Albanian Flag Day


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.

The Gentleman, Knight, Baron, and the like, do wear their helments with the beaver looking over the shoulder, to signify, that they, marching before their Duke or Captain (as at the first that dignity was but an office) do regard and look towards him to attend his pleasure and direction in what he will command.

– From The Blazon of Gentrie by Sir John Ferne (1586), p139

All [princes] do ensign their Chapeau and helm with a Crown of flowers and crosses. And they are enabled by observation of Armory, to wear the like helm and Chapeau,
that the Duke or King doth wear.

– From The Blazon of Gentrie by Sir John Ferne (1586), p138

Military objects used as heraldic charges

 From Inquiries into the Origin and Process of the Science of Heraldry in England by James Dallaway, p454

Left to right (click on the names for more examples of each charge):

The escarbuncle. While its origin is not certain, it is believed to have been a way of reinforcing wooden shields. It is probably best known as the badge of Henry II of England, taken from the ancient arms of the French region of Anjou.

The helmet, while most often seen as a component of complete achievements, does occasionally appear by itself as a charge.

The pheon was an ancient dart head. Although its shape and function are similar to the arrowhead, the pheon is barbed.

Arms of Michael I Apafi

Prince of Transylvania 1662-1690 (1632-1690)

Blazon: Per pale I per fess argent and azure, a demi-eagle displayed issuant from the partition line sable, armed or, langued gules, II or seven towers gules 3, 3, and 1; on a chief azure in dexter a sun or and in sinister a crescent increscent argent; overall in the fess point an escutcheon azure a vine palewise proper surmounted by a sword bendwise sinister argent, hilted or, overall a helmet of the second within a bordure of the third (Apafi)