Finnish Independence Day

Happy Finnish Independence Day! On this day in 1917, the Grand Duchy of Finland declared itself an independent republic rather than a component of the Russian lands. (Technically, according to the Finnish legal scholars, they became independent by default when Grand Duke Nicholas II abdicated on March 2nd, since Finland and Russia were only ever held in personal union and not politically unified, but the Russians did not agree with this interpretation.) The whole process of independence took somewhat longer, what with the turbulent political environment within Russia, but everything has to start somewhere!

Finland

Blazon: Gules semé of nine roses argent a lion rampant crowned or, trampling on a saber proper, the dexter foreleg in the form of an arm embowed and armored of the second garnished of the third, bearing aloft a sword also proper

While the current arms were formally adopted in 1978, their general configuration dates to about 1580. The lion is the oldest element of the arms. It was drawn from the arms of the House of Folkunga, also known as the House of Bjelbo, who produced several Nordic rulers and power brokers, including Valdemar of Sweden. The lion was first documented in Sweden around early 13th century, but they were fairly standard lions – sometimes rampant, sometimes passant guardant, and sometimes crowned, but not bearing any weapons. It’s also probably worth noting that the very wide open mouth of the present-day arms doesn’t have any firm historical basis and is not reflected in the blazon; it seems to have been a design choice that was, for some reason, preserved throughout the centuries. It’s… certainly unique.

 

Based on the magnificent tomb of King Gustav Vasta, it looks like the double swords were incorporated into the Finnish arms in the late 1500s, possibly from the arms of Karelia. It looks very much like someone grafted the dexter arm (armor and all) onto the lion in lieu of a right forepaw, and put the sabre from the sinister arm underfoot. I quite like this; it’s an innovative and creative way of combining the two coats.

 

The sword in base has had a pretty consistent visual identity through the years, but curiously, the language of the blazon has changed somewhat. The earliest known blazon of the Finnish arms specifies that the lion is standing on a Russian saber (rysseabel). While I don’t have any proof, it doesn’t seem like a stretch that the specification held some kind of political meaning. If it didn’t at first, it certainly did in later centuries; this specification was, for some reason, dropped from the blazon in 1809 (when Russia took over Finland). They didn’t even call it a sabre; it’s a “curved sword.” Currently, though, the blazon just specifies a “saber.”

 

The roses don’t seem to have any particular meaning, and there doesn’t appear to be any especial reason to have nine of them. However, it does sound like historians have had fun making up possible origins – the nine historical provinces of Finland! The nine major towns in the Grand Duchy of Finland! (Please do note that none of these theories have any support.)

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 Dürnkrut, Austria

Durnkrut

Granted 1967

Blazon: Azure two swords in saltire or, overall in the fess point an escutcheon gules a fess argent

I can’t really talk about anything to do with this town without mentioning the Battle on the Marchfeld, which was a turning point in the history of the Habsburg family, and therefore, of Europe as a whole. In 1278, Rudolph I of Habsburg defeated Ottokar II of Bohemia, establishing the former’s control over Austria and much of central Europe. They would remain one of the premier ruling families of Europe (sometimes the ruling family of Europe) for several centuries.

Weirdly, I can’t find much on the town’s arms. A scroll through the municipal timeline is worthwhile and interesting – note the Scottish lord who bought the town in 1696 – but not particularly informative from a heraldic perspective. It’s possible the swords are intended to be a reference to the Battle on the Marchfeld, but… I’m probably letting my imagination run away with me there.

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.)

Arms of Diersbach, Austria

Diersbach

Granted 1984

Blazon: Gules on a fess in chief wavy argent a sword in fess, point to the sinister proper, hilted of the field; on a mount in base rayonné or a serpent glissant reguardant sable crowned of the first

The fess wavy is a canting reference to the “Bach” part of the name (meaning river or stream), and the sword is the symbol of St. Martin, the village’s patron saint. The snake is a reference to a local legend of a treasure hidden in the nearby castle Waldeck and guarded by crowned serpents.

Arms of Pedro Muñoz, Spain

Pedro Munoz

In use since at least 1984

Blazon: Per quarterly I sable a cross of Santiago gules, II vert a castle triple-towered argent, windowed sable, III gules a crown or, IV azure two clasped hands, in chief a baton and sword in saltire argent

The base two quarters are both references to the previous arms, which incorporated both the crown of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and the sword and baton as symbols of civil and military authority.

Arms of the borough of Hounslow, London, England

Hounslow

Granted 1964

Blazon: Per fess azure and gules on a fess wavy between two wings conjoined in base argent surmounted by a sword erect or, in base a lion rampant guardant per fess of the fourth and third, a barrulet wavy of the first

Crest: On a wreath of the colors upon ferns proper a tablot passant sable supporting over the shoulder a post horn or

Supporters: Two griffins or gorged with collars gemel wavy azure charged on the wings with as many seaxes

Mantling: Azure lined argent

Motto: Juncti progrediamur (Let us go forward together)

The wings and sword represent London Airport and the aircraft industry. The lion is from the arms of Hounslow Priory. The fess and barrulet(s) are from the  Borough of Brentford and Chiswick, representing the rivers Brent and Thames

The blazon specifies one barrulet, but this depiction shows two. Either the number of the barrulets or the descriptor is off; it could be a barrulet gemel, which would be indicated by the collars on the supporters.