Archive for May 2009

Heraldry of Rome – Part I

COA Rome

I recently had the pleasure to visit Rome, Italy for a couple of days. What an amazing experience! The beauty of the city is unparalleled and I highly recommend everyone visits.

More appropriate to the subject of this blog, Rome is practically swimming in heraldry! It’s everywhere you look. In every street, you will run into a coat of arms adorning a church or a secular building. It’s a thing of beauty!

Inspired by my short stay in Rome, a series of posts will be published showing the arms I encountered just walking the streets. Note that I did not go out looking for heraldry, I just ran into it!

As this is the first of a series of posts on the heraldry I ran into during my very short visit I will start with a brief history of the arms of the Eternal City itself.


(image originally from released under GNU to Wikipedia)

The blazon of the arms is: Gules in bend a cross and the letters S P Q R Or

For a city with an outstanding heraldic history and an immense heraldic wealth, we run into a case where the city’s arms are, in my personal opinion, ugly. I have never been a fan of writing/letters in arms and this example doesn’t change my mind.

Having said that, I fully understand the history and meaning of the arms. I also have complete respect for the story behind them. However, I think it would’ve been better if the design did not have any writing on it.

But, as the Romans say: suum cuique

SPQR stands for “Senatus Populusque Romanus” or, in English, “The Senate and the People of Rome”. Though it is not certain when was the first appearance of this phrase, it is found mostly during the Roman Republic period that began in the 5th century BC.

As expected of any city’s insignia, the Roman Coat of Arms can be found everywhere. From fountains to manhole covers to water drains, the simple shield can be seen anywhere.

Interestingly, the initials SPQR are found on other arms as well. A prime example is the northern Italian city of Reggio Emilia whose arms are displayed below:


(image courtesy of Wikipedia)

The blazon of these arms is: Argent a cross between the letters S P Q R Gules

Related links:

Heraldic examinations

Unfortunately, heraldry is not a subject that is widely (or even narrowly) taught in our schools or other institutions of learning. As such, getting a diploma in say, “Heraldic Studies” is out of the question.

However, there are options for those of us who enjoy heraldry and what to achieve some sort of validation of the knowledge attained.

Many of the heraldic societies around the world have developed curricula upon which various levels of heraldic proficiency are established through examinations or through a written dissertation.

The most popular heraldic proficiency exams out there are those conducted by the Heraldry Society, the Royal Heraldic Society of Canada and, finally, the International Association of Amateur Heralds.

The two first offer 3 levels in their education programs: Basic and Intermediate. These two levels can be attained through written examinations supervised by a qualified invigilator of your choice, approved by the society. The basic examination is truly basic however, the intermediate one is particularly tricky.

The third level, in both societies, is only attained through the submission of an original heraldic research paper of a certain length. You should look at this as a doctoral dissertation that must be submitted to and defended before a committee. Those who successfully complete this have the right to use post-nominals indicating this status.

When it comes to the International Association of Amateur Heralds (IAAH), there are only two levels.

The first level is the “Associate Fellow” which can be achieved via the successful completion of a basic examination. What is interesting about the basic exam of the IAAH is that it is self regulated. In other words, nobody need supervise you taking the test. It works on the honor system and the trust on those taking the test.

The second level is the “Fellow” and it can only come after the nomination of another Fellow and is then elected by the board.

The American Heraldry Society has been discussing the creation of a heraldic examination program for their members for quite a while. However, they are still in the initial discovery phase of the effort.

Outside of the examinations of heraldic societies, one may study medieval or renaissance history, history of art or even medieval literature. Those are the traditional subject matters studied at university when delving into the world of heraldry.

Links to the societies mentioned:

Swine heraldry

For the past few weeks the world has been enthralled with the outbreak of the H1N1 or swine influenza. Just this week on April 29, the WHO (World Health Organization) elevated the status of the outbreak to a Phase 5 (out of a maximum of 6) on its pandemic scale.

Though this is serious and no laughing matter, I was thinking about presenting some heraldry with a swine or porcine bend.


The most common representative of the swine family is by far the boar. This animal is either depicted whole or just its head and has been in use since antiquity.


Above is some Roman symbolism with the depiction of a wild boar. Specifically, this is a roof tile showing the standard and emblem of the Legio XX Valeria Victrix. This legion was stationed in Hispania (Iberian peninsula), Illyricum (present day Albania & Croatia) and Germania before being sent to invade the British Isles.

COA Eberbach

We see the boar in the arms of many individuals and towns across Europe. It is especially popular with German towns where the animal is used as a cant on their name. The arms above are those of Eberbach (note: ‘eber’ is boar in German).

Crest badge Clan Campbell

crest badge of the Scottish clan Campbell where a boar’s head is used.

COA Boa Vista (Leiria)

However, the naturally more common pig is not common as a heraldic charge. Above is one of those rare examples of heraldry containing a normal pig. Though I don’t know for a fact why it is less common as a charge, I can only guess it is because the common pig has negative connotations and it is avoided.

COA Homer Simpson

No article covering pork would be complete without a mention of bacon. Since I couldn’t find arms with bacon as a charge, I decided to create attributed arms for Homer Simpson who is known for his love of bacon. The blazon is “Sable within an annulet Purpure semmee of barullets and pallets Gules, Azure and Vert, four barullets Gules Argent Gules Argent”. The arms above are what he would probably adopt, then proceed to eating them….

Links of interest:

(Note: all images except for Homer Simpson’s arms are from Wikipedia)