Heraldry - what is it? Definition and significance of science

Heraldry is a science that studies and defines the meaning of various symbols on the generic and military emblems. In medieval Europe, signs on shields and armor played a huge role. On the battlefields, one could distinguish his army from the forces of the enemy using simple patterns. Over time, more complex drawings, meaning valor, heroic deeds, important events in the history of the whole clan, and distinctive features of the clan began to appear on the emblems and banners. In Western Europe, the writing of a person’s pedigree does not go without studying generic symbols, because heraldry is also a painterly shorthand of several generations. In the modern world, symbols of heraldry are found on the emblems of universities, military banners, state and corporate emblems. Despite significant differences in the emblems of different countries, many elements have a common origin.

Etymological meaning of heraldry

To understand how this science originated, you should turn to linguistics. It is not possible to define precisely what “heraldry” means as a term. However, most scholars suggest that the word comes from the Anglo-Saxon "here" ("army") and "ward" ("force" or "influence"). Heraldic symbols appeared in the era of chivalry and the Crusades. It is known that during tournaments, knights decorated armor with fur, feathers, distinctive gold and silver emblems, etc. In closed armor, these symbols distinguished them from their opponents. During the period of the Crusades (XI-XV centuries), signs on ammunition, consisting of simple figures, helped to distinguish soldiers of different clans in the crowd. Considering that the army was multinational, there was a language barrier, such a system made it possible to avoid strategic mistakes.

Heraldry Development

In Western Europe, in the second half of the 11th century, special people appeared - heralds or heralds. Their main tasks were to entertain guests, praise the gentlemen and announce knights in tournaments. They had to be able to quickly identify their tribal affiliation by the patterns and symbols on the shields and banners of warriors. Since the insignia was inherited, with the development of heraldry, their importance increased.Heralds became a kind of guardians of genealogy knowledge.

Evolution of the ammunition of medieval knights.

In the Middle Ages, when the majority of the population of Europe was illiterate, the main characteristic of heraldry was the simplicity of signs and symbols. In peace periods, when coats of arms became part of civilian life, the design of symbols evolved, acquired a complex esoteric meaning, contrary to the original goals. Later, with the strengthening of the monarchy (XVII-XVIII centuries), the kings secured the exclusive right to donate the emblem and issue a special diploma. By this period, heraldry is a symbol of power and statehood. Coats of arms appeared near settlements, clergymen, guilds of craftsmen, etc.

Elements of the coat of arms

Components of the coat of arms.

The components of the emblem will help to better understand the subject of study and the role of heraldry, symbols and their meanings:

  1. A shield, also known as a patch, is the main and most recognizable component of a coat of arms, often used on its own.
  2. Helmet - the presence and configuration of its designate the rank of a war or a squire.
  3. Crest - decoration above the helmet in the form of a feather, a mythical animal or weapon.
  4. Basting or mantle - falling fabric on both sides of the coat of arms.
  5. The motto is a capacious phrase or proverb. Usually depicted above the shield, for example, in Scottish heraldry.
  6. The crown or tiara in the coat of arms defined a noble title.
  7. The patron saint was often depicted as an animal, bird or magical creature, was not present in all the coats of arms and was considered a sign of special luck.

These elements in various variations are most often found in European heraldry. Symbols and colors were put on the coat of arms in accordance with the strict rules of the heraldic language.

Types of coats of arms

The image of the emblem may not contain all the constituent elements. Sometimes only a shield is used in the picture. Since the emblem, like the title, was inherited, the symbolism of the sons was supplemented with special marks. The so-called blizzards indicated the younger branches of the genealogy and were T-shaped gates for the older child, a star for the second son, a crescent for the third, etc. The coat of arms of illegitimate children depicted a special rim or inclined bar. The design of the coat of arms of the daughter was repeated by his father, but had a diamond shape. For married noble persons, the coat of arms was divided vertically into two halves. One repeated the symbols of her husband, the other - her family.

Heraldic colors

The figures on the first coat of arms were simple, made in bright colors and well distinguishable from a distance. In the Middle Ages, black, red, blue, white, green, and yellow dyes (enamels or tinctures) were used, and later a purple color appeared. With the development of heraldry, enamels of white and gold color were replaced with silver and gold metal.

Heraldic colors, metals and furs.

Due to the limited selection of colors on the classical emblems, golden lions, black deer, etc. are often found. However, in the British and Scottish heraldry coats of arms became very different from the rest. The fact is that in 1600 their color palette expanded due to the introduction of “natural” colors: orange, pink, purple, gray, purple, brown, etc. In addition to colors and metals, coats of arms adorn fur: stylized patterns, most often under squirrel or ermine fur. The pattern of ermine fur resembles black arrows, spread out in a checkerboard pattern on a white or yellow background. Squirrel fur - repeating pattern in the form of a helmet, blue or red, on a white or yellow background.


The heraldic shield changed its shape depending on the military shield used in battles.Thus, the first shields, which protected from arrows and spears, resembled an elongated triangle with rounded edges and covered almost the entire body of a warrior.

Different forms of shields.

In the Crusades, when the cavalry became the main force, the knights needed smaller shields to protect themselves from side attacks. The shield has acquired the typical "English" form. There are a total of 10 types of shield shapes. Some of them repeat real-life, others (for example, “German”) are invented by artists.

Shield division

The shield can be cut by lines of different colors into 2 or more parts. Straight or curly stripes originate at a certain point, the final pattern is proportional and symmetrical. Horizontal and vertical segments are equidistant from the edges, and diagonal - from the corners of the shield.

Types of section in heraldry.

The most common ways of dividing are: dissection (vertical section), intersection (horizontal section), skoshenie right or left (diagonal section). They are called simple, because divide the shield into two parts. In addition to them, there are many composite divisions of different forms. When reading a coat of arms, the rule is used, according to which all elements located on the left side in relation to the viewer are on the right side in relation to the one who holds the shield.Accordingly, the left side of the shield in the heraldic language will be the right. Item descriptions start from the top right corner.

The image of animals on the arms

Any animal, mythical or real, could be placed on the coat of arms. The animals were depicted schematically, without exact following anatomy, and symbolized certain qualities.

British coat of arms with a lion and a unicorn.

The most popular creatures in heraldry are:

  • Leo or Leopard. Personified courage, bravery, aggressiveness.
  • The eagle was considered a god or companion of the gods. It was a symbol of power and authority, therefore it was often present on the arms of kings and emperors.
  • The two-headed eagle is a mythical creature that has become a symbol of the unification of the Eastern and Western Roman empires. At the time of Byzantium appeared in the territorial and family emblems of the rulers-descendants.
  • Unicorn portrayed in different ways. In ancient Indian texts it was a bull with one horn. Later, in the XIV-XV centuries, in Europe he was represented as a creature with the body of a horse, hooves and a goat's beard, and a long twisted horn. This image appeared on the coat of arms of King James I (1566-1625 gg.). The unicorn was a symbol of loyalty and chastity.
  • The phoenix is ​​a magical bird with gold or red feathers, capable of regenerating from a flame. In European Christianity - the symbol of the resurrection.
  • Griffin, an ancient creature with large wings and the body of a lion. His first image was found in Iran. He was considered the keeper of wealth, combined the ferocity of a predator and the speed of a bird.
  • Harpy - the creation of ancient Greek legends, a woman with wings and limbs of a vulture. In heraldry, the symbol meant ferocity or depravity.
  • Sea animals were used on the emblems of port cities. The drawings were extremely conditional. In fact, the sea tail was added to any land animal or person.

Russian heraldry

Slavic tribes were separated from Western European civilizations. Heraldry appeared on this territory much later and was a borrowed phenomenon. The first symbols of power can be considered as bipers and tridents, found on coins and seals of the X-XI centuries. representatives of the dynasty of Rurik. With the advent of Christianity, the grand dukes began to copy the Byzantine heraldic symbols, as well as to put on print images of saints - patrons of the family.

Seal of Prince Vsevolod Mstislavich.

In the second half of the seventeenth century, the establishment of cultural ties between the Russian and Polish nobility led to the emergence of the first emblems. Systematization and installation of the general rules of heraldic design took place under Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich (1629-1679), who invited Roman Heroldmeister Lavrentiy Kurelich to compile a manuscript of all the great princes, their relationship to European dynasties and the description of coats of arms. Later, Peter I created Gerold - a special department that was responsible, among other things, for the registration and approval of noble coats of arms. The compilation of the full Armorial of the Russian nobility began under Paul I, and by 1917 the document contained a description of more than 4,500 generic emblems.

Heraldry is an important part of history and culture. According to the elements of the coat of arms, it is easy to determine the class belonging and history of the genus. Some coats of arms of kings, princes and noble nobles were transformed into state or city.

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