Posts tagged ‘Greece’

Signet rings

From time to time my desire to have a signet ring resurfaces and I start going around the Internet looking at those borne by others and samples on display by various artists & craftsmen.

I started writing this post almost six months ago and a post I recently read on Fredrik Brodin’s Armorial Blog on the same topic made me realize that he did a better job than I.  I would urge anyone to read Fredrik’s article however, I felt I could contribute a little to augment what’s already there.

I wanted to go over the regional traditions:

In the British Isles:

  • Favor the use of the crest, crest and motto, or badge.
  • Prefer the use of solid gold signet rings.
  • Wear the ring on the left pinky finger.

In France:

  • Use the shield, with coronets of ranks when appropriate.
  • Use of solid gold signet rings is most common, though the use of semi precious stones is also found.
  • Wear the ring on the left ring finger.

In Germanic Countries:

  • Prefer to depict the entire armorial achievement. However, it is not uncommon where shield and coronet of rank, if appropriate have been used.
  • Prefer the use of a gold ring set with an engraved semi-precious or precious stone.
  • Wear the ring on the left ring finger.

In Scandinavian countries:

  • Use the shield and coronet (if applicable) or crest.
  • Prefer the use of a gold ring.
  • Wear the ring on the left pinky though it is also commonly found on the right hand ring finger.

In Greece & other South East European countries:

  • Prefer either solid gold or gold with a semi-precious stone.
  • Wear the ring on the right pinky.

 In the Iberian Peninsula:

  • Use the shield and coronet of rank (if applicable).
  • Prefer either solid gold or gold with a semi-precious stone.
  • Wear the ring on the left pinky.

In the Americas:

  • Follow the tradition of the country that originally found the colony (i.e. Britain for the US & Canda, Spain for most of the rest, Portugal for Brazil, etc.) or the tradition of their own country of origin

Naturally, a modern day armiger can start his or her own tradition and wear the ring wherever is most comfortable.



Genealogy and Oral History Department – Foundation of the Hellenic World

The “Ίδρυμα Μείζονος Ελληνισμού” or “Foundation of the Hellenic World” is an international organization trying to maintain and support the Hellenic traditions alive wherever Greeks are found, anywhere in the world.

Greeks have set forth and populated lands far and wide, away from the tiny peninsula that is Greece, following a tradition of immigration that started thousands of years ago. Most of the Mediterranean coast as well as that of the Black Sea was first colonized by Greek settlers and the Greek spirit remained vibrant, through religious and political upheavals for over 2500 years and well into the 20th century!

Greeks spread out far beyond the confines of the Mediterranean and into the New World, settling in the Americas, as well as all the other continents.

Considering the very tumultuous history of the region Greece is in, it is not surprising that there has been so much movement throughout the centuries. However, Greeks have always tried to maintain the Hellenic spirit alive, through the generations, regardless of distance from Greece.

There have been three major migrations of Greeks to foreign lands:

  • In antiquity, when the Greek city-states would colonize the Mediterranean and the Black Sea
  • Around the time of the fall of Constantinople in 1453
  • After the end of World War 2

As a result of all this movement, about half of the total world population that identifies itself as “Greek” (without counting those that are of Greek descent but identify themselves otherwise) resides outside of Greece.

The table below is a demonstration of the distribution of Greeks around the world. This table was taken from the Wikipedia article on Greeks and though it is fully referenced, the usual Wikipedia caveats apply.

Total population
at least. 14 – 17 million
Regions with significant populations


10,280,000 (2001 census)

 United States

1,390,439-3,000,000a (2009 est.)


792,604 (July 2008 Est.)

 United Kingdom

400,000 (estimate)


365,120 (2006 census)-700,000a


294,891 (2007 est.)


242,685b (2006 census)


approx. 200,000




91,500 (2001 census)


90,000c (estimate)

 South Africa

55,000 (2008 estimate)




35,000(2009 est.)


30,000 (2008 estimate)


15,742 (2007)




13,000 (est)


11,000 estimated


9,500 estimate


6,500 2002 census









By the way, notice how few Greeks are left in modern day Turkey: 2500. Whoever is familiar with the region’s history would realize what this means.

In recognition of this wide distribution around the world, the “Foundation of the Hellenic World” was created as a central organization to bring all these communities together and make sure contact with Greece is not lost.

As part of the work this foundation has undertaken is to record the oral histories of Greeks in their senior years and try to create some sort of genealogical reference database to assist those who are trying to find their roots. By making copies of documents, journals, periodicals and, most importantly, oral records of the senior most (in age) a database can be developed to be referenced by future generations.

As I have mentioned before, in my own genealogical research, finding records for Greek ancestors is a herculean task. Some of the highlights, in reverse chronological order:

  • Turkish invasion of Cyprus of 1974: All records of the norther half of the island are lost
  • Greek Civil War of 1945-1950: Government and Communist forces were destroying records to either take land or to hide family ties
  • Nazi Occupation of 1940-1944: Nazi forces and Nazi collaborators were destroying records so as to steal lands legally owned by others
  • The Greek Genocide of 1914-1923 by the Turks in modern day Turkey: Destroyed all remnants of Hellenism there (also check the table above to see how successful they were)
  • Ottoman rule 1400’s to early 1900’s: Destroyed records of Christians, had a formal plan of Islamization and also violently suppressed any attempts to teach Greek or Greek history in an organized matter.

This is why it is so important for organizations such as these to continue their work and get all the support they need both from individuals and the Greek government.

The link to the Foundation’s home page is:

The link to the Genealogy and Oral History department is:



Heraldic Database of Greece

As I’ve mentioned in the past, heraldry isn’t one of the things that pops in one’s head when thinking about Greece. However, Greece a long a rich heraldic history.

Unfortunately, many people in Greece, even academics and members of the government are completely ignorant of heraldry. So, you might imagine how surprised I was to discover a database of images of herldry in the real world in Greece owned and maintained by the Greek Government!

The site is for a project called “Pandektis” and is “a digital thesaurus of primary sources for Greek History and Culture”, developed by the National Hellenic Research Foundation under the framework of a project mostly financed by the European Union called “Digital Greece“. The digitalization was carried out by the Hellenic National Documentation Center. It has a huge database of over 400 images of families and organizations that existed over the centuries in the lands that are now Greece.

It’s a wonderful site that can either be browsed or searched in both English and Greek. It even has a very informative map that shows where each image was taken from and also, a handy timeline of the age of each heraldic artefact.

The database covers everything heraldic in Greece from the 13th century all the way to 20th; the entire period of heraldry, from its inception to modern times!

Taken from the “general information” of the site:

While the first signs of the heraldic phenomenon are found in Western and Central Europe during the second quarter of the 12th century, in the region of Greece it makes it’s appearance rather late and on a lesser scale. In Greece the first heraldic remains, as detected through historical research, date from the 14th century, reach their peak in the next two centuries (15th and 16th) and continue up to the end of the 19th century, at a lower, but still significant level.

The Institute of Neohellenic Research, recognizing the importance of study of this phenomenon in Greek history, as well as the need to go beyond dilettantish approaches, has included in its research activities the systematic locating, inventorying, photographing and classifying of items, with the aim of creating a database of heraldic monuments of Greece. Our research has located more than 1,200 coats-of-arms and heraldic emblems so far. There are three main contributors to this total:

• The Latin-occupied Kyklades islands,

• the Dodecanese islands under the Knights Hospitallers and

• the Venetian-ruled areas (mainly Crete, the Ionian islands and the Peloponnese)

Lesser contributions derive from the Genovese presence (mainly in the NE Aegean Sea), the Catholic Church (which cuts across all the above) and, finally, the small group of Fanariotes.

At this stage, the database includes 443 records, 147 of which date from the 13th-15th centuries, 170 from the 16th-17th centuries, 105 from the 18th-19th centuries, and 21 from the 20th century. Geographically, the bulk of the records comes from the Aegean islands (258 records), but also represented are Crete (85 records), the Ionian Islands (44 records), Sterea Hellas (38 records) and the Peloponnese (18 records).

For each database record, the location of the monument, its identity, its date, a brief historical note, bibliographic references and a recent image are provided in separate fields.

Leonidas Kallivretakis has the scientific oversight of the project. In addition to him, Nikos Benos-Palmer, Evi Olympitou and, primarily, Kostis Kallivretakis did the field photography.

The URL to this most fascinating site is:

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!

The Duchy of Athens

Athens has had a very long and, mostly, illustrious history. Athens is best known for its classical period between the 6th and 4th centuries BC where such great figures as Pericles, Socrates, Plato, Kimon (Cimon), Aristophanes, Sophocles, Aristotle etc. flourished.

Athens fell in glory after being conquered by Phillip of Macedon, then the Romans and under the Byzantine and later empires until the new Kingdom of Greece in the late 19th century where it became the capital of the new state. Typically, the post-Roman states most people think of as having control of Athens are the Byzantine and Ottoman ones. Very few think of the Crusader States that were created after the break-up of the once mighty Byzantine Empire after the 4th Crusade.

One of the many states that were created as a result of the 4th Crusade was the Duchy of Athens that existed from approximately 1205 through 1458, when it came under the control of the Ottoman Empire.

During its 2 century life, the duchy changed hands many times and comprised of the provinces of Attica (containing Athens) and Beotia (containing Thebes). It was first claimed Otto de la Roche,a Burgundian minor noble from the Franche-Comté commune of Rigney, Doubs in France.

Athens was originally a vassal state of the Kingdom of Thessalonica, but after Thessalonica was captured in 1224 by Theodore, the Despot of Epirus, the duchy became a vassal of the Principality of Achaea. The Duchy occupied the Attic peninsula and extended partially into Thessaly, sharing an undefined border with Thessalonica and then Epirus. It did not hold the islands of the Aegean Sea, which were Venetian territories, but exercised influence over the Latin Lordship of Negroponte.

Otto held his lands as a vassal of the Kingdom of Thessalonica and was grand seignior of Athens. Three years later, in 1208, he claimed the title of Duke though the title did not become official until 1260. He and his close ally, Geoffrey I of Villehardouin, Prince of Achaea where fiercely loyal to the Latin Emperor Baldwin I of Constantinople. The two allies went on to increase their possessions in Greece and conquered Acrocorinth in 1209, Argos in 1210, and Nafplion in 1211. During Otto’s reign, he converted the Parthenon into a Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady. Otto himself resided in the Athenian Acropolis until his return to Burgundy in 1225 where he eventually died in 1238.


When Otto left Athens, he named his nephew Guy I de la Roche as Duke of Athens. By this time, in 1225, paid hommage to the Latin Emperor only, as the Kingdom of Thessalonica had fallen in 1224. The image above is of Guy’s arms blazoned Quatre points d’hermine, équipolés à cinq de gueules. During Guy’s tenure, the duchy prospered mainly due to the silk trade centered in Thebes and in 1240 gave half the lordship of the city to his brother in law Bela of St. Omer. In the later years of his lordship, he ran into several problem and almost lost his lands to William of Achaea in 1258. He eventually had to travel to France to face King Louis IX but managed to get official recognition of his title of “Duke”. By the time he returned to Athens, Constantinople had returned to the hands of the Byzantines and William of Achaea had fallen to Michael VII Palaiologos. Guy finally died in 1263 and was succeeded by his son John I de la Roche.

John, as opposed to his predecessors, was fluent in Greek and had a deep respect for Greek culture. He is most known for saying in 1275 while facing the Byzantines at Thermopylae “Great are their numbers but few among them are true men”, paraphrasing Herodotus who wrote of the Persians when telling of the the famous battle at the same location “the Persian are great in their numbers but true men are far and few”. John died in 1280 and was succeeded by his brother William I de la Roche.

William managed to reverse the losses of his late brother and extended his control all the way to Lamia, Argos and Nafplion. William managed to secure an alliance with the Duchy of Neopatria by marrying Helena Angelina Comnenou, daughter of the Duke Ioannis Angelos Comnenos. In 1285, after the imprisonment of Charles II of Naples, Prince of Achaea, William was named bailiff and vicar-general of the principality. He managed to defend Messenia against the Byzantine Empire and managed to become the most powerful Frankish lord in Greece. In 1287, William dies and is succeeded by his son Guy II de la Roche, a minor at the time.

Guy II, had a very adventurous life as Duke of Athens participating in numerous battles and it is said he was a good a just governor of his lands. Guy II died at a young age of 28 and with him, the De la Roche dynasty ended its hold of the dukedom.


Walter V of Brienne succeeded Guy II as Duke of Athens. Walter was born in Brienne-le-Château, Aube, Champagne, France. He was the son of Hugh de Candie des Brienne, known as Hugh of Brienne, Count of Brienne and Lecce, and Isabella de la Roche, daughter of Guy I of la Roche. He was the heir of the Brienne claim to the Kingdom of Jerusalem and of Cyprus, as well as to Taranto and Sicily. In 1296 he inherited the County of Brienne, Conversano and Lecce. After succeeding into the Duchy of Athens, he found himself at odds with the Despot of Epirus, the Byzantine Emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos and the Lord of Vlachia leading him to hire the Catalan Company of mercenaries to support him. Though successful at this, the mercenaries turned on their former master and conquered Athens while Walter died in the decisive Battle of Halmyros in 1311.


Walter’s death and subsequent conquest of Athens by the Catalan Company, created a long dispute on who really can claim the Duchy. The Brienne family continued to claim the title however they were not universally recognized as such. The Brienne line of claimants descended through Isabella of Brienne to Walter IV of Enghien to Louis of Enghien to Marguerite of Enghien. The Enghien arms are displayed above and blazoned: gyronny of eight Argent and sable crusilly Or.

Marguerite married John of Luxembourg and through their son Peter of Luxembourg were the ancestors of Mary, Queen of Scots, Henri IV of France, Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, Princess Diana of Wales, and Prince Charles of Wales.

Returning to the Catalan Company, after their victory they named Roger Deslaur as their leader and Duke of Athens. However, Roger proved to be an ineffective leader and was unable to maintain the conquests of the Company.


In 1312, the Catalan Company appealed to Frederick III of Sicily to take over the duchy and he complied by appointing his second born son, Manfred of Sicily as Duke of Athens and Neopatria. The arms seen above are those of the Aragonese Kings of Sicily under which the Duchy of Athens came.

Manfred, though, was very young and died at age 12 never having set foot in Athens. He was represented by his illegitimate elder brother Don Alfonso Fadrique who was appointed Vicar General by his father Frederick.

When Manfred died in 1317, his younger brother William II of Athens succeeded him. In 1337 he received the Principality of Taranto from his Father and died in 1338.

Giovanni d’Aragona was Frederick III’s fourth son and inherited the duchy of Athens after his older brother Manfred died in 1338. He was the most powerful noble in Sicily and his formal titles were: infante, duke of Randazzo, Athens, and Neopatria, Count of Malta and regent of Sicily. Giovanni died during the plague in 1348.

Giovanni’s son Frederick succeeded him as duke of Athens and Neopatria as well as Count of Malta as Frederick I of Athens. Frederick was the first duke after a long period of years to actually visit his duchy but, died young in 1355.

Frederick in turn was succeeded by his cousin of the same name, Frederick III, King of Sicily. also known as “the Simple”. This Frederick managed to handle the the enmity between Sicily and Naples as well as the Pope and come to peacful terms with both of them. However, he did not govern Athens directly and appointed his uncle Roland (or Orlando) of Sicily. With his wife Constança of Aragon, he had an only child, Mary of Sicily. Upon Frederick’s death in 1377, Mary inherited all the titles of her father.

Though Mary had inherited the duchy from her father, it was her husband, Martin I of the house of Aragon, that actually ruled over Athens, as well as the much greater kingdom of Sicily. Martin reigned until his death in 1409 when the title transferred to his son, Martin II.

COA Acciaiuoli

Interestingly, in the 1380’s a Florentine family, the Acciaiuoli come to prominence and through their contacts in the Navarrese Company and the royal court of Naples (Sicily’s nemesis at the time), they manage to conquer the Duchy of Athens and claim the title of Duke of Athens. The first of the family to do so was Nerio I and the family’s arms are displayed above. The blazon is Argent a lion Azure armed and langued Gules. Curiously, the blazon changes and has the lion charged with a fleur-de-lys Or or an escutcheon Or or an eagle displayed Sable; all these variations are found in Rietstap’s armorial.

Amazingly, Nerio chose to will the duchy to the Republic of Venice rather than his son Antonio. In any case, Antonio was Duke from his father’s death in 1394 and just for six months until 1395. For the next 7 years, Venice controlled Athens and there wasn’t much Antonio could do.  He did manage to reclaim the duchy in 1402 and ruled until 1435. Being a Florentine, he wanted to make his capital a place of art and culture and made great strides to that effect. However, the Aragonese house decided to reassert their claim to the duchy in 1422 and tried to oust Antonio.

The Acciaiuoli family continued to rule the duchy until its final conquest by the Ottomans in 1458 when the Duchy of Athens became extinct for all intents and purposes. The last Acciaiuoli to hold the title of Duke of Athens was Francesco II who finally was executed by the Turks in 1460.

Greater COA of King of Spain

If you’re still reading this post, it would be natural to think that once the Turks conquered Athens almost 600 years ago, the story would end there. How wrong you would be!

The arms above are the greater arms of the King of Spain, currently Juan Carlos I. As you will notice in the first quarter, you will see the arms of the kingdom of Two Sicilies as HM Juan Carlos is claimant to the titles of the House of Aragon. As such, the current king of Spain is the current pretender to the Duchy of Athens!

What makes it even more intriguing is that the king of Spain is married to Sophia, the sister of the last king of Greece, Constantine II of Greece.

Another interesting twist is that members of the De La Roche family, the first Dukes of Athens, are said to have remained in Attica all these centuries, became hellenized and still live there today. It is claimed that the family name changed to Rosis, Rosas, Rokas and today it is known as Papavasileiou (Παπαβασιλείου), however I do not know how valid this claim is.