Trident of Poseidon

A trident (/ˈtrdənt/) is a three-pronged spear. It is used for spear fishing and historically as a polearm.

The trident is the tool of Poseidon (Greek) or Neptune (Roman) used for the protection of the sea realms, the god of the sea in classical mythology. Other sea deities such as Amphitrite or Triton were also often depicted with a trident in classical art. Later, tridents were used in medieval heraldry, sometimes held by a merman or triton. In Hinduism, it is the weapon of Shiva and is known as a trishula (Sanskrit for "triple-spear").


Illustration of a trident user from the Wubei Zhi, late 16th to early 17th century

The word "trident" comes from the Latin word tridens or tridentis: tri meaning "three" and dentes meaning "teeth", referring specifically to the three prongs, or "teeth", of the weapon.[1]

The Greek equivalent is τρίαινα (tríaina), from Proto-Greek trianja, meaning "threefold". The Greek term does not imply three of anything specific, and is vague about the shape, thus the assumption it was originally of "trident" form has been challenged.[2]

Latin fuscina also means "trident".[3]

The Sanskrit name for the trident, trishula, is a compound of tri त्रि for "three" and śūla शूल for "thorn", calling the trident's three prongs "thorns" rather than "teeth" or dant in Sanskrit, making the word "Tridant" for trident.[citation needed]

Mythology and art

Fountain of Neptune in Diafáni, Karpathos island


Main article: Trident of Poseidon

The trident is associated with the sea god Poseidon. This divine instrument is said to have been forged by the cyclopes.[4]

Poseidon struck a rock with his trident, causing a sea (or a saltwater spring, called the Erechtheis) to appear nearby on the Acropolis in Athens.[5][6] And according to Roman sources, Neptune struck the earth with the trident to produce the first warhorse.[7]

Poseidon, as well as being the god of the sea, was also known as the "Earth Shaker",[8] believed to cause earthquakes;[9][a] some commentators[who?] have extrapolated that the god would have used the trident to cause them,[10] possibly by striking the earth.[citation needed]

In the Renaissance artist Gian Bernini's sculpture Neptune and Triton (1622–23), Neptune is posed holding a trident turned downwards, and is thought to reenact a scene from Aeneid or Ovid's Metamorphoses where he is calming the waves to aid Aeneas's ships.[11]

Other sea divinities

In later Greek and Roman art and literature, other sea deities and their attendants have been depicted holding the trident.

Poseidon's consort Amphitrite is often identified by some marine attribute other than a trident, which she never carries according to some scholars, though other commentators have disagreed.[12][14]

Turning to the retinue or a train of beings which follow the sea deities (the marine thiasos) the Tritons (mermen) may be seen bearing tridents.[15] Likewise, the Old Man of the Sea (halios geron) and the god Nereus are seen holding tridents.[15] Tritons, other mermen, and the Nereides can also carry rudders, oars, fish, or dolphins.[15]

Oceanus normally should not carry a trident, allowing him to be clearly distinguished from Poseidon. However, there is conflation of the deities in Romano-British iconography, and examples exist where the crab-claw headed Oceanus also bears a trident.[17][18] Oceanus holding a trident has been found on Romano-British coinage as well.[b][19]

Some amorini have been depicted carrying tiny tridents.[c][20]

The trident is even seen suspended like a pendant on a dolphin in Roman mosaic art.[d][21]

Hindu Religion

In Hindu legends and stories Shiva, the Hindu god uses a trishula as his principal weapon. The trident is also said to represent three gunas mentioned in Indian Vedic philosophy namely sāttvika, rājasika, and tāmasika.[citation needed] The goddess Kali is sometimes portrayed with a trident as well.[22]

A weapon of South-East Asian (particularly Thai) depiction of Hanuman, a character of Ramayana.[citation needed]


In religious Taoism, the trident represents the Taoist Trinity, the Three Pure Ones. In Taoist rituals, a trident bell is used to invite the presence of deities and summon spirits, as the trident signifies the highest authority of Heaven.[citation needed]

A fork Jewish priests (Kohanim) used to take their portions of offerings.[23]

A trident in the coat of arms of Riistavesi

In heraldry within the UK, the trident is often held by the figure identified as either a Neptune or a triton,[e][24][25] or a merman.[f][26]

The trident held up by an arm is depicted on some coats-of-arms.[27]


Dutch fishermen using tridents in the 17th century.


In Ancient Greece, the trident was employed as a harpoon for spearing large fish, especially tuna fishing.[28]

Tridents used in modern spear-fishing usually have barbed tines, which trap the speared fish firmly. In the Southern and Midwestern United States, gigging is used for harvesting suckers, bullfrogs, flounder and many species of rough fish.[29]


It has been used by farmers as a decorticator to remove leaves, seeds and buds from the stalks of plants such as flax and hemp.[citation needed] A form of trident is used by the gardians in the Camargue of southern France for herding cattle.[citation needed]


In Ancient Rome tridents (Latin: tridens or fuscina) were used by a type of gladiator called a retiarius or "net fighter". The retiarius was traditionally pitted against a secutor, and cast a net to wrap his adversary and then used the trident to fight him.[30][31]

Tridents were also used in medieval heraldry.

The trident, known as dangpa, is used as a weapon in the 17th- to 18th-century systems of Korean martial arts.[citation needed]

Modern symbolism

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The glyph or sigil of the planet Neptune (♆), which alludes to the trident, is used in astronomy and astrology.


Coat of arms of Ukraine.
The flag of Barbados incorporates a Trident.

Civilian use

Military insignia

Emblem of the Hellenic Navy

Botanical nomenclature

A number of structures in the biological world are described as trident in appearance. Since at least the late 19th century the trident shape was applied to certain botanical shapes; for example, certain orchid flora were described as having trident-tipped lips in early botanical works.[33] Furthermore, in current botanical literature, certain bracts are stated to have a trident-shape (e.g. Douglas-fir).[34]


See also

Explanatory notes

  1. ^ Mackay catalogs instances in classical literature where Poseidon is connected with the earthquake, but does not cite use of the trident in any, only mentioning its use in creating the horse.[9]
  2. ^ The reverse side on the denarius of Carausius, acquired by the British Museum in 1998.
  3. ^ Porta Capena mosaics, Rome. In the center is a square with geometric design (star inscribed in circle), and there are four diagonal spokes from it in the shape of a trident.
  4. ^ Villa della Pisanella, Boscoreale, Italy.
  5. ^ Burke assigns trident to Neptune and Eve to Triton. Eve states the Triton is "sometimes called Neptune", while Burke cross-references "merman" to "Neptune".
  6. ^ Thomas Moule, among others write "triton, or merman" implying interchangeability of these terms.


  1. ^ "Trident" at the Online Etymology Dictionary. Accessed on 23 March 2024.
  2. ^ Walters, H. B. (1892–1893), "Poseidon's Trident", The Journal of Hellenic Studies, 13 (37): 454, 459, 45
  3. ^ Lewis, Charlton T.; Short, Charles, eds. (1879), "fuscina", A Latin Dictionary, Clarendon Press
  4. ^ Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheke 1.2. Frazer tr. (1921), 1:11; text version via Perseus Project.
  5. ^ Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheke 3.14. Frazer tr. (1921), 2:79 and note 2; text version via Perseus Project.
  6. ^ Hurwit, Jeffrey M. (1999). The Athenian Acropolis: History, Mythology, and Archaeology from the Neolithic Era to the Present. Cambridge University Press. p. 32. ISBN 978-0-521-41786-0.
  7. ^ Virgil, Georgics 1.12ff, apud Frazer tr. (1921), 2:79 and note 2
  8. ^ Hesiod, Theogony 930.
  9. ^ a b Mackay, L. A. (1946), "The Earthquake-Horse", Classical Philology, 41 (3): 150–154, doi:10.1086/362950, S2CID 162926974 JSTOR 267107
  10. ^ Bury, John Bagnell (1940). " Zeus, Hera, Poseidon". The Cambridge Ancient History. University Press. p. 631. Poseidon,..the earth-shaker, whose trident roused the earthquake, and the god of horses.
  11. ^ Wilkins, Ann Thomas (2000), "Bernini and Ovid: Expanding the Concept of Metamorphosis", International Journal of the Classical Tradition, 6 (3): 403–404 JSTOR 30222585
  12. ^ Collignon, Maxime (1890). Manual of Mythology: In Relation to Greek Art. Translated by Jane E. Harrison. H. Grevel & Co. pp. 197–199.
  13. ^ Montfaucon, Bernard de (1724). Les Dieux Des Grecs Et Des Romains: Suppl. Delaulne. p. 70.; Pl. XXV
  14. ^ The helmeted goddess bearing a trident has been identified as Amphitrite by Montfaucon in a carved carnelian in the collection of Maréchal d'Estrées.[13]
  15. ^ a b c Mylonopoulos (2009), pp. 188–189.
  16. ^ "The Oceanus Mosaic". The British Museum.
  17. ^ Oceanus Mosaic from Withington;[16] The "pavement from Ashcroft Villas, Cirencester" is also mentioned.
  18. ^ Wilson, R. J. A. (2006), "Aspects of Iconography in Romano-British Mosaics: The Rudston 'Aquatic' Scene and the Brading Astronomer Revisited", Britannia, 37, Society for the Promotion of Roman Studies: 297–299, doi:10.3815/000000006784016693, S2CID 190728064 JSTOR 30030523
  19. ^ Williams, J. H. C. (1999), "Septimius Severus and Sol, Carausius and Oceanus: two new Roman acquisitions at the British Museum", The Numismatic Chronicle, 159: 310–311 JSTOR 42668508
  20. ^ Blake (1936), p. 149.
  21. ^ Blake (1936), p. 139.
  22. ^ Powerful Kali Mantra for Protection - In Sanskrit, English with Meaning
  23. ^ "1 Samuel 2 / Hebrew Bible in English / Mechon-Mamre". Archived from the original on 2020-10-03. Retrieved 2012-11-22.
  24. ^ Burke, Bernard (1864). merman, Neptune, trident (2nd ed.). Harrison & sons. pp. xlii, xlvi. ((cite book)): |work= ignored (help)
  25. ^ Eve, George W. (1907). "Heraldic birds and other figures". Heraldry as Art: An Account of Its Development and Practice, Chiefly in England. Batsford. p. 95.
  26. ^ Moule, Thomas (1842). Heraldry of Fish: Notices of the Principal Families Bearing Fish in Their Arms. J. Van Voorst. p. 218.
  27. ^ Fox-Davies, Arthur Charles (1985). The Art of Heraldry: An Encyclopaedia of Armory. T.C. & E.C. Jack., p. 195 and Fig. 488, p. 396 Fig. 778 (p. 285)
  28. ^ Burkert, Walter (1985). The Athenian Acropolis: History, Mythology, and Archaeology from the Neolithic Era to the Present. Translated by Raffan, John. Harvard University Press. p. 137. ISBN 978-0-674-36281-9.
  29. ^ Turner, Andy. "Fish Gigging: An Ozark Tradition". Missouri Department of Conservation. Archived from the original on 2019-08-11. Retrieved 2015-02-12.
  30. ^ Public Domain Smith, William, ed. (1870). "Gladiatores". Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. London: John Murray.
  31. ^ Auguet, Roland [1970] (2012). Cruelty and Civilization: The Roman Games. London: Routledge. pp. 56–57, 72–74. ISBN 0-415-10452-1.
  32. ^ Kramer, Daniel (April 25, 2023). "Mariners embrace Aquaman trident as home run prop". MLB Advanced Media. Retrieved August 28, 2023.
  33. ^ John Lindley and Thomas Moore (1964) The Treasury of Botany: A Popular Dictionary of the Vegetable Kingdom with which is Incorporated a Glossary of Botanical Terms, Published by Longmans Green, pt.1
  34. ^ C. Michael Hogan (2008) Douglas-fir: Pseudotsuga menziesii,, ed. Nicklas Strõmberg Archived 2009-06-04 at the Wayback Machine
  35. ^ "Iron-willed 'hero' images". 9 April 2010.