coat of arms

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Related to Armorial bearings: heraldry, shield of arms

arms, coat of

arms, coat of: see blazonry; heraldry.

coat of arms

coat of arms: see blazonry and heraldry.
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Coat of arms

A tablet containing a representation of a heraldic symbol.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Coat of Arms


an emblem, inherited distinguishing sign, or combination of figures and objects to which is ascribed a symbolic meaning that expresses the owner’s historical tradition.

Coats of arms can be classified into the following principal groups: state coats of arms, land coats of arms (cities, regions, provinces, and other territories within a state), corporate coats of arms (medieval guilds), and family coats of arms (aristocratic and bourgeois families). Coats of arms as specific historical sources are studied by the auxiliary discipline known as heraldry. Coats of arms are depicted on banners, seals, coins, and so forth; they are also placed as a sign of ownership on architectural constructions, domestic utensils, weapons, works of art, manuscripts, and books.

The most ancient prototypes of coats of arms were totemic depictions of animals as protectors of tribes or families in primitive society. The embryonic forms of coats of arms may be seen in the numerous symbolic representations that existed in the ancient world. The immediate predecessors of coats of arms were clan and family signs of property ownership (such as banners, boundaries, and markers among the Slavs and tamgi among the Turks and Mongols). The first coats of arms were emblems that were repeated on coins, medals, and seals of the ancient world. As early as the third millennium B.C. the Sumerian states already had a coat of arms—an eagle with a lion’s head. The serpent of Egypt, the eagle of Persia (which subsequently also became the Roman coat of arms), and the crowned lion of Armenia were also well-known coats of arms. Among the ancient Greek coats of arms there were the owl of Athens, the winged horse of Corinth, the rose of Rhodes, and the peacock of Samos. The coat of arms of Byzantium was a two-headed eagle, which was subsequently adopted by Russia. During the Middle Ages city coats of arms that are retained even now came into being—for example, the red lily of Florence, the winged lion of Venice, the boat of Paris, and the cross and sword of London. In the majority of Muslim countries, where religion prohibits the depiction of living creatures, motifs were utilized for coats of arms—for example, Samarkand’s coat of arms and Timur’s coat of arms (three rings). In Rus’ the coats of arms of many cities had ancient historical roots. The lion prince Vladimir’s coat of arms had been the coat of arms of the Vladimir princes since the 12th century. Novgorod’s coat of arms since the 15th century symbolized the veche (popular assembly) political structure—the veche rostrum with the posadnik’s (governor’s) staff of office on it. In the 16th century this republican emblem was replaced by a monarchical one; instead of a rostrum, a throne was depicted, and instead of the posadnik’s staff, a scepter. Pskov’s coat of arms, a lynx, was depicted as early as the 15th century on the city’s republican seals and coins. Moscow’s coat of arms, a horseman called the rider, has been known since the 14th century. Yaroslavl’s coat of arms—a bear rampant —and the coat of arms of Perm’—a bear on all fours—are connected with the ancient cult of the bear, which for many centuries was characteristic of these regions, as has been discovered by archaeology. Similarly, Nizhny Novgorod’s coat of arms, the elk, is linked to the ancient cult of the elk; in the 18th century the elk was replaced by the stag. Smolensk’s coat of arms—a cannon with a bird of paradise perched upon it—was minted as early as the 15th century on the prince’s coins of this city. Kazan’s coat of arms, a winged dragon, is linked to Tatar legends about the city being founded on a site that had been ruled by a dragon. Astrakhan’s coat of arms—a saber with a crown above it—is very similar in its outlines to Bukhara’s coat of arms (an arch with a floral arrangement above it). These coats of arms obviously originated in a common prototype; an Astrakhan dynasty ruled in Bukhara from the 17th century to the middle of the 18th. Viatka’s coat of arms, a bow and arrow, had its origin in connection with the ancient local respect for archery, which played a role for a very long time in Viatka even in church ritnals

Coats of arms for aristocratic families in Western Europe originated during the period of the Crusades (11th to 13th centuries) because of the necessity of distinguishing the exteriors of knights who were clad in armor. Coats of arms were created directly from the elements of a knight’s weaponry. Traces of this origin have been preserved in the terms used to designate coats of arms in German (Wappen), French (armes), and English. Initially a knight would arbitrarily choose the contents of the drawings on his shield. But as the use of emblems became more widespread, they became hereditary. The sources of individual aristocratic coats of arms were the emblems of ancient cities. Certain family coats of arms in turn became the coats of arms of feudal monarchies. When there was a change of dynasties, the state coats of arms frequently retained elements from the coats of arms of previously ruling dynasties. Family coats of arms of the bourgeoisie (without helmets or crests) began to appear at the turn of the 18th century in France, where for financial purposes sales of coats of arms were made to families of the nonaristocratic classes.

Family coats of arms originated on a different basis in Poland, where for a long time banners bearing family insignia existed, and neighboring landowners would gather around them in cases of imminent war. There was a fixed number of such banners, and each new person was assigned to an already existing one. These family insignia (to a considerable degree, common to all the Slavic peoples) were later subject to the rules of heraldry, which had penetrated from the West, and they became the coats of arms of the Polish aristocratic families.

In Russia the first aristocratic coats of arms appeared at the end of the 16th and beginning of the 17th century, but they became widespread only at the turn of the 18th century, after the abolition of the principle of local rule. During the reign of Peter I a coat of arms became a necessary possession of an aristocrat. The official codification of family coats of arms began with the compilation of the Universal Catalog of Coats of Arms at the end of the 18th century. The coats of arms of the older Russian families took the designs that were on the seals of the appanage princes and on the territorial and city banners of ancient Rus’. Coats of arms of families who considered their ancestors to be from abroad were adopted from Poland and other states. Coats of arms granted to those who were newly admitted to the aristocracy were composed of elements symbolizing their ranks and services. In pre-revolutionary Russia all provinces, oblasts, cities, city administrations, suburbs, and forts had their own coats of arms.

The Russian Empire’s coat of arms had its origin during the period when a centralized state was being formed and it consisted of two basic emblems: a horseman (the rider) piercing a dragon with his lance (from the end of the 14th century) and the two-headed eagle (from the end of the 15th century). These appeared on the seals of the grand princes of Moscow and the tsars. During the reign of Aleksei Mikhailovich (who ruled from 1645 to 1676) the state coat of arms was a two-headed eagle with raised wings under three crowns, with the Moscow coat of arms (the horseman) on its breast and holding a scepter and an orb in its claws. With the establishment of the Order of St. Andrew of Imperial Russia (1698), the shield with the horseman on it began to be surrounded with the chain of this order. During the reign of Catherine I (1725-27) the colors of the coat of arms were established—a black eagle against a yellow background, and the horseman on a red field. In 1730 the drawing of the coat of arms was confirmed, and the horseman was for the first time named St. George the Victor. In the second quarter of the 19th century the two-headed eagle began to be depicted with widely outstretched wings; in the right claws of the eagle there were lightning bolts and a torch, bound together by ribbons, and in its left claws there was a laurel wreath. By a decree of 1832 the coats of arms of the various kingdoms (Kazan, Astrakhan, Siberia, Poland, and Tavria), as well as the Grand Duchy of Finland, began to be placed on the wings of the eagle; later the number and arrangement of the kingdoms’ and principalities’ coats of arms were altered. In the middle of the 1860’s the horseman in the Moscow coat of arms began to be depicted according to heraldic rules—on the dexter side. In 1882 the Great Russian State Seal was confirmed, with a multiplicity of heraldic details but basically retaining the two-headed eagle with the Moscow coat of arms on its breast. After the February Revolution of 1917 the Provisional Government maintained the two-headed eagle as the state emblem, but it was depicted with decorated wings and without crowns, horseman, scepter, and orb. Placed under the eagle in a cartouche was a depiction of the Tauride Palace, in which the State Duma held its sessions.


Russian catalogs of coats of arms include the following:
Obshchii gerbovnik dvorianskikh rodov Vserossiiskoi imperii, vols. 1-10. St. Petersburg, 1798-1840.
Lukomskii, V. K., and S. P. Troinitskii. Ukazatel’ k Obshchemu gerbovniku (parts 1-18). St. Petersburg, 1910.
Lukomskii, V. K. Ukazatel’ k Obshchemu gerbovniku, parts 19-20. [Petrograd, 1914-17.]
Portrety, gerby i pechati Bol’shoi gosudarstvennoi knigi 1672. St. Petersburg, 1903.
Vinkler, P. P. von, comp. Gerby gorodov, gubernii, oblastei i posadov Rossiiskoi imperii, vnesennye v Polnoe Sobranie zakonov s 1649 po 1900. St. Petersburg, [1900].
Gerbovnik Anisima Titovicha Kniazeva. St. Petersburg, 1912.
Troinitskii, S. N., comp. Gerby leib-kompanii ober- i unter-ofitserov i riadovykh. [Petrograd, 1914.]
Lukomskii, V. K., and V. D. Modzalevskii. Malorossiiskii gerbovnik. Petrograd, 1914.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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