Posts tagged ‘Heraldic and Genealogical Society of Greece’

“Tracing the Middle Ages”

Vlazakis art 01

This is the title of the exhibition (in Greek: Ιχνηλατώντας το Μεσαίωνα) by the Greek artist Ioannis Vlazakis that will be held from February 23rd through February 27th, 2009. Vlazakis was previously mentioned in the heraldic artists post of December 4, 2008.

Vlazakis art 02

The event, hosted by the Organization of Syrans (as in “from the Greek island of Syros”) (Σύνδεσμος Συριανών), and will exhibit over 35 example of Vlazakis’ work in illuminated manuscripts, heraldic achievements and ex libris. Part of the work to be presented was previously exhibited at the 2008 Rhodes Medieval Festival which is hosted in the old, crusader city of Rhodes on the island of the same name.

Vlazakis art 03

What is most exciting about this exhibition is that this appears to be the very first exhibition focusing on heraldry ever hosted in Greece. Inquiries were made to the Heraldic and Genealogical Society of Greece requesting information about similar past exhibitions and none were reported back.

Vlazakis art 04

With the support of the Heraldic and Genealogical Society of Greece, whose chairman will speak on the third day of the event. However, the speaker who will open the exhibition will be Tony Breidel-Hadjidemetriou, Baron Breidel, chairman of the Cyprus Center of Medievalism and Heraldry. At the inaugural event, the musical accompaniment will be led by the musician Kostas Chronopoulos.

Vlazakis invitation - tracing the middle ages
invitation to the event

Vlazakis’ website is

Heraldry in Greece

Contrary to popular belief, Greece has a long history of heraldry. Unfortunately, this rich tradition was almost completely eradicated during the Ottoman rule of the Greek lands (traditionally placed from the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Greek War of Independence in 1821 though not historically accurate).

As we all know, heraldry was introduced as a form of identification of knights and leading warriors in general on the battlefield. For that reason, heraldry came up with its tinctures and its rules. Also, because heraldry was originally used in the battlefield, and imagine what the battlefields of the middle ages looked like, the earliest arms were very simple: a single tincture or a single charge or ordinary.

In this same vein, the ancient Greek warriors painted their shields with symbols. However, as opposed to traditional heraldry, the Greeks of the time did not use the same symbols consistently in every battle. The designs changed every time and were customized for the occasion, typically to induce terror on enemy. Other times, the symbols were used to identify the origin of the warriors such as with the well known lambda Λ of the Spartans (made famous in the movie 300). Therefore, one cannot claim that the ancient Greeks used the drawings on their shields to identify the person or family and thus it is not heraldry.

During the middle ages, Greece continued under the Roman Empire but it had become wholly hellenized. The Eastern Roman Empire, with it’s capital in the newly renamed Constantinople, is better known as the Byzantine Empire.

The mid to late Byzantine period coincides with the beginning of heraldry as we know it in the rest of Europe. With the crusaders having to pass through the empire to get to the Holy Land, many of the traditions of the western and eastern parts of Europe were exchanged. If heraldry had not already taken in the empire yet, it did with the Crusades. However, this is purely my own conjecture 🙂

On a more scientific basis, we can find images on seals that can be considered heraldic but, these are more personal rather than familial. It is in the 13th century with the restoration of the Empire under the Palelogos line that we can find heraldry as we know it today. However, heraldry remained with the upper classes and was not as widespread as other countries in western Europe. The arms typically ascribed to the Byzantine Empire are the double headed eagle and the tetragrammatic cross. I am not clear on whether these were just those of the Empire or also those of the Paleologos. The “B”s in the tetragrammatic (which mean “4 letters” in Greek) cross have been given the meaning of “Βασιλεύς Βασιλέων Βασιλεύων Βασιλευόντων” or “King of Kings Ruler of Rulers”.

After the fall of Constantinople, the tradition continues in those lands not under Ottoman rule such as Rhodes (with the Hospitaller knights), Crete (under the Venetians) and the Ionian islands (also under Venice). However, only the latter remained outside of Ottoman rule completely. The heraldry of Rhodes is mostly of the Hospitaller knights, better known today as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

Especially in the Ionian islands, the Greek population adopted many of the Italian traditions and each island had its noble families listed in the local Libro d’Oro along with their coat of arms. Many of these families sent their children to Italy to study and in most cases, if they didn’t already have arms, they adopted new arms when at University.

Johannes Rietstap, the noted Dutch heraldist of the 19th century, is best known for his published list of the blazons of arms of over 130000 families of Europe. Amongst those, we find a number of Greek families of which a small sampling are listed below (from the online Rietstap database in French):

  • Agelastos D’argent, à deux bandes d’azur.
  • Agliardis Écartelé: aux 1 et 4, d’azur, à l’aigle de sable, couronnée d’or; aux 2 et 3, de sable, à trois pommes de grenade au naturel. Casque couronné.
  • Angelos De gueules, à quatre grandes fusées d’or, rangées en croix, chaque fusée ch. d’un ange habillé d’une dalmatique d’argent, et d’une tunique d’azur, ailé d’argent, tenant de sa main dextre une épée du même, en bande.
  • Anthonis D’or, au chevron de gueules, acc. en pointe d’un sanglier de sable.
  • Argyropoulos D’or, à une tête et col d’aigle de sable issant d’un coeur de gueules, la tête traversée par un sabre d’argent garni d’or posé en bande. Timbre: couronne du Saint-Empire. Supports: deux licornes de sable.
  • Argyros D’or, à la croix d’azur, cantonnée de quatre étoiles (5) du même.
  • Comneno D’or, à l’aigle éployée de sable, tenant de sa griffe dextre une épée et de sa senestre un sceptre et surmontée d’une couronne impériale, ladite aigle ch. d’un écusson ovale d’argent, surch. de trois cloches d’azur.
  • Comnenos D’argent, à trois fasces de sable (armes de la ville de Trébisonde). Les membres de la famille impériale portaient ces armes sur le tout de leurs armes de famille qui étaient: D’or, à trois cloches de sable.
  • Ducas D’azur, à la croix d’argent.
  • Lascaris De gueules, à l’aigle éployée d’or, chaque tête couronnée du même. Devise: LASCARORUM FELICITATI.
  • Lascaris D’or, à l’aigle éployée de sable, languée et armée de gueules, surmontée d’une couronne à l’antique d’or.
  • Lascaris De gueules, à l’aigle éployée d’or, chaque tête couronnée du même, ch. sur la poitrine d’un écusson de gueules à un soleil d’or. Légende: NEC ME FULGURA.
  • Lascaris Écartelé d’azur et d’argent, à l’aigle éployée de sable, becquée et membrée d’or, languée de gueules, brochant sur les écartelures, chaque tête couronnée d’or, ch. sur la poitrine d’un écusson de gueules à un soleil d’or.
  • Lascaris-Castellar D’or, à l’aigle éployée de sable, becquée et membrée de gueules.
  • Palaeologos Armes de fam.: De gueules, à la croix d’or. Armes mod.: De gueules, à la croix d’or, cantonnée de quatre B du même (signifiant Basileus Basileuvn Basileuvn Basileuontun, en français: Roi des Rois, régnant sur des rois, Michel Pâleologue, élevé au trône byzantin en 1260, ajouta les quatre B aux armes de famille.).
  • Palamides D’argent, à un dragon ailé à deux pattes de sinople, rehaussé d’or.

There are a few other sources one can look at to get blazons of arms of Greek families. One of the main sources cited repeatedly is the book written in 1983 by Mihail Dimitri Sturdza “Grandes Familles de Grèce, d’Albanie et de Constantinople“.

Another excellent and well researched source on heraldry focused on families from the Ionian island of Kefalonia is the website of Mr. Panayotis Cangelaris. He has posted his paper on the arms of Greek students at the University of Padova during the 17th and 18th centuries here. He has also published a dedicated list of those students from the island here.

Today, many members of the Greek diaspora have either assumed arms or have had them granted to them by one of the many heraldic authorities of the world. Online listings of arms are available and with a simple search one can find them easily.

One more item, that I believe is important to be noted, is that there is an extremely small community of heraldic enthusiasts in Greece who have come together and created the Heraldic and Genealogical Society of Greece (Εραλδική και Γενεαλογική Εταιρεία Ελλάδος). They’re located in Athens, Greece, meet regularly and publish essays and works. As I find out more, I may write an entry dedicated on the society.