Controversial arms: Moors in heraldry

San Millán de la Cogolla, La Rioja

San Millán de la Cogolla, La Rioja

Alozaina, Málaga

Alozaina, Málaga

Continuing in the series of “Controversial arms”, in this entry we’ll look at the various arms created over the years depicting Moors or disembodied Moor heads.

Once again, let’s look at the history of the subject first. The name “Moor” was used to identify those of north African descent and also covered Arabs. It used to apply to primarily Muslims of Berber, Arab and also Iberian descent. However, over the years it has become a synonym to black Africans and that is how the term “Moor” is blazoned. It may be due to the relation of the Spanish word for Moor being “Moro” and the Spanish word for a black person being “moreno”; both words having as it’s root the Greek word for black “μαύρο”.

The Moors, as it is well known, occupied the Iberian peninsula from the 8th through the 15th centuries and left behind innumerable works of spectacular art. Perhaps their most famous legacy in Spain are the Alhambra palace in Granada and the Great Mosque of Cordoba.

However, their legacy also has left a number of wars with their Christian neighbors in Europe and in particular the Spanish. Perhaps the most known series of wars between Christians and Moors was what is called the “Reconquista”, where the Christian Spaniards reclaimed the peninsula from the Muslims. During these centuries of warfare, it was common for the Christian nobles to flaunt their victories on their coats of arms. This is why we see so many shields with the heads of nameless Moors in Europe.

Aragon, Spain

On a more pacifist side, depictions of Moors many times have deeply religious meanings and their blazoning is used to represent that. Perhaps the most famous coat of arms today depicting a Moor’s head is that of His Holiness the Pope Benedict XVI. His arms as Pope use some of the same charges as those arms he used when he was Archibishop of Munich & Freising and the Moor on this sheild is the “Freising Moor”. Though it is not certain who exactly it’s supposed to be, it is believed it is one of the following: Balthazar, St. Maurice, St. Zeno, St. Sigismund or St. Crobinian; all of which were (or thought to have been) Moors.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.