Rus Articles Journal

What is heraldry? Part 1 - Sources.

Today we will begin to acquaint you with the interesting materials website Digression to heraldry (editors A. Boytsov, A. Kurov).


any Invention of signs and symbols is peculiar to the person. The custom of election for itself or for some kind of special distinctive sign has deep roots and is widespread everywhere in the world. It comes from the patrimonial operation and a special world view peculiar to all people during the primitive period of their history.

Patrimonial signs and symbols are called totems. These are the closest relatives of the coats of arms. Term totem there is from North America, and in language of Indians of the ojibway a word ototy means the concept its sort . The custom of a totemizm consisted in election as a genus of any animal or a plant as the primogenitor and the patron from whom all members of the tribe conduct the origin. This custom existed at the ancient people, however and today it is accepted among the tribes leading a primitive life.

Ancient Slavs had totems too - sacred animals, trees, plants - from names of which as it is supposed, there are some modern Russian surnames.

Among the Asian people of a Turkic and Mongolian origin there is a similar custom tamga . The Tamga is a sign of patrimonial accessory, the image of an animal, bird or the weapon accepted by each tribe as a symbol which is represented on banners, emblems is burned out on a skin of animals, and is even applied on a body. Kyrgyz have a legend that tamg were appropriated to separate childbirth by Genghis Khan, together with " uranium; - war-calls (which were used also by the European knights, from - for what got then on the coats of arms in the form of mottoes).

Prototypes of the coats of arms - various symbolical images placed on a military armor, banners, rings and personal belongings - were applied still in the ancient time. In works of Homer, Virgil, Pliniya and other antique authors the evidence of use of such signs meets. Both legendary heroes, and real historic figures, for example, tsars and commanders, often had personal emblems.

So, Alexander of Macedon`s helmet the sea horse decorated (gippokamp), Achilles`s helmet - an eagle, a helmet of the tsar Numibiya Masinissa - a dog, a helmet of the Roman emperor Karakalla - an eagle. Boards were also decorated with various emblems, for example, the image of the cut head of the Jellyfish of Gorgona. But these signs were used as ornament, randomly changed owners, were not descended and did not submit to any rules. Only some emblems of islands and cities of a classical antiquity were used constantly - on coins, medals and the seals. The owl, Corinth - Pegasus, Samos - a peacock, islands Rhodes - a rose was an emblem of Athens.

It is already possible to see rudiments of the state heraldry in it. The majority of ancient civilizations had in the culture some elements of heraldry, for example system of the seals or stamps which will be indissolubly connected further with heraldry. In Assyria, the Babylon empire and in ancient Egypt the press were used as well as in medieval Europe - for the certificate of documents. These signs were squeezed out in clay, cut out in a stone and imprinted on the papyrus. In the third millennium B.C. existed coat of arms the Sumer states - an eagle with the lion`s head. The snake, Armenia - the crowned lion, Persia - an eagle was an emblem of Egypt. Subsequently the eagle will become the coat of arms of Rome. Coat of arms Byzantium actually there was a two-headed eagle borrowed later by some European states including Russia.

Ancient Germans painted the boards in different colors. The Roman legionaries had on emblem boards by which it was possible to determine their belonging to a certain cohort. Special images decorated the Roman banners - vexilla (from there is a name of science about flags - veksillologiya). For distinction of legions and cohorts in troops badges - signa - in the form of various animals - an eagle, a wild boar, a lion, a Minotaur, a horse, a she-wolf and others which rushed ahead of army on long staffs were also used. On these figures which are often relating to history of the city of Rome, military units sometimes received names.

So, various systems of distinctions and emblems existed always and everywhere, but actually the heraldry as a special form of symbolics arose in development of a feudal system in Western Europe.


Bright and colourful art of heraldry developed in gloomy times of the decline of culture and economy which came in Europe with death Roman when there was a feudalism and there was a system of the hereditary aristocracy.

Emergence of the coats of arms was promoted by several factors. First of all - feudalism and crusades. It is considered that the coats of arms appeared in the 10th century, but it is difficult to find out exact date. The first coats of arms represented on the seals attached to documents belong to the 11th century. The most ancient stamp seals are placed on the marriage contract of 1000 signed by Sancho, to infantas Castilian with Vilhelmina, Gaston II`s daughter, the viscount Bearnsky. It must be kept in mind that during an era of universal illiteracy use of a stamp sign for the signature and for designation of property was for many the only way to certify the document the name. Such identification mark was clear also to the illiterate person (quite perhaps that the coats of arms appeared at first on the seals, and already then on the weapon and clothes).

The undoubted evidence of existence of heraldry appears only after crusades. The earliest such certificate - the French enamel drawing from Geoffroi Plantagenet`s grave (died in 1151), the column Anjou and Man, representing Geoffroi with a stamp board where on the azure field allegedly four reared golden lions. The count was Henry I`s son-in-law, the king of England ruling in 1100 - 1135 who, according to the chronicle, and granted him this coat of arms.

Richard I Lion`s heart (1157 - 1199) was the first English king who had the personal coat of arms. His three gold leopards were used by all royal dynasties of England since then.