Posts tagged ‘heraldry in greece’

The Heraldic & Genealogical Society of Greece

After a long time, the oldest and most important organization dealing with heraldic and genealogical studies in Greece now has a website.

The Heraldic & Genealogical Society of Greece (Εραλδική & Γενεαλογική Εταιρεία Ελλάδος) was founded in 1975 with the explicit objective to  organize the research of these topics in the Hellenic region. The Society has set the high standards in Greek genealogical and heraldic research for particular area concerned.

Throughout its history, the Society has counted among its members and its Board of Directors some of the top Greek researchers, veritable celebrities in their field.

The library of the Society is truly enviable as it contains some of the most important texts ever published on the histories of Greek families or the heraldic research of particular regions. Among its collection one also finds all the volumes of the Society’s journal that have been issued since the very first one in 1979.

For anyone that is of Greek ancestry or interested in the family histories of the region, many of which go back to the height of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire.

The link to the Society’s website is:
(the site is entirely in Greek)


Note: The Heraldic & Genealogical Society of Greece should not be confused with the  Greek Heraldry Society based in London (founded in 2009) and its good work.


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:

Arms of Greece

National emblem of Greece

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.

COA Angelos

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.

COA 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.

COA Otto of Greece

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.

COA of Glücksburg

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”.

COA of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg

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).

State Arms of the Kingdom of Greece

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.

National emblem of Greece

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.

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.