Iron Cross Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How To Use It

Your writing, at its best

Compose bold, clear, mistake-free, writing with Grammarly's AI-powered writing assistant

The iron cross is a highly controversial symbol. It has a complex history that spans several centuries, and it will likely strike a visceral reaction in many people who see it.  

Today, the iron cross is commonly used as a symbol of hate, although it wasn’t always this way. Because of this, it’s important that you know what this symbol looks like and what it means so that you can avoid any confusion. 

So today, we’re going to talk about the phrase iron cross. By the end of this short guide, you’ll have a solid understanding of the iron cross, its definitions, its etymology, and how to use it. 

Let’s get started. 

What Is the Meaning of the Phrase Iron Cross?

The phrase iron cross refers to a particular design of a cross. It’s a cross with equal-length arms. The arms of the cross patée start small at the base and flare out as they move away from the center, framing the cross almost as a square. As per its name, the cross has a deep iron color. 

Here’s a quick definition of the phrase iron cross: 

  • An award is given to members of the German military who display great bravery in battle, used from 1813 to 1945

A Brief History of the Iron Cross

The iron cross, also called the knight’s cross of the iron cross, was first introduced as a symbol in the Prussian military all the way back in 1813 by King Frederick William III. It was an award, a medal, that was given to soldiers who performed incredibly dangerous and brave acts during their military service. Throughout the 19th century, it was a symbol of honor and courage in the face of danger. 

The original design, created by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, was just a simple cross patée made of iron. The famous symbol had no other etchings, markings, or designs in it. It was simply a medal of bravery for soldiers in Prussia, with no other meanings attached to it. It was awarded to soldiers in many wars, including the Napoleonic Wars, the Franco-Prussian War, and World War I under Wilhelm II. 

But at the beginning of the 19th century, when Adolf Hitler, the Third Reich, and the Nazi party were on the rise, the iron cross, or Eisernes Kreuz, was redesigned. During Nazi-era Germany, as German nationalism was on the rise, a Nazi swastika was added to the center of the design. 

Throughout World War II (WWII), the iron cross was awarded to German army soldiers or the Wehrmacht, symbolized by the Balkenkreuz. Iron cross 2nd class medals were awarded for brave acts, and iron cross 1st class medals were awarded to German soldiers who repeatedly showed great acts of bravery.

Then there was the grand cross of the iron cross, which was an even higher first-class honor. And finally, the star of the grand cross of the iron cross was the highest military award that could be given, given to people like Hermann Göring, who led the Luftwaffe. In the later parts of the war, there was also the Iron Cross with Golden Oak Leaves.

During this time, the symbol became famous around the world, and not in a good way. The military medal became a symbol of hate, one of racism and evil, associated with the horrible acts that the Nazis committed during this time.

At the end of the Second World War, when the Allied powers defeated the Axis powers, the German iron cross was discontinued and was no longer used as a military decoration. Because it had become synonymous with the Nazi party, it was removed. 

Where Did the Iron Cross Come From?

But this famous cross was not invented by the Germans. The famous symbol actually gets its roots centuries earlier, during the time of the Crusades in the 12th century. 

The symbol was invented by a group called The Order of Brothers of the German House of Saint Mary in Jerusalem, better known as the Teutonic Order. This was a group of knights during the Crusades that would help Christians on the journeys to the Holy Land and would also establish hospitals. 

The Teutonic Order was also called the German Order. It contained Prussian knights who played a critical role throughout the crusades. Their symbol was inspired by the Templar cross, but it was a black cross with a gray background and had slightly different-shaped arms.

But the Teutonic Order continued to exist for centuries after the Crusades had ended, playing a major role in the Kingdom of Prussia and the German Empire. It was banned in 1938 but reinstated in 1945 and still exists today as a charitable organization in Europe. 

During the 19th century, the Teutonic cross was adopted by the Prussian military and used as a medal of honor in the German Armed Forces. 

How Is the Iron Cross Used Today?

Today, the iron cross symbol has taken on a slightly new meaning. In the United States, the iron cross was adopted by groups like biker gangs and even the Skinheads. Biker gangs and the like mostly use it as an inflammatory symbol rather than a hateful one. However, there are many groups out there who still use it as a representation of their neo-Nazi ideology. 

In the early 2000s, the German military tried to revive the award as a medal while trying to remove it from its negative connotation. They awarded four Bundeswehr soldiers medals with the famous symbol, but this time, it was made with gold as opposed to iron. But the new medal was met with great opposition, so it is no longer used.  

What Are Some Examples of Iron Cross in a Sentence?

Seeing a phrase in context can help bring more clarity to its definition and how you can use it in your own life. Here are some example sentences that use the phrase iron cross.

  • I think that guy has an iron cross tattoo, so stay away from him.
  • My great grandfather brought back an iron cross medallion from a German admiral he killed in the First World War. 
  • I saw the iron cross that was awarded to the German field marshal and President Paul von Hindenburg in a museum.

The Iron Cross

Now you know everything you need to know about the iron cross, its history, and how to use it. Talk about it confidently in your writing and your conversation. And if you need a refresher on it, come back to this article for the information you need. 


Germany’s Iron Cross a New Symbol of Hope? | Atlantic Council 

Iron Cross | Hate Symbols Database | Anti-Defamation League 

Teutonic cross | almanach wrocławski