Posts tagged ‘Ottoman Empire’

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!

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.