A thunderbolt or lightning bolt is a symbolic representation of lightning when accompanied by a loud thunderclap. In ancient Hellenic and Roman religious traditions, the thunderbolt represents Zeus or Jupiter (etymologically 'Sky Father'), thence the origin and ordaining pattern of the universe, as expressed in Heraclitus' fragment describing "the Thunderbolt that steers the course of all things".[1] It is the same in other Indo-European traditions, for example the Vedic Vajra.

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 mythology

Bas-relief of Jupiter, nude from the waist up and seated on a throne
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.[5]

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
  • The thunderbolt is the symbol seen on the chest of the costumes worn by the DC Comics characters Captain Marvel, the Flash, Black Lightning/Black Vulcan, and Static.
  • In the Marvel Universe the thunderbolt is the symbol seen on the costumes worn by Quicksilver, Black Bolt, and is also the name of a superhero team.
  • The thunderbolt is used in the logo of the American franchise Power Rangers.
  • In the Harry Potter franchise, the scar on Harry's forehead is in the shape of a thunderbolt.
    • The letter "P" in the Harry Potter logo is also stylized in the shape of a thunderbolt.
  • In the novel The Godfather, "being hit with the thunderbolt" is an Italian expression (colpo di fulmine) referring to a man being spellbound at the sight of a beautiful woman (like the so called love at first sight). The novel's emerging main character is affected in this fashion and eventually marries a woman whose appearance initially affects him in this way.
As a mascot


Typical cartoon representations of thunderbolts (lightning bolts) 
Thunderbolts represented on the Royal Engineers' Ensign 
Vulcan forging the thunderbolts of Jupiter
(by Pieter Paul Rubens

See also


  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. ^ Dictionary of Roman Coins
  5. ^ Vendetti, Jan (2006). "The Cephalopoda: Squids, octopuses, nautilus, and ammonites". UC Berkeley. Retrieved 2013-06-07. 
  6. ^ Geoffrey Peckham. "On Graphical Symbols". Compliance Engineering. Archived from the original on December 16, 2011. Retrieved August 3, 2012. 

External links