The personification of justice balancing the scales dates back to the Goddess Maat, and later Isis, of ancient Egypt. The Hellenic deities Themis and Dike were later goddesses of justice. Themis was the embodiment of divine order, law, and custom, in her aspect as the personification of the divine rightness of law. However, a more direct connection is to Themis' daughter Dike, who was portrayed carrying scales.
"If some god had been holding level the balance of Dike" is a surviving fragment of Bacchylides' poetry. Ancient Rome adopted the image of a female goddess of justice, which it called Iustitia.4 Since Roman times, Iustitia has frequently been depicted carrying scales and a sword, and wearing a blindfold. Her modern iconography frequently adorns courthouses and courtrooms, and conflates the attributes of several goddesses who embodied Right Rule for Greeks and Romans, blending Roman blindfolded Fortuna (fate) with Hellenistic Greek Tyche (luck), and sword-carrying Nemesis (vengeance).
Lady Justice is most often depicted with a set of scales typically suspended from her right hand, upon which she measures the strengths of a case's support and opposition.citation needed She is also often seen carrying a double-edged sword in her left hand, symbolizing the power of Reason and Justice, which may be wielded either for or against any party.citation needed
Since the 15th century, Lady Justice has often been depicted wearing a blindfold. The blindfold represents objectivity, in that justice is or should be meted out objectively, without fear or favour, regardless of identity, money, power, or weakness; blind justice and impartiality. The earliest Roman coins depicted Justitia with the sword in one hand and the scale in the other, but with her eyes uncovered.5 Justitia was only commonly represented as "blind" since about the end of the 15th century. The first known representation of blind Justice is Hans Gieng's 1543 statue on the Gerechtigkeitsbrunnen (Fountain of Justice) in Berne.6
Instead of using the Janus approach, many sculptures simply leave out the blindfold altogether. For example, atop the Old Bailey courthouse in London, a statue of Lady Justice stands without a blindfold;7 the courthouse brochures explain that this is because Lady Justice was originally not blindfolded, and because her “maidenly form” is supposed to guarantee her impartiality which renders the blindfold redundant.8 Another variation is to depict a blindfolded Lady Justice as a human scale, weighing competing claims in each hand. An example of this can be seen at the Shelby County Courthouse in Memphis, Tennessee.9
- Hamilton, Marci. God vs. the Gavel, page 296 (Cambridge University Press 2005): “The symbol of the judicial system, seen in courtrooms throughout the United States, is blindfolded Lady Justice.”
- Fabri, Marco. The challenge of change for judicial systems, page 137 (IOS Press 2000): “the judicial system is intended to be apolitical, its symbol being that of a blindfolded Lady Justice holding balanced scales.”
- See "The Scales of Justice as Represented in Engravings, Emblems, Reliefs and Sculptures of Early Modern Europe" in G. Lamoine, ed., Images et representations de la justice du XVie au XIXe siecle (Toulouse: University of Toulose-Le Mirail, 1983)" at page 8.
- Image of Lady Justice in Berne.
- Image of Lady Justice in London.
- Colomb, Gregory. Designs on Truth, page 50 (Penn State Press, 1992).
- Image of Lady Justice in Memphis.