The Latin word “gallus” means both "rooster" and "inhabitant of Gaul". Certain ancient coins bore a rooster, but the animal was not used as the emblem of the tribes of Gaul. Gradually the figure of the rooster became the most widely shared representation of the French people.
In the Middle Ages, the Gallic Rooster was widely used as a religious symbol, the sign of hope and faith. It was during the Renaissance that the rooster began to be associated with the emerging French nation.
Under the Valois and the Bourbon kings, the royal effigy was often accompanied by this animal, meant to stand for France, in engravings and on coins. Although still a minor emblem, the rooster could be found at both the Louvre and Versailles.
The Revolution established the rooster as the representation of the Nation’s identity. It was featured on the "écu" coin, sporting the Phrygian bonnet, and on the seal of the Premier Consul. The allegorical figure Fraternity often carried a staff surmounted by a rooster.
Napoleon replaced the Republic with the Empire and the rooster with the eagle. The Emperor stated: "The rooster has no power, he cannot be the image of an empire the likes of France."
After a period of absence, the French Revolution of 1830 ("Trois Glorieuses") rehabilitated the image of the rooster, and the Duke of Orleans signed an order providing that the rooster should appear on the flags and uniform buttons of the National Guard. The seal of the Second Republic shows Liberty holding a tiller adorned with a rooster, but this figure still appeared alongside the symbol of the eagle, which was preferred by Napoleon II, as sign of an enduring Empire.
Under the Third Republic, the wrought-iron gates of the Elysée acquired a rooster, the "Rooster gate", which can still be visited. The twenty-franc gold piece struck in 1899 also bears a rooster.
During the First World War, surging patriotic sentiment made the Gallic rooster the symbol of France’s resistance and bravery in the face of the Prussian eagle. The use of this Manichean representation, in particular by political cartoonists, gained ground, and the rooster became the symbol of a France sprung from peasant origins, proud, opinionated, courageous and prolific. Even though it is not an animal that is always attributed with purely positive characteristics, the rooster symbolizes France abroad.
While the rooster is not an official symbol of the Republic, it still stands for a certain idea of France. In the collective imagination, particularly in the area of sports, it remains the best illustration of France.
Source: Website of the French Government