Totenkopf – Skull and Crossbones
The classic symbol of death in western culture, a skull on two crossed thighbones appears on countless tombs and other carvings from the early Middle Ages onward, and became very common after the Black Death of the mid-fourteenth century ...
totenkopf, skull and bones, skull, deadhead
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Totenkopf – Skull and Crossbones

Skull crossbones symbols

Totenkopf – Skull and Crossbones

The classic symbol of death in western culture, a skull on two crossed thighbones appears on countless tombs and other carvings from the early Middle Ages onward, and became very common after the Black Death of the mid-fourteenth century gave death imagery a prominent place in European culture. Like many elements of medieval symbolism, it survived into modern times, and was adopted by several secret societies including the Freemasons and Odd Fellows. As a symbol of death, it was also one of several flags used by pirates in the Atlantic during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The skull and bones are often used in military insignia, e.g. in coats of arms of some military regiments.
Use of the Totenkopf as a military insignia began under Frederick the Great, who formed a regiment of Hussar cavalry in the Prussian army commanded by Colonel von Ruesch, the Husaren-Regiment Nr. 5 . It adopted a black uniform with a Totenkopf emblazoned on the front of its mirlitons and wore it on the field in the War of Austrian Succession and in the Seven Years’ War.
The Totenkopf remained a part of the uniform when the regiment was reformed into Leib-Husaren Regiments Nr.1 and Nr.2 in 1808. When Frederick William, Duke of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, was killed in battle during the Napoleonic Wars, his troops changed their uniform colors to black or apple green, with a Totenkopf on their shakos in mourning their dead leader. Other sources claim that the “Black Brunswickers” were so equipped while Friedrich Wilhelm of Brunswick lived, as a sign of revenge on the French. [source]

The skull continued to be used throughout the Prussian and Brunswick Armed forces until 1918, and some of the stormtroopers that led the last German offensives on the Western Front in 1918 used skull badges.
In the early days of the NSDAP, Julius Schreck, the leader of the Stabswache (Adolf Hitler’s bodyguard unit), resurrected the use of the Totenkopf as the unit’s insignia. This unit grew into the Schutzstaffel (SS), which continued to use the Totenkopf as insignia throughout its history. According to a writing by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler the Totenkopf had the following meaning:

The Skull is the reminder that you shall always be willing to put your self at stake for the life of the whole community.

The Totenkopf Skull and bones was also used as the unit insignia of the Panzer forces of the German Army, and also by the Panzer units of the Luftwaffe, including those of the elite Fallschirm-Panzer Division 1 Hermann Göring.
Both the 3rd SS Panzer Division of the Waffen-SS, and the World War II era Luftwaffe’s 54th Bomber Wing Kampfgeschwader 54 were given the unit name “Totenkopf”. But not only in Prussia and Germany also in other country’s it’s been used as insigna.


  • The 17th Lancers (Duke of Cambridge’s Own) was a cavalry regiment of the British Army, raised in 1759 and notable for its participation in the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War.
  • In 1792, a regiment of Hussards de la mort was formed to defend the young French Republic from a possible Austrian attack.
  • The Kingdom of Sweden’s Hussar Regiments wore a death’s head emblem in the Prussian Style on the front of the mirleton.
  • The Estonian Kuperjanov’s Partisan Battalion, an elite Estonian Army military unit which was established during the Estonian War of Independence on 23 December 1918 by the order of Colonel Ernst Limberg used the skull-and-crossbones as their insignia (since 1918); the Kuperjanov Infantry Battalion continues to use the skull and crossbones as their insignia today.
  • The United States Marine Corps Reconnaissance Battalions use the skull-and-crossbones symbol in their emblem.
  • The White Russian Kornilov regiment adopted a death’s head emblem in 1917.
  • The No. 100 Squadron RAF (Royal Air Force) continue to use a flag depicting a skull and crossbones supposedly in reference to a flag stolen from a French brothel in 1918.
  • and plenty more examples can be found

And of course if we return to the secret societies topic, the most notorious college fraternity in America is the Skull and Bones Society, founded in 1832 at Yale University.
Skull and bones was founded by valedictorian William H. Russell and 14 other undergraduates. Russell had taken time off from his Yale studies to travel in Germany, and apparently encountered a college society there that he used as a model for his new fraternity. Originally called the Eulogian Club, after its invented patron Eulogia, goddess of eloquence, the fraternity in 1833 took the pirate skull and crossbones flag as its symbol, and so became known as Skull and Bones. Like other college fraternities, it has an initiation ceremony consisting of roughly equal parts nineteenth-century melodrama and undergraduate pranks. Skull and Bones came out of a long history of similar organizations at Yale. The oldest known Yale student society, a literary society called Crotonia (after the location of Pythagoras’s school in ancient Italy), was in existence before 1750. Skull and Bones, however, was the first to limit its membership. Each year, 15 members of the incoming senior class were (and are) selected for admission by vote of the existing members. Membership was restricted to male students until 1991, when the first female members were initiated.
The society’s headquarters, or “tomb” as it’s been called, was built in 1856 in the location it still occupies, on High Street in New Haven, Connecticut. Current members, or “knights,” meet there on Thursday and Sunday nights for dinner and society activities; former members, or “patriarchs,” are welcome to attend when in town, and several annual events attract large numbers back to Yale and events at the tomb. The society also possesses Deer Island in the St Lawrence River, used as a holiday spot by knights, patriarchs, and their families.
As the oldest and most prestigious student society at one of America’s top universities, Skull and Bones has attracted its share of members who went on to become important figures in politics and business. Three US presidents – William Howard Taft, George Bush, and George W. Bush – were members during their time at Yale. The society’s total of presidents measures up poorly to other fraternities, for example, next to the 14 presidents who have been Freemasons, or even the 5 who have been Elks. The Elks is one of the largest of American fraternal orders. Unlike most other orders of the kind, they continued to expand their membership until 1976, reaching a peak of 2200 lodges and over 1.6 million members in that year. But that’s for another post.
Some writers claim that Skull and Bones forms the inner circle of the Council on Foreign Relations, an elite think-tank that is among the most popular targets for American conspiracy theorists. –>


The Bush family connection to Skull and Bones has also brought the fraternity to center stage in many accounts of the New World Order. This sinister reputation doubtless delights the society’s undergraduate members. The birth of the CIA has also a Skull and Bones connection.


Skull crossbones symbols

Skull and bones symbol is quite popular among different units and organisations.