The Goddess of Victory

The name Nike, used to be known as something other than just a shoe brand, during the Hellenistic period, Nike was the Greek Goddess of Victory. But, the winged goddess was more than just her symbolism. Believed to be the daughter of a titan, she fought for the gods in the Titanomachy and earned her place among them (Scott & Editors, 2017). Nike differed from normal gender norms as she was a virgin goddess, childless, and participated in violent conflict. Despite being a minor goddess she was widely worshipped all around the Meditteranean through her various statues and her involvement in wars and games. In this article I will be discussing her history in addition to her various popular roles and symbols.

Her Origin

Nike has two different origin stories, one of which is more widely believed than the other. The more challenged mythology is claimed by Homer, where he describes her in Homeric Hymn 8 as being of Ares descent. This declaration is suspect because the author describes her as “warlike Nike (Victory)” and while she is competitive, she is more known for celebration in place of participation. This particular mythology is also problematic because no one else has really claimed this as being true. Homer had a brief mention of Ares’

The favored belief, sources from Hesiod’s poem Theogony. In this poem he alleges that Nike was born of Styx, the goddess of Hate, and Pallas the titan of Battle. With this she also has three siblings, Kratos, Zelos and Bia, all who sided with the gods in the Titanomachy (Scott & Editors, 2017). This is widely believed because Nike has a competitive mindset which she would inherit from her father. This mythology then delves into the Titanomachy and how she comes to be Zeus’ right-hand goddess (Scott & Editors, 2017).


Sculpture discovered in Ephesus, Turkey, with an unknown artist, depicting Nike holding a symbolic wreath.

Nike has many different symbols, but the most popular include her wings, spear, lyre, wreaths and Zeus’ chariot. She has been shown in many primary sources such as pottery as celebrating a win by playing the lyre, an important ritual for her. Her wreaths, as pictured above in the stone carving found at Ephesus, were also a display of victory, most popularly at the Ancient Olympic Games (Swaddling, 1980). Her spear is an important part of her heritage, as her father’s name means “to wield/brandish a spear,” according to Nike: The Origins and History of the Greek Goddess of Victory by Andrew Scott and Charles River Editors. This translation from Greek can lead historians to interpret it as a nod to her father. While she also was known to take after her father, her distinctions were also important in her symbolism. After the Titanomachy, Nike and her siblings received gifts for siding with the gods and therefore not on the side of her father (Scott & Editors, 2017). Her prize was the honor of driving Zeus’ chariot, which was a huge honor (Scott & Editors, 2017). Alongside her association with Zeus, her wings are a major part of whether or not it was truly Nike. If she did not have wings, she would be known as Athena Nike, a complicated relationship and distinction in the Mediterranean. Athena Nike is an entity that differs from Nike after a period of time where she spent a grand deal of time with Athena (Sikes, 1895). Nike spent so much time underneath Athena’s wing, that people, mainly Athenians, were convinced that they were one, a strategic, competitive and wingless goddess, Athena Nike (Sikes, 1895).

Her Presence in Ancient Currency

Nike is a relatively obscure goddess in modern times, compared to twenty-three hundred years ago when Alexander the Great ruled over Macedon. Prior to any Greek victories, Alexander the Great featured Nike holding another of her symbols, her wreath (Perlman, 1965). The other side of the coin was also dedicated to Athena, another somewhat controversial decision as it was believed that Alexander the Great did not have a good relationship with the city-state of Athens (Perlman, 1965). Despite this belief, it seems that the stylis shown on Nike’s side of the coin, did in fact represent support and unity between the two (Perlman, 1965). It is believed that these coins were a guarantee of success and conquering or maybe a sign of a prophecy given at Delphi, as there was no record at the time of any victory (Perlman, 1965). Following his death, his successor, Antiochus, also showed Nike in the hands of Zeus, possibly suggesting greater victory to come ahead (Lowinger, 2017). The coinage of Antiochus has a clear message of victory directed by the gods under his reign. Nike was then depicted in Greek coins until Alexander II Zabinas took the throne in 128 BCE (Lowinger, 2017). Due to the symbolic depiction of Nike on Greek coins from Alexander III to Alexander II, Nike certainly made her presence well-known as one of the symbols of domination and triumph.

Ancient Greek Games

Many of the depictions of Nike originate from the Ancient Greek Olympics. When the games took place, a statue, created by Pausanias, of Nike would stand in front of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, where the games would take place (Swaddling, 1980). She also had the honor of bestowing the victors with a crown of olive leaves, also known as the sacred plant of Athens, as she is depicted doing on various coins that date back to 488 BCE (Finley & Pleket, 1976; Swaddling, 1980). In addition, this was most likely the time of year where she would receive the most sacrifices, the ancient equivalent of the Modern Olympic flame (Swaddling, 1980). Nike had the most important role in the games because even though she was the one to present the winners with their prize, she also determined the victor as she is the goddess of victory.

Nike of Samothrace

The Winged Victory of Samothrace possibly carved by Pythokritos, a sculptor from Rhodes, found in Samothrace is now on display at the Louvre.

This statue truly illustrates how widespread Nike’s influence was. The Nike of Samothrace, is located on the tiny island of Samothrace, 70 kilometers from mainland Greece The statue is made of Gray Lartos marble and Parian marble, all of which had to be sourced from Rhodes which was a long distance up the coast from Samothrace, a wonder of the amount of effort that was put into it (Stewart, 2016). This statue shows Nike celebrating a naval victory that is theorized by Andrew Stewart to have taken place during the Bithynian War which occurred from 156 BCE to 154 BCE (Stewart, 2016). This battle would have been a win for from Attalos II the King of Pergamon at the time and his allies in the Rhodians against Prousias II and Bithynia (Stewart, 2016). The war came to an end when the Romans proposed a treaty, and the statue was made as a dedication of victory on Samothrace (Stewart, 2016). The statue has quite a story behind it, one that has many theories to it.

Representation in the Modern World

For being a minor goddess, Nike has several different representations in modern culture and history. There is of course the most obvious being the athletic brand Nike. The original employee of Nike, Jeff Johnson, had a dream of Nike, that the brand took to be a monumental sign, so they named the company after her (Carbasho, 2010). The logo also originated from this dream as it’s. and to her wings (Carbasho, 2010). Nike was also mentioned in the popular fictional series The Heroes of Olympus by Rick Riordan. She was represented with her symbolic spear, wings, and chariot in The Blood of Olympus the final book in the series by Rick Riordan (Riordan, 2014). This appearance and portrayal were not unexpected as the Rick Riordan focuses his books on several different types of mythology ranging from Egyptian to Norse. Another representation is included in the medals given out at the Modern Olympic Games. Nike is shown on the backside with a symbolic wreath and palm branch to celebrate an athlete’s victory (Barney, 2006). The U.S. military has also had Nike as it’s representation several times since World War II. Project Nike was proposed in 1945 and expanded into the 20th century version of the U.S. Anti-Aircraft Missile System Nike (Second Regional). She was the considered the protector of this program considering their expansion to nearly every project they did invoking the word Nike in the title, from Nike Hercules to the Nike bases (Second Regional).


Barney, R. K. (2006). A simple souvenir: the Wienecke commemoration medal and Olympic victory celebration. Olympika: The International Journal of Olympic Studies, 15, 87+.

Carbasho, T. (2010). Nike. Greenwood. 

Hesiod, ., & Caldwell, R. S. (1987). Hesiod’s Theogony. Cambridge, Ma: Focus Information Group.

Homer, ., Fagles, R., & Knox, B. (1998). The Iliad

Evelyn-White, H. Hymn 8 to Ares

Finley, M. I., & Pleket, H. W. (1976). The Olympic Games: The First 1000 Years.

Lowinger, P. (2017, December 16). Of Gods, Kings and Men: the Coinage of Antiochus IV. The Ancient World.                             

Perlman, S. (1965). THE COINS OF PHILIP II AND ALEXANDER THE GREAT AND THEIR PAN-HELLENIC PROPAGANDA. The Numismatic Chronicle and Journal of the Royal Numismatic Society, 5, 57-67. Retrieved October 22, 2020, from

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Riordan, R. (2014). The Blood of Olympus. Disney-Hyperion

Scott, A., & Editors, C. R. Nike: The Origins and History of the Greek Goddess of Victory. Charles River Editors

Sikes, E. (1895). Nike and Athena Nike. The Classical Review, 9(5), 280-283. Retrieved October 22, 2020, from

Stewart, A. (2016). The Nike of Samothrace: Another View. American Journal of Archaeology, 120(3), 399-410. doi:10.3764/aja.120.3.0399

Swaddling, J. (1980). The Ancient Olympic Games. University of Texas Press.

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