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What is a Scepter?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A scepter is a ceremonial device which denotes an office of high power, and it is particularly associated with royalty. In British English, it is spelled sceptre. Scepters are often heavily ornamented to make them more imposing to look at, and they are usually held or carried during ceremonial events or for portraits. Particular scepters are associated with specific royal families, and they are often passed down through multiple generations of kings and queens.

The design of a scepter is like a staff, and the object is clearly linked to historical staffs of office, which have been used as symbols of authority for thousands of years. In some cases, a scepter may be designed like a full length ornamental staff, capable of reaching the ground, while in others, the scepter is shortened, merely suggesting the shape and design of a staff. In either instance, the scepter is topped with ornamental finials, and it may be heavily inlaid, engraved, or otherwise decorated.

Since a scepter is often made from a precious metal and heavily decorated with jewels, scepters are often stored with national treasures under secure guard. Along with other royal jewels, the scepter is the property of the reigning monarch, who holds the emblem along with other valuables in trust for the populace. Although a monarch technically owns a scepter, it cannot usually be sold or transferred. The exception to this rule comes with the death or abdication of a monarch, when the scepter and other properties of the crown are transferred to the next in line for the throne.

Doves, eagles, and crosses are all common choices for finials on scepters. In fact, some monarchs have more than one scepter, using different scepters for different occasions. Others may represent specific aspects of the monarch, such as religious or military authority. Scepters are part of a large assortment of regalia worn by a monarch at a coronation or other occasion, including orbs, swords, and royal robes.

In many cases, the royal scepter is on display before the public, along with other cultural and historic treasures. In Britain, for example, the Crown Jewels, which include several scepters, are on display at the Tower of London. In many instances, the crown jewels of a nation represent a substantial amount of money, and they are also historically very valuable, with some of them being centuries old. Monarchs may occasionally commission new pieces of jewelry for special occasions.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon335969 — On May 25, 2013

@Anon32719: It would be quite funny if you're right. Imagine treating it like a war club and striking some poor bloke in the head with the something like the "Scepter of the Cross". I suspect that the thing is mostly made of gold with a really big diamond at the top. It wouldn't damage the diamond at all, but it would put a heck of a ding in the gold, being a soft metal.

I'd imagine that the thing would be in serious danger of structural damage even if it were simply accidentally dropped. This usually isn't a problem for most war clubs.

By anon34436 — On Jun 22, 2009

What would it mean, do you think, to "ground your scepter"?

By anon32719 — On May 26, 2009

I have a vague idea that the scepter is a symbolic war club, i.e. a weapon for striking the enemy.

Am I wrong?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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