The tradition of the mace can be dated to medieval kings, whose bodyguards would use a mace as an instrument of protection. It came to symbolize strength and authority. Originally, it was a weapon of offense that was made of iron and capable of breaking armor. It was a giant club, which came to be associated with brave men who fought to protect the king. During medieval times, the royal sergeants at arms were distinguished by their power of arrest without a warrant. To an increasing extent, the maces–originally ordinary weapons of war, similar to a club–became their emblems of authority from a noble lord or the king. These maces were stamped with the royal arms; and in an age in which few could read and write, the sergeants effected their arrests by showing their maces and not by producing any form of written warrant.
The evolution of maces from weapons of war to symbolic representations has seen the flanged head decrease in size to an ornamental bracket. The butt end historically carried the royal coat of arms and an arched crown surmounted by an orb and cross. As a result of the expansion of the butt end, maces began to be carried upside down with the crown uppermost.
Gradually, universities adopted the use of a mace to show the right of academic institutions to grant degrees to graduates. When English universities were taking form in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the mace was used as a symbol of royal authority at the universities the King established. It was displayed especially during formal ceremonies. The mace was carried by the most senior member of the faculty at the royal university before the president or chancellor and other dignitaries composing the platform party. The mace symbolically represents the college’s authority to exist and function as an institution of higher education.
As symbols of events and affiliations, medallions can be traced to religious orders during the Middle Ages. Since many orders, societies, and universities used similar designs—a circle, cross, or an oval—detailed artwork in the center of the medallion was adopted to differentiate each affiliation. Colleges and universities traditionally use ceremonial and commemorative medallions for formal occasions such as commencements, convocations, inaugurations, and other occasions when academic dress is worn. The academic medallion worn by the president or chancellor of the institution symbolically and officially represents his or her authority granted by the proper legal authority (the board of trustees, state authority, etc.) to confer degrees upon graduates of the institution.