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!


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.

Many other ensigns also are allowed to a king, for the setting forth of his majesty, and to the declaration of his function, as, a Mound or ball of gold, with the cross upon it [orb], to signify, that the religion and faith of Christ ought to be reverenced throughout all his dominions. The scepter also in the one hand signefieth Justice, and the sword in the other teacheth vengeance.

– From The Blazon of Gentrie by Sir John Ferne (1586), p144

From The Blazon of Gentrie by Sir John Ferne, p154

On the left: legendary* arms attributed to “Osyris alias Jupiter King of Egypt”: azure a royal sceptre palewise ensigned with an eye or.

On the right: legendary arms attributed to “Hercules, King of Lybia”: gules a lion rampant holding in his paws a battle-axe or

*In the sixteenth century, it was very popular to attribute arms to figures from history, myth, or legend, a trend that was certainly popularized by Sir John Ferne. It is not entirely clear whether these figures actually existed, or bore arms if they did.

Arms of Akos Barcsay


Prince of Transylvania 1658-1660 (1619-1661)

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 sceptre or bendwise surmounted by a dexter arm armored and bearing a sword argent, hilted and issuant from a crown of the second (Barcsay)

Arms of Romania 1921-1947


Blazon: Azure an eagle displayed holding in its beak a cross pate fitchy or, armed and langued gules, crowned argent, in the dexter claw a sword of the fourth hilted of the second, in the sinister a sceptre of the last, charged on the breast with an escutcheon per quarterly I azure an eagle displayed holding in its beak a cross pate fitchy or, armed and langued gules, between a sun and a crescent increscent in chief of the second (Wallachia); II gules a bull’s head caboshed, in chief a molet of five points, in base dexter a sun, and in base sinister a crescent increscent, all or (Moldova); III gules a demi-lion issuant from a bridge or above water in
base proper (Banat); IV per fess gules 1 azure a demi-eagle issuant from the partition sable, armed or, langued gules, between a sun of the third and a crescent decrescent argent and 2 or seven towers 4 and 3 (Transylvania); pointe azure two dolphins embowed, addorsed, and reversed or (Dobruja); overall in the fess point an escutcheon per quarterly argent and sable (Hohenzollern)