Arms of Sardinia, Italy

Sardinia

Granted 1999; in use since 1281

Blazon: Argent a cross gules between four Moors’ heads facing to the sinister proper bandaged on the forehead of the field

The four heads on Sardinia’s arms allegedly trace back to Peter I of Aragon and the battle of Alcoraz in 1096. Apparently, St. George appeared above the Aragonese forces (hence the cross), and four of the Moorish kings were killed in the fighting, though I can’t find any specific names. A different legend claims that Pope Benedict VIII granted a similar banner to the Pisans when they came to Sardinia’s aid against Mujāhid al-ʿĀmirī in 1016. In any case, the basic configuration of cross gules plus Moors’ heads appears on Peter III of Aragon’s seal by 1281, and has been in fairly consistent use ever since. The exact depictions of the heads can vary from representation to representation – blindfolded, crowned, etc. – but the current blazon granted in 1999 has them bendata sulla fronte.

I know the image here is of a flag, the depiction of the coat of arms has the heads facing the dexter (their default position) and blindfolded, rather than bandaged around the forehead. While it’s not technically on a shield, I’d prefer to display a device that matches the blazon whenever possible.

Arms of Piedmont, Italy

Piedmont

Adopted 1995

Blazon: Gules a cross argent, a label of three points azure

This is actually pretty straightforward, as Italian arms go. Gules a cross argent are the arms of the house of Savoy; in 1424, Duke Amadeus VIII of Savoy granted his oldest living son (also named Amadeus, because of course) the title Prince of Piedmont. And, as the eldest son, Amadeus bore the arms of his father with the traditional label for difference. There have been slightly different configurations of the arms over the years (mostly adding, removing, and changing the tincture of bordures), but the cross and label have remained consistent.

Romanian Great Union Day

Today marks the day that the Romanian Kingdom incorporated the territories of Bessarabia, Bukovina, Transylvania, Banat, Crișana and Maramureș with the Kingdom of Romania in 1918. Technically, Bessarabia and Bukovina had been incorporated earlier that year, but December 1st brought the most new territory to the crown. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to know that many of those territories are represented in the arms – and there are a lot of them, so let’s get started!

Romania

Blazon: Azure an eagle displayed with wings inverted, in its beak a passion cross patonce at foot or, armed gules, in the dexter talon a sword and in the sinister a sceptre argent, crowned with the Steel Crown proper, overall an escutcheon per quarterly I azure an eagle displayed with wings inverted, in its beak a passion cross patonce at foot or armed gules between in chief a sun in splendor and a crescent increscent of the second (Wallachia); II gules an auroch’s head caboshed between in base a cinquefoil and a crescent decrescent argent, in chief between the horns a molet of five points or (Moldova); III gules issuant from water in base azure a bridge of two arches embattled, thereon a demi-lion rampant or brandishing a sabre proper (Oltenia and Banat); IV per bar gules azure and or, issuant therefrom an eagle displayed argent between in chief a sun in splendor or and a crescent decrescent of the fourth, in base seven towers gules (Transylvania); pointé in base azure two dolphins urinant respectant or

Okay. Obviously, there is a lot going on here, but the major motif (repeated twice) is the eagle or. The eagle charge is, unsurprisingly, derived from the Romans and also featured in the regional arms of Wallachia, although there it was sable (and thus somewhat closer to the Holy Roman Empire’s eagle). Wallachia’s eagle also has the cross in its beak – and exactly what that cross is is a whole separate conversation. I’ve gone off the depiction in the larger eagle, but it also shows up as a simple passion cross, a cross paté, etc. It’s described in some places as an “Orthodox cross,” but that phrasing doesn’t have any real heraldic meaning, and should not be confused with the double-barred cross patriarchal of the Russian Orthodox church. The eagle, cross, sun, and moon have been consistent Wallachian symbology since at least the Middle Ages. As one of the two principalities in the United Principalities that later became Romania in 1866, I suppose it’s only fair that Wallachia get double representation, though I suspect the Roman associations are really why it’s the larger background charge.

In the next quarter of the smaller escutcheon are the arms of Moldova (or, formerly, Moldavia), which have also remained pretty much exactly the same since it was a voivodeship. It looks like a bull’s head, and I was perfectly ready to blazon it as a bull’s head, but all the sources I found were very insistent about calling it an aurochs instead. The aurochs and the star have their own little legend, which holds that Dragoș, the first voivode of Moldavia, chased a bull marked with a star from his native Maramureș all the way to a river, where he killed it with the help of his hunting dog, Molda. Molda’s accomplishment resulted in both the river and later the principality receiving her name.

Banat and Oltenia appear to come as a unit, and certainly their symbols are very similar; Banat just used a lion, while Oltenia’s lion bore a sabre and appeared over Trajan’s Bridge. I guess it makes sense to combine those two, and I really like Oltenia’s arms, but I do feel a bit bad for Banat. I also just want to mention Dobruja, briefly, before we get into Transylvania; I don’t think there’s any deeper meaning behind the dolphins besides “this part’s next to the sea.”

Okay, Transylvania! Which I have covered on this blog before, but not in detail. They were granted in 1765 by the Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa. The towers, sun, and moon are all pretty straightforward; the towers represent the ethnic Saxons, and the sun and moon, ancient grave symbols, represent the Székelys. The eagle is less clear; there are a number of very, very old coats, seals, and symbols that are connected to Transylvania and feature an eagle, but it’s unclear whether these were truly heraldic. It could be a version of the Polish eagle, or it could be intended to represent the Hungarian ethnic group.

The Romanian quarters were first established in 1866, though some were swapped out for others as their territorial dominion changed. In 1948, the Soviet Union did in fact grant Romania its own emblem, and it was so terrible that the symbol of resistance to communism was the USSR Romanian flag with the emblem literally cut out. (Yes, I know there are probably many more reasons that “empty flag” was adopted besides the visual nails-on-a-chalkboard of Soviet heraldry, but I like to think that was part of it.) The overall arms were adopted in almost their present form after the fall of communism in 1992, and the steel crown was added in 2016.

Arms of Liguria, Italy

Liguria

Granted 1985

Blazon: Tierced per pale vert, gules, and azure, in the fess point a caravel silver*, on a sail argent a cross of the second between four molets of six points of the fourth

I know, I know, technically it’s a flag, but Liguria doesn’t technically have arms. They have an emblem, which is the stylized caravel in the center, without any field. (The octagon was pushing it; I don’t think I can justifiably call something without a field a coat of arms.) That being said, it’s not a bad choice; much of Liguria has a long maritime history, especially the Republic of Genoa (i.e. the birthplace of Christopher Columbus). The cross on the sail is drawn from the Genoese flag, and the four stars represent the four component provinces of the region. And yes, the colors are also symbolic – green for the mountains, blue for the sea, and red for the blood spilled in the Italian Resistance.

*While “argent” and “silver” are usually synonymous, this blazon specifically differentiates between them.

Arms of Lazio, Italy

Lazio

Granted 1984

Blazon: On an octagon vert charged with another argent, thereon another gules, a saltire party of five; in the center point per pale gules and azure an eagle displayed with wings inverted and crowned argent (Rome); in the dexter chief azure a lion rampant or holding a dagger azure, in chief two branches of oak and laurel ensigned by a circlet, in base two cornucopias conjoined in base, all proper (Frosinone); in the sinister chief, azure on a bend vert fimbriated or between in chief a tower on a mount in base proper and in base an anchor, three ears of wheat of the last (Latina); in the dexter base, gules between two bendlets or the letters SPQS, between each three annulets intertwined, all sable (Rieti); in the sinister base, per fess azure a lion passant guardant or on a base proper and gules a cross argent (Viterbo)

This is…. I don’t… okay. Okay, fine. I don’t have a good explanation for the octagon, or the arrangement of the arms in saltire, but okay. The eighties were a weird time, I guess. The thing is, the actual component coats are all pretty reasonable on their own, and it’s not uncommon for regional arms to incorporate the arms of their component cities/provinces/regions. (I plan on delving further into the individual provincial arms once we get to those provinces.) The arrangement here is just… something else. I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything like it before.

Labels of the Royal Family

From Encyclopedia of Heraldry by John Burke and John Bernard Burke (1844)

The label is a very common mark of cadency, often used in English heraldry. Most of the time, it signifies the arms of a first son while his father is alive; once the father dies and the first son inherits, the label is removed from the arms and the son bears them undifferenced. The label then passes to the first son of the first son, and so on. However, because there are always exceptions for the royal family, anyone who bears the royal arms of the United Kingdom who isn’t the current sovereign always gets a label – typically argent, typically of three points. Anyone who isn’t the heir to the throne will have something put on their label to signify that they’re not the heir, just in the line of succession. Below) are the labels of some of the royal family in 1842.

Victoria Adelaide Mary Louisa

Princess Victoria Adelaide Mary Louisa, daughter of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, later German Empress and Queen of Prussia : a label argent charged with a rose between two crosses gules

Ernest Augustus

Ernest Augustus, King of Hanover and Duke of Cumberland, fifth son of George III (i.e. Victoria’s uncle) (1771-1851): a label argent charged with a fleur-de-lis azure between two crosses gules

Augustus Frederick

Prince Augustus Frederick, Duke of Sussex, sixth son of George III: a label argent charged with two hearts in pale between as many crosses gules

Mary of Gloucester

Princess Mary, Duchess of Gloucester and Edinburgh, fourth daughter of George III (1776-1857): a label argent charged with a rose between two cantons gules

Princess Sophia

Princess Sophia, fifth daughter of George III (1777-1848): a label argent charged with a heart between two roses gules

Sophia Matilda of Gloucester

Princess Sophia Matilda of Gloucester, first daughter of Prince William Henry (i.e. Victoria’s cousin) (1773-1844): a label of five points argent charged with a fleur-de-lis azure between four crosses gules

Armenian Independence Day

In honor of the twenty-eighth anniversary of Armenia’s independence from the Soviet Union, I figured we’d take a look at their highly symbolic coat of arms:

Armenia

There’s a lot going on here, so let’s go bit by bit, in roughly chronological order.

First of all, in the escutcheon, there’s a depiction of Mount Ararat with Noah’s Ark. Though this was possibly a mistranslation, tradition holds that the Ark came to rest on Mount Ararat, which is also Armenia’s national symbol. In one shape or another, Mount Ararat has featured on Armenian arms and seals consistently since 1918. Even the Soviets kept the iconography, which ought to say something about its deep national importance.

We venture from myth into (distant) history with the Artaxiad dynasty, symbolized by the dexter base quarter. The Artaxids ruled from 189 BCE through 20 BCE, when Armenia became a Roman protectorate. The last Artaxid client king was overthrown in 12 CE. The two eagles and the eight-pointed star is a fairly well-established emblem of this dynasty – somewhat surprisingly, given its antiquity. From the examples here, it’s pretty clearly a star; I’m not sure how it ended up as an octofoil on the arms, which is typically a more floral shape. (I will say that the artists who designed the arms seem to have played around with the tinctures of the fields; the author in the linked article makes a pretty good argument that the ground for the Artaxiads should have been gules instead of azure, and a prior version of the arms had the same charges, but with the opposite tincture for the field.)

Moving on to the sinister chief quarter, we see the very common symbol of the double-headed eagle. This is apparently intended to represent the Arsacid dynasty, who ruled from 52 to 428 CE, and included the first Christian ruler of Armenia. I’m a little skeptical of the attribution of the double-headed eagle to the Arsacids for a couple of reasons: first, proof of what kind of symbols they used (if any) is thin on the ground, and second, the double-headed eagle is so, so commonly affiliated with the Roman (and later Byzantine) Empire that it’s hard for me to believe that association didn’t have any influence on this choice of charge. I am willing to believe that the Arsacids got it from the Romans, and passed it on here, but they were originally Parthian, so I’m not sure how well that holds up.

The dexter chief quarter, the lion and cross, was the symbol of the Bagratuni dynasty. They came to power in 861, when Ashot I was recognized as Prince of Princes by the Baghdad caliphate, and hung on until 1045, when the Byzantine Empire seized control of Armenia. The Bagratid princes evidently used the same device, though it was (possibly) argent on gules. Presumably, the tincture of the charge was sensibly updated to match the other three charges.

Lastly, the sinister base quarter holds the crowned lion and cross-tipped staff of the Rubenid dynasty, who did not actually rule Armenia. Instead, they established an Armenian state in Cilicia (called the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia), which they ruled from 1080 to 1375, when the Mamluks conquered the state. The Rubenid arms were or a lion rampant gules armed, langued, and crowned argent; if I had to speculate, the staff may have come from the kingdom’s allyship with the other Crusader states. The Rubenids also claimed descent from the Bagratunis, though this would be very difficult to prove.

I know this is long, but I can’t not talk, albeit briefly, about the elements surrounding the shield. The supporters, the eagle of the Artaxiads and the lion of the Bagratunis, mirror the charges on the shield. The elements of the compartment were all chosen for specific symbolic reasons, which I think are worth going through. The sword in pale is for power and strength; the broken chain, the struggle for national freedom; the wheat, hard work and industry; the feather, culture and intellectual heritage; and the ribbon, the Armenian flag, whose colors are represented in the arms. (Hence, I suspect, the unusual use of orange in the arms.)