Arms of Mössingen, Germany

Mössingen

Granted 1952

Blazon: Sable a bend sinister wavy between in chief three escutcheons argent, the first charged with as many antlers fesswise in pale of the field, the second per quarterly of the second and the first, and the third charged with an eagle displayed of the field, and in base a fountain of the second

I really like this one! It’s maybe a little heavy on the representative elements (not everything has to stand for something), but the triple shields in the dexter chief are a nice touch. They symbolize a local mountain, the Dreifürstenstein, which touches the borders of Württemberg , Hohenzollern, and Fürstenberg – i.e. the three territories whose arms are shown here. I think it’s a clever and visually succinct way to convey that. Aside from that, the bend sinister represents the Steinlach river, which flows through the town, and the fountain stands for the local sulfur springs.

Arms of Lot-et-Garonne, France

Lot-et-Garonne

Granted 2003

Blazon: Per quarterly I gules in the dexter an eagle rising, wings addorsed and inverted, bearing in the talons a banner argent with the motto “Agen” sable, in the sinister a castle triple-towered, each tower flying a pennon or (Agen); II gules four towers conjoined at the base in cross by a cross paté argent, on a chief azure three fleurs-de-lis or (Marmande); III azure a sun in splendor or (Nérac); IV azure over water in base a bridge of five arches supporting three towers argent (Villeneuve-sur-Lot)

The four quarters each correspond to an important city in the region. I’ll probably cover each city in more detail when the time comes, but for now, four brief overviews: I don’t have a good explanation for the quarter of Agen, but it seems the eagle and castle were used since the mid-thirteenth century, when the city was granted a fair amount of self-rule and privileges. Marmande is a fortified town originally built by Richard I of England; the towers represent the four gates of the city, and the chief of France was granted by Charles VI in 1414. I’m not sure why Nérac has a sun, but Villeneuve-sur-Lot has used the depiction of its local bridge since 1547.

Arms of Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy

Trentino-Alto Adige

Granted 1972

Blazon: Argent per quarterly I and IV an eagle displayed sable armed or enflamed gules, II and III an eagle displayed gules armed or

The eagle in the first and third quarters is one we’ve touched on before – the flaming eagle of the Přemyslid dynasty. The eagle also became known as a symbol of St. Wenceslaus (since he was also a member of the dynasty). The Přemyslids died out in 1306, and in 1339, the king of Bohemia permitted the prince-bishopric of Trent to use their arms. This later evolved into the province of Trentino, which was incorporated into the region. Similarly, the red eagle has been the symbol of the region of Tyrol since 1205. Tyrol is currently split between North Tyrol and South Tyrol; the latter forms the province of Bolzano – Alto Adige, which is the other part of the region.

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.

Albanian Flag Day

Albania

Blazon: Gules within a bordure or a double-headed eagle displayed sable, in chief the helmet of Skanderberg of the second 

Happy Albanian Flag Day! The Albanian arms are, unsurprisingly, all about Skanderberg – that is, Gjergj Kastrioti, who led a massive regional rebellion against the Ottoman Empire that only ended with his death in 1468. “Skanderberg” is a corruption of “Iskender bey,” Arabic for “Lord Alexander,” a comparison with Alexander the Great, which Gjergj obviously adopted immediately, and I can’t really blame him for that. Albania didn’t achieve independence until today’s date in 1912, but by then, Skanderberg had achieved near-mythic status. (His sword had magic powers! He could kill a wild boar with a single blow! Etc.) This is very much the stuff of which national symbols are made.

The eagle is also closely associated with the Kastrioti coat of arms. They bore or (sometimes gules or argent) a double-headed eagle sable, pointe in chief azure an estoile (sometimes molet of six points) or. It’s not entirely clear to me whether their arms predated Skanderberg, or were extrapolated backwards after lifetime, but he definitely used the black double-headed eagle. It was very possibly a nod to the Byzantine Empire – given their long-standing animosity with the Ottoman Empire, and the historical cachet of the Roman legacy, I understand the appeal of positioning yourself as part of that legacy, especially if your goal is to defeat the Ottomans.

The other significant element of the arms is the helmet, which has a wealth of symbology all its own. (It’s a unique shape, which is why I specified “helmet of Skanderberg” in the blazon, rather than just “helmet.”) It’s crowned with the head of a horned goat – the double horns being another alleged connection between Skanderberg and Alexander the Great, besides the former’s name. The strip around the base is probably younger than the rest of the helmet, since it refers to Skanderberg as “King of Albania,” a title he never claimed.

The Albanian arms do technically violate the law of tincture by having sable on gules, but the legalistic nuances of heraldry tend to be much more important in Western than in Eastern Europe – and by the time the national arms were formally adopted in 2002, nobody really cared that much.

Polish National Independence Day

Poland

November 11th, 1918 marked the establishment of Poland as a sovereign state after World War II, when Józef Piłsudski became the Chief of State. After 123 years of being partitioned, conquered, and variously divided up, Poland was finally back on the map!

It seems like the white Polish eagle does not derive from the aquila of the Roman Empire or the black eagle of the later Holy Roman Empire. Instead, it appears to have derived from the Piast dynasty, going back to the turn of the second millennium. That is extremely early for any heraldic figure, but there are Piast coins that are about a thousand years old that show an eagle. I suppose it’s remotely possible that the Piasts adopted the symbol from Charlemagne and his succeeding Holy Roman Emperors, but there’s no solid evidence for that. They seem to have been ethnically Slavic and mostly settled around Gniezno, so it’s unclear whether they would have encountered the Franks.

Like any good ancient coat of arms, Poland’s has a historically dubious legend associated with it. The legend holds that Lech, one of three brothers, found a white eagle’s nest while out hunting. The bird reared up to defend its nest, the light from the sunset behind it. Lech was so struck by the sight he decided to found a town near the site and use the white eagle for his emblem. (In Polish, gniazdo means “nest” and is the source of the name Gniezno.)

The white eagle has persisted through the centuries without many changes at all. Even the Soviets didn’t manage to ruin a perfectly good coat of arms for once; the biggest change they made was removing the crown. Even that was replaced when the Communist government fell in 1989, though, and the present arms were readopted in 1990.

Austrian National Day

Austria

Happy Austrian National Day! It doesn’t get much simpler than the Austrian arms, and it’s probably not a surprise that they’re very old. The fess was first depicted in 1105 as the arms of Leopold III of Austria, of the Babenberg dynasty. The earliest proof of tincture is about a century later (due to the inherent limitations of seals, which is where most of the early depictions of arms come from): Frederick II of Austria, great-great-grandson of Leopold III, evidently wore the red and white in 1232.

“But,” I can hear you asking, “is there a highly romantic, implausible, and anachronistic legend linking these arms to the Crusades?” Of course there is! The story goes that Leopold V (grandson of Leopold III, grandfather of Frederick II) fought so hard at the Siege of Acre that his white tunic was stained completely red with blood. When he took his belt off, it left a vivid white stripe, and apparently he liked it so much he made it his arms. (I don’t know.)

The probably-not-a-bloody-tunic remained the arms of Austria until they were formally adopted in 1919 by the First Republic of Austria, with the Germanic black eagle as a single supporter. The eagle also bore a hammer (for industrial workers), a sickle (for farmers), and was crowned with a mural crown (for the bourgeoise). In 1934, the fascist Federal State of Austria changed the single-headed eagle to the double-headed one, probably to strengthen the visual ties to Germany. They also removed the accoutrements. However, when the Second Republic was reestablished in 1945, they promptly went right back to the 1919 arms, with one addition: a broken chain, to symbolize the nation’s liberation from Nazism.

One other thing – although the famous and infamous Habsburgs ruled Austria for a very long time, the Austrian arms are not the Habsburg arms. For as many arms as they eventually picked up and incorporated into truly terrifying assemblages, their house arms are fairly straightforward: or a lion rampant gules, crowned, armed, and langued azure.