The image above is the current national emblem of the Republic of Greece designed by Kostas Grammatopoulos (Κώστας Γραμματόπουλος) and adopted on June 7, 1975 by Law 48 (ΦΕΚ Α’ 108/7.6.1975).
However, this isn’t the first emblem or arms of the landmass that today is Greece. In today’s post, we’ll try to go through the history of these symbols.
Let’s start with the earliest imperial emblem that can be considered as arms of the Byzantine Empire (though heraldry as we know it wouldn’t appear for a few more centuries), that of Michael I Rangabe/Rhangabe (Μιχαήλ Α΄ Ραγγαβέ). Michael reigned over the empire from 811 to 813. I would blazon these as Azure a cross fleury between the letters Ε, Ν, Τ, Ν Argent.
These arms are those of Emperor Romanus III Argyrus (Ρωμανός Γ΄ Αργυρός). Romanus III reigned from 1028 through 1034. The Arms of the Argyrus family is blazoned Or a cross between four stars Azure.
The next one we’ll examine are those of the Emperor Isaac I Comnenus (or Comneno) (Ισαάκιος Α΄ Κομνηνός). Isaac I was the first reigning member of the Comnenian dynasty and was emperor from 1057 through 1059. These arms are blazoned Or a double headed eagle displayed Sable. The Comnenian dynasty ruled from 1057-1059 and then again from 1081-1185.
These arms are extremely similar to the modern arms and are simply blazoned Azure a cross Argent. These belong to the Doukas/Ducas (Δούκας) family who produced a number of Byzantine emperors, the first of which was Constantine X Doukas (Κωνσταντίνος Ι’ Δούκας) reigning from 1059 through 1067. This dynasty ruled the empire from 1059-1081.
We are now moving to the Angelid dynasty whose first reigning emperor was Isaac II Angelos (Ισαάκιος Β’ Άγγελος) who reigned from 1185-1195. These arms are blazoned Gules four lozenges Or with an angel on each. The dynasty ruled from 1185-1204.
The next dynasty was the Laskarid and the first reigning emperor of the family was Constantine Laskaris (Κωνσταντίνος Λάσκαρης). Constantine was emperor from 1204-1205. The blazon of the arms of this family is Or a double headed eagle displayed Sable beaked Gules beneath an eastern crown Or. The family reigned from 1204-1261.
The final Imperial Byzantine dynasty was that of the Palaiologos/Paleologus (Παλαιολόγος). The first of the family to reign was Michael VII Palaiologos from 1259-1282. The arms of the dynasty were Gules a cross between four letters B Or. The letters B stand for Βασιλεύς Βασιλέων Βασιλέυων Βασιλευόντων (King of Kings Ruler of Rulers). This dynasty ends with the tragic demise of the emperor Constantine XI, last emperor of the Byzantine Empire on May 29, 1453. After his death, the lands of the empire went to the new Ottoman Empire.
Though the Ottoman Empire did not officially have a coat of arms, it did utilize those displayed above. The Ottomans ruled over the territories from the fall of Constantinople to Mehmed II Fath El-Istanbul in 1453 through 1923.
However in 1821, the Greeks declared their independence and started their successful revolution which culminated in the formal independence and recognition of the new state of Greece in 1832. The image above is that of the most popular banner used during the revolution and is linked to the Kolokotronis family whose most prominent member, Theodore, was a hero of the revolution.
The arms of the provisional government of Greece is displayed above and were in use from 1822-1828 and was adopted by the first Constitution of Epidaurus in 1822. It displays the goddess Athena and her owl.
In 1828, a new Republic of Greece is declared whose first governor was Ioannis Antonios Kapodistrias (Ιωάννης Αντώνιος Καποδίστριας). This new government adopted the emblem displayed above. The emblem has a phoenix rising from its ashes (a traditional theme in Greek mythology) above which is the cross (for the Christian faith of the state) and below the year 1821 (that of the declaration of independence of Greece) using Greek letters.
Also in 1828, the flag above was adopted as the national flag of the independent Greece. This flag was in use until 1978 until it changed to that used today.
In 1832, the new Greek state was internationally recognized and the Kingdom of Greece introduced. The very first King of Greece was Otto, second son of King Ludwig I of Bavaria, of the house of Wittelsbach. This king was chosen by the Great Powers (United Kingdom, France and the Russian Empire). The royal arms of King Otto of Greece are displayed above and are blazoned Azure a cross Argent with an inescutcheon of Bavaria.
Otto was deposed in 1862 and a new royal house was brought to Greece in 1863, that of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg (usually known with the shorter Glücksburg). The first to reign from this family was George I, King of the Hellenes. Note the difference in the title, this king was not “of Greece” but of “the Greeks”. The royal arms displayed above were used by this dynasty that reigned over Greece, with a couple of interruptions, until the plebiscite of December 13, 1974. The blazon of the arms is Azure a cross couped Argent an inescutcheon of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg. Beneath the arms is the Order of the Redeemer. The motto says “My strength is the love of the people”.
Above is the shield of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg that appears on the inescutcheon of the Royal Arms of the last Royal Family of Greece. The blazon is:
Quarterly per a cross patee Argent fimbriated Gules, first quarter Or, three lions passant in pale Azure crowned and armed Or langued Gules, nine hearts Gules (for Denmark); second quarter Or, two lions passant in pale Azure armed Or langued Gules (for Schleswig); third quarter Azure, party per fess, in base per pale in chief three crowns Or (for the Kalmar Union), in dexter base a ram passant Argent armed and unguled Or (for the Faroe Islands), in sinister base a polar bear rampant Argent (for Greenland); fourth quarter per fess Or and Gules in chief a lion passant Azure armed Gules above nine hearts in fess 5 and 4 Gules (for the Goths), in base a dragon Or (for the Vandals). Overall an inescutcheon quarterly in the first quarter Argent a bordure indented Gules (for Holstein); second quarter Gules a swan Argent beaked, membered and gorged with a coronet Or (for Storman); third quarter Gules a mounted knight Argent (for Ditmarsie); fourth quarter Gules a horse’s head erased Or (for Lauenburg). Overall an inescutcheon parted per pale in dexter barry of 5 Or and Gules (for Oldenburg) and in sinister Azure a cross patee and fichee in base (for Delmenhorst).
However, the state arms of the Kingdom of Greece (show above) were much simpler. Azure a cross couped Argent.
During the military dictatorship of 1967-1974, better known as the Junta of the Colonels, a new national emblem was used. This reused the familiar phoenix rising from its ashes but had in the foreground the shadow of a Greek soldier. The date below, April 21, 1967, is the date of the military coup that overthrew Constantine II, King of the Hellenes and declared the dictatorship.
In 1974 the Junta was overthrown and after the plebiscite where the people of Greece decided to cease to be a monarchy, the 3rd Hellenic Republic was declared.