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Wheel Cross in Scandinavia

The wheel cross, also known as the sun cross or solar cross, is a mysterious and ubiquitous symbol found throughout prehistoric Scandinavian rock carvings and artifacts, particularly from the Nordic Bronze Age. While its exact meaning remains unknown, the wheel cross is believed to have held important religious and cosmological significance for ancient Scandinavian societies.

Wheel Cross Definition

A wheel cross, also known as a sun cross or solar cross, is an ancient symbol consisting of an equilateral cross inside a circle. The design has been found frequently in the symbolism and artifacts of prehistoric cultures, particularly during the Neolithic to Bronze Age periods in Europe.

The symbol's widespread use and apparent importance in prehistoric religion have led to its interpretation as a solar symbol, hence the modern terms "sun cross" and "solar cross". In Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, a similar symbol meant "village".

While the exact meaning of the wheel cross in ancient cultures remains uncertain, it has been connected to various interpretations:

  • The spoked wheel of a chariot, which during the Bronze Age typically had four spokes.
  • A representation of the sun, possibly in the context of a culture that celebrated the "sun chariot" carrying the sun across the sky.
  • A more general solar symbol, with the cross representing the sun's rays.
  • Concepts of movement, fertility, power, and life in Bronze Age society.

The wheel cross appears in many contexts in prehistoric artwork and artifacts, such as:

  • Rock carvings in Scandinavia, are often depicted as a wagon wheel, shield, or in clusters.
  • Bronze Age cult items like the Trundholm sun chariot and an amber "miniature standard" from Denmark.
  • Decorative pins and pendants from Central Europe featuring variants of the cross-in-circle design

Today, the wheel cross symbol has additional meanings and uses outside of archaeology. In astronomy, it represents the Earth, while in pharmacy it denotes miscellaneous drugs. Unfortunately, since World War II, some variants of the symbol have also become associated with neo-Nazi and white supremacist movements.

Bronze Age Symbolic Artifacts

Bronze Age artifacts from Scandinavia and other parts of Europe often feature symbolic imagery related to the wheel cross motif. These objects, made from materials like bronze, gold, amber, and bone, provide further evidence for the symbol's cultural significance and widespread use.

One notable example is the Trundholm sun chariot, a bronze statue from Denmark dated to around 1400 BC. It depicts a horse pulling a large bronze disc with a cross and spiral design, interpreted as representing the sun being pulled across the sky. This artifact suggests Bronze Age Scandinavians associated the wheel cross with solar worship and mythologies involving a "sun chariot".

Other ritual objects like the Eberswalde hoard from Germany contain gold bowls decorated with circle and wheel motifs resembling sun symbols. An amber "miniature standard" from Denmark features a cross design that may represent the rays of the sun. These precious items were likely used in religious ceremonies, indicating the wheel cross held an important place in Bronze Age cult practices.

Decorative objects found in graves and hoards across Europe also incorporate variants of the wheel cross. Bronze Age pendants from France, Slovenia, and Italy feature cross-in-circle designs, sometimes with spirals or other geometric patterns. Carved bone pins from Bronze Age Aegean burials bear similar solar motifs. The use of valuable materials like gold and amber and the inclusion of these items in ritual contexts like burials emphasizes their symbolic rather than purely aesthetic significance.

The frequent appearance of wheel cross imagery on both everyday and ceremonial objects highlights how the symbol permeated many aspects of Bronze Age life. Its use across different materials and artifact types also enabled its transmission to new areas through trade, migration, and cultural exchange. Like the sun it may have represented, the wheel cross symbol shone brightly in the iconography of the European Bronze Age.

Wheel Cross Design Variations

The wheel cross motif found in Scandinavian rock carvings and artifacts from the Bronze Age exhibits many variations in its form and representation. Some of the key variations include:

  • Wagon or chariot wheel: The wheel cross often appears as the spoked wheel of a wagon or chariot, usually with four spokes.

This depiction may relate to mythologies involving a "sun chariot" that carried the sun across the sky, as seen in the famous Trundholm sun chariot artifact from Denmark.

  • Shield: In some rock carvings, the wheel cross seems to take the form of a shield-like shape covering a human torso. This representation suggests the symbol may have been linked to concepts of protection or power.
  • Clusters and multiples: Wheel crosses also appear carved in clusters or multiple repetitions on rock faces. These groupings imply the symbol itself held meaning beyond just depicting physical objects.
  • Relationship to other motifs: The wheel cross is often found in association with other Bronze Age motifs like ships, animals, and human figures. The changing relationships between the wheel cross and these other symbols hint at its diverse and possibly evolving symbolic meanings over time.
  • Variations in design: While the basic form remains a circle bisected by an equal-armed cross, the wheel cross shows variations like different numbers of spokes, the addition of spiral or wavy lines, and dots or cup marks in the spaces between the cross arms. These differences may point to artistic experimentation or regional stylistic traditions.
  • Presence on portable objects: In addition to large-scale rock carvings, the wheel cross appears on many smaller portable objects from the Bronze Age, like gold bowls, amber jewelry, and decorative pins and plaques.

These items could be transported over long distances, enabling the spread of the wheel cross symbol to new areas.

The variations in the wheel cross motif across different contexts, materials, and regions attest to its pervasive and enduring significance in Bronze Age society. Like the sun moving through the sky, this symbol seems to have touched many aspects of prehistoric Scandinavian life, from mythology and religion to trade and visual culture.

Uses of the Wheel Cross

The wheel cross symbol had various uses and meanings in prehistoric Scandinavian and European societies, particularly during the Bronze Age. While its exact significance remains uncertain, archaeological evidence suggests it served important religious and cultural functions.

In Scandinavian rock carvings, the wheel cross often appears in the context of ritual or mythological scenes, such as being depicted on a chariot or wagon, possibly representing a "sun chariot" carrying the sun across the sky. This use indicates the symbol played a role in ancient solar worship and cosmological beliefs.

The wheel cross also appears on many Bronze Age cult objects and artifacts used in religious ceremonies. Gold bowls decorated with wheel motifs from Germany were likely used in ritual feasts or offerings.

An amber "miniature standard" with a cross design from Denmark may have been a ceremonial item representing the sun's rays. These findings suggest the wheel cross functioned as a sacred symbol in Bronze Age religious practices.

On a more everyday level, the wheel cross appears on decorative objects like jewelry and clothing pins found in graves and hoards across Europe.

Its use on these personal items indicates the symbol may have served as an amulet or talisman, believed to provide protection, power, or blessings to the wearer. This apotropaic function is supported by the wheel cross's resemblance to a shield in some depictions.

The widespread use of the wheel cross on both monumental artwork like rock carvings and portable objects of value like gold and amber highlights its importance in the Bronze Age trade and cultural exchange.

These items could be transported over vast distances, spreading the symbol to new regions where it was adapted and incorporated into local artistic and ritual traditions.

Overall, the archaeological record points to the wheel cross being a significant and versatile symbol that was closely integrated into the religious beliefs, burial rites, artistic expression, and visual culture of Bronze Age Scandinavian and European societies.

Its prominence and longevity suggest it communicated enduring ideas about the cosmos, the divine, and the place of humans in the prehistoric world.

The Wheel Cross in Rock Carvings

The wheel cross motif appears frequently in Scandinavian rock carvings from the Bronze Age, particularly in the Tanum and Enköping regions of Sweden. These carvings depict the wheel cross in various forms and contexts, such as the wheel of a wagon, a shield covering a human torso, or in clusters by itself. The motif's ambiguity and changing relations to other symbols like ships, humans, and animals suggest it held complex symbolic meanings beyond just representing physical objects. Interpretations propose the wheel cross may have embodied cosmological concepts like the sun, or religious ideas of a deity - becoming a symbol of movement, fertility, power, and life that was integrated into both the rituals and daily existence of Bronze Age Scandinavian society. The diversity of wheel cross imagery may reflect how Scandinavian cultures imported and developed ideas and stories from continental Europe and the Mediterranean region during this period.

Cultural Exchange and the Wheel Cross

The spread of the wheel cross symbol across Bronze Age Europe suggests it was part of a broader exchange of ideas, beliefs, and iconography between Scandinavian societies and cultures in continental Europe and the Mediterranean. Wheel and sun symbols appear on various objects like bronze pendants found in hoards from Slovenia, Italy, and France, indicating shared symbolic traditions over a wide geographic area. The reproduction of this imagery on different materials, from metal to bone and even wood and cloth, further points to its pervasive cultural significance. Similarities between Scandinavian rock carvings of wheel crosses and spoked chariot wheels depicted in Aegean and Central European contexts imply a common association with solar worship and mythologies involving the sun traversing the sky in a horse-drawn "sun chariot". These parallels provide archaeological evidence for long-distance communication and cultural transmission during the Bronze Age, with Scandinavian societies importing and adapting foreign religious concepts and artistic motifs. Like the wheel cross itself, which may have symbolically linked many aspects of Bronze Age life, this iconography represents a connective thread that tied together the cosmological beliefs of far-flung ancient populations.

Modern Uses and Spirituality

The wheel cross symbol has found various uses in modern culture and spirituality, though its original meaning in prehistoric societies remains uncertain. Some of the ways the symbol is used today include:

  • Astronomy: In modern astronomical symbols, the wheel cross represents the Earth, while the Sun is depicted as a circle with a dot in the center. This is a notable reversal from the symbol's theorized association with solar worship in ancient times.
  • Neopaganism: Some modern pagan and New Age spiritual movements have adopted the wheel cross as a symbol of the sun, the cycle of the seasons, or the "wheel of the year".

Its use in this context draws on interpretations of the symbol's significance in prehistoric European religion.

  • Ethnographic art: The wheel cross has parallels in symbols used by other indigenous cultures, like the Medicine Wheel of Native American traditions. These similarities have led to cross-cultural borrowing and adaptation of the symbol in modern ethnographic art and design.
  • Political movements: Unfortunately, the wheel cross has also been appropriated by some extremist political groups. After World War II, variants of the symbol became associated with neo-Nazi and white supremacist movements, particularly in Europe. This has led to the symbol being banned in some contexts in countries like Germany if used to promote racism.
  • Jewelry and fashion: Despite its controversial political associations, the wheel cross remains a popular decorative motif in jewelry and clothing design, often marketed as a "Celtic cross" or "sun cross" and worn for aesthetic or spiritual reasons. Its enduring use in fashion reveals the symbol's lasting visual appeal.
  • Preservation and education: Archaeologists, museums, and heritage organizations continue to study and raise awareness about the wheel cross as an important symbol from prehistoric Scandinavian and European cultures. Efforts to preserve ancient rock carvings and artifacts bearing the symbol help ensure its legacy and meaning can be appreciated by modern audiences.

The wheel cross's journey from a prehistoric sacred symbol to a modern icon highlights how the meaning and use of ancient imagery can evolve and be reinterpreted over time. While its original significance to Bronze Age societies may never be fully understood, the wheel cross endures as a potent and thought-provoking symbol in contemporary culture.


The wheel cross, a ubiquitous symbol etched onto Scandinavian rock faces, stands as a testament to the enduring power of imagery across millennia. Though its exact meaning in the minds of Bronze Age societies may forever remain a captivating enigma, the vastness of its presence speaks volumes about its significance. It transcended mere decoration, becoming woven into the fabric of daily life, religious practices, and cultural exchange.

The variations in its form – from the powerful image of a shield to the dynamic depiction of a chariot wheel – hint at the multifaceted nature of its symbolism. It could represent the celestial dance of the sun, a source of life and warmth, or perhaps embody broader cosmological concepts. The wheel cross may have served as a powerful amulet, warding off evil or bringing good fortune.

Its journey beyond Scandinavia, carried by trade routes and cultural exchange, further underscores its captivating nature. The echoes of the wheel cross found in artifacts across Europe solidify its role as a unifying symbol, a shared language that transcended geographical boundaries.

Today, the wheel cross continues its remarkable odyssey. While its original meaning may be shrouded in the mists of time, it has found new interpretations in modern contexts. From astronomical symbols to neopagan rituals, the wheel cross endures as a potent reminder of our connection to the past and the enduring power of visual storytelling. The ongoing study and preservation of these ancient carvings ensure that the enigmatic wheel cross continues to spark our curiosity and ignite our imaginations for generations to come.

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