Fact Checked

What Do the Scales of Justice Represent?

Renee Booker
Renee Booker

Since the first modern-day legal system began in Rome, the scales of justice have been used to symbolize the balance between truth and fairness sought after in the justice system. Although often depicted alone, the scales are frequently held by Lady Justice, or Justitia, in Latin, the Roman goddess of justice. Along with the concept of truth and fairness, the image is also used to depict the balance between the support and opposition a case has, with Lady Justice responsible for weighing the two and reaching a fair and just verdict.

Throughout the world, the scales of justice are an ever-present symbol of the ideals aspired to in the legal system. They remind attorneys, judges, and juries of the heavy task before them. Each side of the scales can be thought of as one side of a case before the court. As each side presents evidence and argument, the scales tip to one side or the other. The judge, or jury, is responsible for determining which side is heavier when all the evidence and argument has been presented.

Historical Context and Evolution

A beam scale is often used to represent the scales of justice.
A beam scale is often used to represent the scales of justice.

When I think about the scales of justice, I'm reminded of stories from my history teacher. The scales have ancient roots, from Mesopotamia's detailed records to Rome's grand courts. Over time, as societies changed, so did the scales' symbolism. I recall tales of ancient Egyptians, where the goddess Ma'at weighed hearts against a feather. Fast forward to the Greeks and Romans, and the scales became a symbol of earthly justice. It's fascinating how such an old symbol remains relevant today.

Lady Justice is often depicted with a blindfold, the source of the phrase "justice is blind."
Lady Justice is often depicted with a blindfold, the source of the phrase "justice is blind."

The origins of Lady Justice are thought to date as far back as the ancient Egyptian goddesses Maat and Isis, and later the Greek goddess Dike, the goddess of mortal justice. The Roman goddess generally carries the scales, a sword, and wears a blindfold — each being an accoutrement borrowed from one of the previous goddesses. Her sword is symbolic of the power of justice. The blindfold often worn by Lady Justice is where the term "justice is blind" comes from in modern speech.

Cultural Variations of the Scales of Justice

Lady Justice sits atop the Old Bailey courthouse in London.
Lady Justice sits atop the Old Bailey courthouse in London.

It's intriguing how different cultures perceive the scales of justice. In Asia, for instance, the scales might be associated with a different deity than in Roman culture. I've heard stories of African tribes using local materials to represent the scales, emphasizing community. It's a testament to the universal appeal of the scales, reflecting diverse cultural values.

The scales of justice remind judges of the responsibility they have.
The scales of justice remind judges of the responsibility they have.

Countless sculptures and paintings have been created based on the scales of justice. It is commonplace to see a representation in one form or the other of the scales in courthouses and courtrooms as a reminder to the participants in the legal system of the importance of justice and fairness. Presents which incorporate the image make excellent gifts for lawyers, judges, or anyone involved in the legal system.

Modern Interpretations and Controversies

In today's rapidly changing world, the scales of justice are not just a symbol—they're a subject of intense debate and reinterpretation. Modern art and media often present the scales in contexts that question the very essence of justice in contemporary society. For instance, is justice truly blind? Or does it peek, influenced by power, money, or bias? Some artworks depict Lady Justice's scales tipped by stacks of cash, commenting on the perceived influence of wealth in legal outcomes. Such interpretations, while provocative, encourage society to reflect on contemporary values and redefine justice in today's context.

What Do the Scales of Justice Represent

The now antique beam scale often symbolizes the scales of justice. You may recognize the scales of justice from television shows or movies when intensive court cases are depicted. Or, perhaps, you’ve had the good fortune of visiting the courthouse yourself and noticed the scales of justice along the way. You can find the scales of justice in and around places where legal happenings occur because it is closely tied to the legal system. The scales of justice are meant to represent a fair and balanced system in which justice will outweigh any other opposition.

Lady Justice Meaning and History

Lady Justice is known by other names, and in ancient Rome, she was known as the goddess Justitia in Latin. This Roman goddess is often shown blindfolded and is commonly rendered with the scales of justice in one hand and a double-edged sword in the other. Countless statues, paintings, sculptures, and other artworks exist in honor of Justitia.

There are also several linguistic reminders of Justitia, her blindfold and sword, and the scales of justice. If you think about the appearance of Justitia, you may be able to come up with a few of these common sayings on your own. If not, the following are some colloquial phrases based on her representations:

  • Justice is blind

  • The truth hurts

  • Weighing a decision

  • Weighing the evidence

  • To tip the scales one way or the other

  • All men are created equal

  • Hanging in the balance

  • Truth is a double-edged sword

Controversy in the Famous Depiction

Lady Justitia and the scales of justice have been around since the beginning of the modern-day legal system. Back in ancient Rome, the scales were still meant to represent a fair and impartial system created to bring about a just verdict and, if necessary, a fair punishment. However, many people have commented on the contradictions of Lady Justice with all her accoutrements and the system she is meant to represent.

The Blindfold

Justitia is seen blindfolded. Her being blindfolded is meant to represent the idea that justice is blind and that, no matter who you are or what you like, justice will outweigh any malice in the system. The common argument is if Lady Justice is blindfolded, how will she know that the scales are balanced, unbalanced, or tipped toward justice or injustice. The representation is not a literal one, of course, but the comparison has notable critiques in a legal system with very visible flaws.

The Scales

The scales of justice are representative of the justice system that began in ancient Rome. Many are hesitant to call the modern legal system just because there are so many frequently uncovered scandals. Debated opinions aside, there are contradictions in a modern representation of the scales. Suppression of evidence is likely the most significant obstruction of justice in weighing fairness that the contemporary legal system faces.

The Double-Edged Sword

Justitia also carries a double-edged sword. Many people refer to this sword as the sword of truth. Double-edged swords have taken on a negative connotation in modern language, and this term often represents something with both a positive and negative aspect.

Justitia’s double-edged sword represents protecting truth, justice, and fairness while also having the ability to exact punishment for those who do not follow the rules of an orderly society, as ancient Rome was constructed. Considering that Lady Justice carries a sword meant to both protect and punish, the methods of justice can seem, to some, skewed at times.

The Reimaginings of Lady Justice

As people discuss the varied meanings of Justitia, the blindfold, her sword, and the scales of justice, there are still new iterations of her look being conceived in modern art and print. Artists and writers use familiar representations to provoke thought. These re-imagined depictions create an argument that the observer or reader can think on without engaging in a back-and-forth dialogue.

Art is a socially acceptable way to add criticism to the accepted systems of a society. A common modern rendering includes Lady Justice peeking out from under her blindfold to suggest the obvious subjectivity of the legal system. Other depictions not only have Justitia blindfolded, but they have her gagged, as well; this rendering indicates that there is no room for a just verdict spoken in the modern world. A different critical stance on the legal system envisions Justitia, blindfolded with her sword and the scales of justice, but one scale tray is weighed to the floor with money.

Frequently Asked Questions

What's the backstory of those justice scales?

You know, every time I see those scales, I'm reminded of tales from ancient civilizations. Picture this: Ancient Egypt, with the goddess Ma'at, gracefully holding a set of scales. Fast forward a bit, and the Greeks had their own version with the goddess Themis. By the time the Romans came into the picture, they took this imagery and made it a cornerstone in Europe. It's like a visual promise that justice will be served honestly and without bias.

How do these scales symbolize balance?

Imagine watching a courtroom drama. On one side, you have the prosecution, and on the other, the defense. The scales? They're like a silent observer, ensuring that both sides get a fair shake. As evidence piles up, the scales might tip one way or the other, but in the end, they stand for the idea that justice is based on evidence and truth.

Why are the scales so iconic in the legal world?

Every time I walk into a courtroom, those scales remind me of the gravity of the law. They're not just decoration; they symbolize the very essence of justice and impartiality. It's like they're whispering to everyone—judges, lawyers, even the public—that every person should be treated equally, no matter who they are.

What does it mean if the scales tip one way?

Life's full of surprises, and the courtroom's no different. If you see those scales tipping, it means the evidence or arguments from one side are heavier. Maybe they've got a stronger case, or perhaps they're more persuasive. But remember, it's not just about weight; it's about fairness and truth.

How do the scales differ from Lady Justice's blindfold?

Ah, the age-old symbols! While the scales stand for balance and fairness, that blindfold Lady Justice wears? It's all about impartiality. It's like she's saying, "I won't judge based on who you are or where you come from." Together, the scales and the blindfold paint a picture of a justice system that aims to be fair and unbiased.

You might also Like

Discuss this Article

Post your comments
Forgot password?
    • A beam scale is often used to represent the scales of justice.
      By: Alx
      A beam scale is often used to represent the scales of justice.
    • Lady Justice is often depicted with a blindfold, the source of the phrase "justice is blind."
      By: kanvag
      Lady Justice is often depicted with a blindfold, the source of the phrase "justice is blind."
    • Lady Justice sits atop the Old Bailey courthouse in London.
      By: Alex Yeung
      Lady Justice sits atop the Old Bailey courthouse in London.
    • The scales of justice remind judges of the responsibility they have.
      By: Rob
      The scales of justice remind judges of the responsibility they have.