The History of Awards and Trophies: Tracing the Evolution of Recognition Symbols

When we think of a trophy or award, we think of a personalized shiny reminder of hard work, dedication and perseverance. Being awarded a trophy or medal is the ultimate thrill and comes with a sense of achievement and something to be proud of. 

Recognition symbols have played an important role in acknowledging and honouring achievements and can be traced back to ancient times. In this blog, we’ll take a journey through time to explore the rich history of awards and trophies from the early civilizations to modern day, and how they’ve evolved over the centuries.


Ancient Times: origin of the word “trophy,” how early trophies marked victories of bloodshed, trophies of the Olympic Games and Roman art installations.

Similar to many other modern day traditions we see today, trophies have rather dark origin, starting on the battlefields of war. The word trophy is derived from the French word “trophee” meaning “prize of war” and the Greek word “tropaion” meaning “for defeat,” whereby trophies were made and collected from the soldiers of triumphant battles, including taking human captives or body parts (e.g: headhunting), placing them on a tree or large stake and often dedicating their victory to the Gods.

In ancient times, trophies were not only used for military battles but also for athletic competitions, as seen in Ancient Greece during the Olympic Games, where winners were honoured with olive wreaths and sometimes ceramic amphora bottles (a bottle shaped with a pointed base) filled with sacred olive oil. In ancient Rome, magnificent statues, arches and columns were built as permanent art installations for memorial purposes, while Roman victors of athletic and military competitions were awarded crowns made of bay leaves. These early awards were treasured by the recipients as they came with meaningful symbols and represented prestige and achievement.


Post Classical Era: protective armour and swords gifted to knights during medieval times, the oldest documented sports trophy and a chalice being the prize of choice in 16th century England.

During medieval times, awards and trophies became more elaborate, often being made of precious metals such as gold and silver with intricate detailing. For example, knights were honoured with shields, swords, and armour as a symbol of their prowess and bravery in battle and served as both recognition of their achievements and promoted their status and rank within society.

The oldest documented sports trophy are the Carlisle Bells, awarded by Queen Elizabeth I during her reign in 1559 for the historic 1,566 metre British flat horse race. These bells have earned their place in history and are so precious and delicate that they are kept locked in a museum.

During 16th century England a Chalice, (a bowl fixed atop a stand intended to hold a drink and sometimes lavishly detailed with enamel and jewels), as quoted in Shakespeare’s Macbeth when making reference to a poisoned chalice, has historically been used in various religious ceremonies, along with being the symbolic prize of choice for winners of horse racing, early car racing and boat racing. 


Modern Era: significant increase in the types of awards available, the introduction of cup-shaped trophies and the first perpetual trophy.

As society evolved, so too did the awards and trophies, along with their meanings and what they represented. Trophies being awarded for warfare became discouraged and recognition for different achievements across diverse fields became celebrated.

Chalices continued to be utilized in prestigious sporting events across the globe and evolved into what we know and love today as cup-shaped trophies such as the well-known Stanley Cup, Davis Cup, Melbourne Cup and numerous other World Cups.

Perpetual trophies, whereby the winner has possession of the trophy until the next event where the winner must compete again to keep the trophy or it gets passed on, became popular after King George III awarded a bare-knuckled boxer with an embellished belt in 1810. Perpetual championship belts have continued to be awarded for many combat sports including boxing, wrestling and mixed martial arts and carry a great deal of prestige. 

During the modern era there became a significant increase in the number of trophies and types of awards available, for example, in sports, medals, ribbons, and cups became common recognition symbols for athletes, while in the arts, music, drama and academics, trophies, plaques, and certificates were used to acknowledge talent and creativity. 


Today: a global industry with a diverse range of awards available and society highly valuing recognition.

Today trophies and awards have become an enormous global business and industry, reflecting the importance placed on recognition and achievement in our society. Trophymade is an online business with access to the latest advancements in technology including laser engraving and sublimating, and with our online tool, Trophymaker you can upload your company or club logo and personalize every award to suit your needs, all from the comfort of your computer. With just a few clicks of a button, fast shipping and access to a live chat box along the way, buying trophies and awards has never been so easy!

From amateur to professional sporting events, music to the arts, as well as academic and corporate events, Trophymade has the perfect award for you, stocking a wide variety of styles, shapes and materials including metal, resin, glass, crystal and acrylic, to suit your design preference and budget. 



From the symbolic recognition symbols of ancient times to the wide range of awards available today, awards and trophies have a long and rich history reflecting the evolution of society and the importance placed on recognition and achievement. Being valued by their recipients, trophies and awards are personal and create time for reflection, whilst honouring excellence across a wide variety of sporting, corporate, academic and artistic events. 

Trophymade would love to help you make your next presentation night one to remember!

Shop Online Today


15% Off Your First Order?

Fill in the details below and we'll email you your discount code.