To talk about the fleur de lis, its symbolism and its history, from a Louisianan perspective, inevitably evokes associations with Louis XIV and the French exploring and taking possession of the land along the Mississippi by the very end of the seventeenth century. Because French adventurers and settlers arrived during the rule of the “Sun King” (fig. 1), of the Bourbon line, it was only natural that the newly acquired region assumed the emblem of his authority – the fleur de lis.
As the Louisiana territory, covering once the entire mid-section of the United States, eventually shrunk to the size of the modern state of Louisiana,
the tradition of the fleur de lis lived on in the Deep South and particularly in the Mississippi delta. But one needs to remember that the fleur de lis has
much deeper historical roots than the European settlements along the Mississippi River. As an official symbol of the French kings, its use can be traced back to the turn of the twelfth century, but legends of the fleur de lis associated with French royal power take one back to the time around the Christianization of France in late Western antiquity, and the medieval periods of the Merovingians and the Carolingians. Beyond the French context,
the fleur de lis is an almost universal cultural symbol, which makes appearances in some of the earliest known human civilizations: the ancient Assyrians, Egyptians, Hebrews, Persians, Minoan of Crete, Etruscans, Romans, Byzantines, and Gauls all knew and depicted the fleur de lis. The further one goes back in time, the more difficult it becomes to separate fact from fiction, but occasionally surviving artifacts facilitate the task. Because of the many uncertainties lurking in the uncharted territory between the myth and the historical truth of this symbol, Michel Pastoureau even went so far as to observe ironically that “the fleur de lis scares the historian.”
- Excerpt from A Symbol between Legend and History by Darius Spieth