of absence, the Trois Glorieuses of 1830 rehabilitated the image of the rooster, and the Duke of Orleans signed an order providing that the rooster should appear on the flags and uniform buttons of the National Guard.

The seal of the Second Republic shows Liberty holding a tiller adorned with a rooster, but this figure still ppeared alongside the symbol of the eagle, preferred by Napoleon II, as sign of an enduring Empire.

Under the Third Republic, the wrought-iron gates of the Elysée acquired a rooster, the “Rooster gate”, which can still be visited. The twenty-franc gold piece struck in 1899 also bears a rooster.

During the First World War, rising patriotic feeling made the Gallic rooster the symbol of France’s resistance and bravery in the face of the Prussian eagle. Use of this Manichean representation, in particular by political cartoonists, gained ground, and the rooster became the symbol of a France sprung from peasant origins, proud, opinionated, courageous and prolific. Abroad as well the rooster symbolized France, even if it was not an animal everyone attributed with purely positive features.

While the rooster is not an official symbol of the Republic, it still stands for a certain idea of France. In the collective imagination, particularly in the area of sports, it remains the best illustration of the Nation.

The shirt of the French National Rugby Team


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