Posts tagged ‘constantine’

The shaping of a symbol – The double headed eagle

In what is perhaps the best online digital library of Greek or Greece related texts, I found an article written in the 1920s by the Archimandrite Zacharias Lianas (Ζαχαρίας Λιανάς, d. 1952), head of the Rizarios Hieratic School between 1923 and 1925.

The article gives a concise history, from a Greek Orthodox perspective (with emphasis on both Greek and Orthodox), of how the double headed eagle came to have the meaning it has today. Below is my translation of the Archimandrite’s words (apologies for the run on sentences but, that’s how the original is too):

It has always been that people used places, shapes, images, plants and animals as symbols to express an idea. These symbols, called hieroglyphics, are found in all populations and all religions. In those, the imagination of the people borrowed much from the kingdom of the plants such as the olive, the laurel, the lilly, the pomegranate, etc. These were used to express different meanings and ideas.

Also, since antiquity all peoples used as an expression of power, force and majesty the Lion. As an expression of height, poetic elation, wisdom and ingenuity was the Eagle. For this reason the Lion is used in the palaces of kings and the heraldry of nations and sovereign Houses, whereas the Eagle is found on the friezes of temples. Lions decorate the palaces of the kings of Babylon and Persia. Lions decorate as well the palace at Mycenae. Lions [in sculpture] were raised in Marathon, Thermopylae, Chaeronea, etc.

The Eagle, on the other hand, is the symbol and the messenger of the Olympian Zeus. An Eagle transfers Ganymede to Olympus. An Eagle eats, on Zeus’ orders, the liver of Premetheus who is bound to the Caucasus. An Eagle is places on the frieze of the temple of the Olympian Zeus and on the temple of the Capitol Zeus. With the meaning of ingenuity and inspiration, the Eagle was given as a symbol to the Apostole and Evangelist John the Theologian.

Ptolemy Lagus of Alexandria first placed the Eagle on the flags of his army as a symbol of the state and military power. From the Ptolemaic state of Alexandria, dissolved by the Romans, did the Roman Emperors take the Eagle for their military flags. Slowly, the Roman Eagle became the symbol of the entire Roman Empire. As the Roman Empire was split during the reign of Diocletian and Maximilian into two states, the Eastern and the Western, so was the Eagle split into two. The Eagle of the Western Empire had its head facing west and the Eagle of the Eastern Empire faced East. When the Roman State, through Constantine the Great, was united into a single Empire, the two symbolic Eagles were reunited into one. However, the previously single headed Eagle became double headed, symbolizing the unified empire with the two capitals: Old Rome and New Rome. For this reason one of the heads faced West towards Old Rome and the other faced East towards New Rome – Constantinople.

When the Emperor Constantine the Great saw in the sky, at high noon, the divine symbol of the cross with the epigraph ΕΝ ΤΟΥΤΩ ΝΙΚΑ [translated to Latin as “IN HOC SIGNO VINCES”], he was instructed in a vision where he was visted by Jesus Christ to construct a copy of the image of the cross and to use it throughout his military ranks so that he may be victorious through it. This is when Constantine the Great, according to the instructions he received, constructed the Labarum and replaced the until then national military flag of the Double-headed Eagle with the new Christian banner of the Cross. However, he maintained and established the Double-headed Eagle as the symbol and state emblem of the Imperial Dynasty of the Byzantine Roman State. In the following centuries of the height of the Byzantine State, the Double-headed Eagle was used as the Coat of Arms of the Byzantine Emperors, placed on the Imperial Palaces, decorating the chests of the imperial guards and the courtiers in general. It was embroidered on the imperial clothes, the saddles of the imperial horses and on the imperial shoes. In the sacristy of the Holy Monastery of Great Lavra on Mount Athos, is preserved the imperial coat with Double-headed Eagles embroidered in gold, once belonging to the Emperors Nicephorus Phocas and John Tzimiskes from the 9th century.

After the Fall of Constantinople to the Turks (1453) the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople was recognized by the conqueror Muhammed II as the Ethnarch [national leader] of the Romans. As such, he inherited along with the other imperial symbols (the crown, sceptre, robes) the Double-headed Eagle as the symbol of the Nation. This symbol has been used ever since as the emblem of the Ecumenical National Patriarchate and used in the seals of the Patriarchal Bulls. Because of this, it is carved as the Coat of Arms above the gate of the Patriarchal churches. It is also carved on the walls and the floors of the Patriarchal churches and stavropegial monasteries and those houses made stavropegial. It is also conserved on the floors of many temples among which is the temple of the Metropolis of Mistras. It is embroidered in the Patriarchal clothing and robes. Embroidered on fabrics or tapestries, wherever Constantinople is depicted. In time, whenever a cleric in the jurisdiction of the Ecumenical Patriarchate is ordained and the floor of the particular temple does not have the Double-headed Eagle carved, a tapestry with the symbol is placed under the feet of the ordained to show that he is stepping and is on Patriarchal ground, as spiritual subject of the Patriarchate.

As a Patriarchal emblem, the Double-headed Eagle became part of the Patriarch’s vestments. It is curious how this particular item did not become more widely adopted by other Bishops like the other imperial emblems did such as the Crown (mitre), the Purpure robes and the Sceptre (pastoral staff).

The spirit of the Greek people maintained alive throughout the years after the Fall [of Constantinople] the Byzantine tradition of the Double-headed Eagle and in the expression of Greek art. The Double-headed Eagle, that before the Fall has such symbolic value, did not lose it later. On the contrary, it was conciously kept as the symbol of the continuing Byzantine tradition and became the premier symbol of the national ideal of the recreation of the Great Empire.

For this reason, it is the most beloved theme of neohellenic art and has an excellent place there. How closely tied is the Double-headed Eagle with the popular concious [of the Greek people] is shown the innumerable depictions in all forms of Greek popular art whether it is in textile, woodwork, metalwork, jewelry etc. Even in our own century [20th] the wave of nationalism raised the Double-headed Eagle to the first and most honored position. It is still carved onto many objects of the Church and the residential furniture, woods, silver and gold objects. It is painted on many icons and carved onto seals. The seal of the Archbishopric of Athens as well as many other Metropolia use the Double-headed Eagle. It is also depicted on every other form of art upon which a national meaning is desired to be given.

 

Archmandrite Zacharias A. Lianas

 

The link to the original Greek is found here: http://anemi.lib.uoc.gr/metadata/c/0/0/metadata-908460e12ec80b3429d525c3e6f42648_1251357873.tkl

Link to the Rizarios Hieratic School: http://lyk-rizar.att.sch.gr/

Link to the Rizarios Foundation: http://www.rizarios.gr/

 

Note: Images from Wikipedia

Crescent and Star

Banner of Constantinople(image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Looking at the banner above with the crescent moon and star, the first thought that comes to mind is either “Turkey” or “Islam” and it would make perfect sense. However, as you may have already suspected, things are not that simple. As a matter of fact, the banner above of the white crescent moon and star on a red field is the banner of the city of Constantinople!

The crescent moon has been in use for centuries before Islam was even an idea or the Prophet born. Though it may seem surprising at first, it makes perfect sense once you start thinking about it. The crescent moon is a natural symbol and has been visible to human for millenia in the night sky. Stars as well have enthralled our species since we first gazed to the heavens. So, why has this symbolism been associated with Turkey and Islam?

In this post, we will explore the history of the crescent and star and reach to today’s situation.

The specific combination of the crescent and star has been in use, as mentioned before, for centuries. Specifically, this symbolism was most prevalent in the Hellenistic and Persian worlds. We find this on pottery, art and coinage of the region during the pre-Islamic and pre-Christian epochs.

Banner of Byzantium(image courtesy of Wikipedia)

There are records indicating the city-state of Byzantium first started using the crescent and star in coinage and just the crescent on the state’s banner some time in 4th century BC. It is said that the Byzantines (city) used the crescent as a way to pay tribute to their protector goddess Artemis who, they believed, helped them defeat a mighty enemy.

In post-classical Greece, we see art where Artemis is adorned with the crown of the crescent moon and much later, in the Renaissance do we find her adorned with crescents. This raises the question of why is the crescent associated with Artemis. My personal belief is that the crescent was originally a hunter’s bow which later evolved to become the crescent. As it is well known, Artemis was the goddess of the hunt and her ascribed skills with the bow and arrow were unequaled.

An alternative theory is that it was not Artemis at all but rather Hecate, an ancient, cthonic goddess. Hecate, according to Hesiod’s Theogny, was the only daughter of Asteria (“stars” in Greek) who in turn was the sister of Leto, mother of Artemis and Apollo. Hecate was linked to the dark side of the moon and, more importantly, Phoebe, the mother of Asteria and Leto, grandmother to Hecate, Artemis and Apollo was the personification of the moon.

In any case, by the 4th century AD the symbol was unequivocably a crescent moon and the banner of the city of Byzantium was a white crescent on a red field.

It was in 330AD that Emperor Constantine I of Rome refounded the city as his new capital calling the city Nova Roma. It was Constantine who added the six pointed star to the flag to honor the Virgin Mary.

Constantine rebuilt the city almost completely and because of all the work he did there and the emphasis he put into his “new Rome”, it became known as Constantine’s City or in Greek “Κωνσταντινούπολη”/”Constantinople” (note that in the eastern part of the Roman Empire, the Greek language was more prevalent than Latin). This name became official after Constantine’s death in 337AD and remained so until the city was renamed once again in 1930 by the new Republic of Turkey to “Istanbul”.

On May 29, 1453 the Ottoman forces of Mehmed II the Conqueror entered Constantinople, finally eradicating the Byzantine Empire. As Mehmed considered himself to be the Emperor of Rome, he wanted to incorporate the Roman symbolism into that of his empire. A note should be made here that it wasn’t until the 16th century that the Eastern Roman Empire came to be known as “Byzantine”. Until then, it was still known alternatively as the “Roman Empire”, the “Eastern Roman Empire” and the “Empire of the Greeks”. This explains why Mehmed considered himself the “Roman Emperor”. However, the Western Europeans dismissed this claim, a fact that did not sit well with the new “Emperor”. To settle this once and for all, he attempted to capture the “old” Rome in Italy. Though he was successful at first, capturing parts of the Italian peninsula (such as Otranto and Apulia), the Ottoman forces withdrew after Mehmed’s death in 1481.

Flag of Turkey(image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Of course, Turkey is the successor state of the once mighty Ottoman Empire, created by Mustafa Kemal “Ataturk”, who replaced the previous form of government under the powerless Ottoman Sultan in 1923. The national emblem of the new republic are displayed above.

The story so far is interesting and explains how the crescent moon and star became associated with Turkey. But, how about the general association with Islam?

In Islam, there is the concept regarding the political leadership of the Muslim world (or ummah) called the ‘caliphate’. The head of the caliphate is called the caliph or Amir al-Mu’minin (“Leader of the Believers”) and is considered the successor to the Prophet Muhammed.

COA Ottoman Empire(image courtesy of Wikipedia)

There have been many caliphates from the inception of Islam, the first one, of course, being that under Muhammed himself with the capital in Medina in present day Saudi Arabia. However, the largest caliphate of them all was the Ottoman Empire itself.

All the Ottoman rulers used the title of Caliph but, it wasn’t until 1517 when the title was solidified. This was the year the Ottomans conquered the Mamluk Sultanate and took over the Arab lands. The Mamluk Sultan (of the Abassid faimly) also considered himself the Caliph and when he was defeated in 1517, the last Abassid Caliph, al-Mutawakkil III, turned over the title to the Ottoman Sultan, Selim I.

Now, considering that the Ottoman Empire was the sole caliphate in the world for three centuries and all of Islam centered around the Ottomans, it is easy to understand how Muslims came to associate their faith with the symbol of the empire. With the break-up of the Ottoman Empire, the new countries that sprang were also Muslim and based their national symbology on that of the Ottomans.

Flag of Pakistan

The conclusion is that the crescent moon and star has a rather recent link to Islam (from the 15th century) and it shouldn’t dissuade any prospective armiger from using this combination on their arms. I bet that if the Prophet Muhammed had seen, say, the flag of Pakistan (above) he’d dismiss it as a Roman banner!


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