Posts tagged ‘rome’

Heraldry of Rome – Part II


In this second part in the series on the heraldry I ran into during my recent brief visit to Rome (and for the next few), I’ll focus on ecclesiastical arms.

As the capital of the Papal States and the location of the Holy See (in the Vatican), Rome is full of churches. Naturally, they are almost all of them Roman Catholic.

As is customary, the churches display coats of arms that are significant to them. In the case of the Catholic churches, they display the arms of the current Pontiff and those of the bishop of the parish. Interestingly, in Rome, every church acts as its own seat and the arms displayed outside are those of the Pope and of a Cardinal.


The picture above is of the entrance to the impressive Santissima Trinità al Monte Pincio (a.k.a Trinità dei Monti), the church above the Spanish Steps.


As you can see, the church is displaying two coats of arms in the entrance. The one on the left is that of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI.


The one on the right is that of Cardinal Philippe Xavier Christian Ignace Marie Barbarin, Archbishop of Lyon in France and Cardinal Priest of this church.

This church is most impressive and dominates the scene of the Spanish Steps or Piazza di Spagne.


Although the steps and plaza are “Spanish”, the church was built with French funds when in 1502 King Louis XII wanted to celebrate his successful campaign against Naples and chose this site, right next to a pre-existing monastery built the previous decade. The “Spanish” name comes from the fact that the Spanish embassy was and still is located there.


Continuing the French tradition the church was entrusted in 1828 to the French religious order “Religieuses du Sacré-Coeur de Jésus”. In 2006, another French order took over and made the church its headquarters, the “Fraternités Monastiques de Jérusalem”.

Unfortunately, I have been unable to identify the arms in the windows posted above.  If anyone recognizes them, please contact me and I will make the appropriate edit and give the proper recognition.

Heraldry of Rome – Part I

COA Rome

I recently had the pleasure to visit Rome, Italy for a couple of days. What an amazing experience! The beauty of the city is unparalleled and I highly recommend everyone visits.

More appropriate to the subject of this blog, Rome is practically swimming in heraldry! It’s everywhere you look. In every street, you will run into a coat of arms adorning a church or a secular building. It’s a thing of beauty!

Inspired by my short stay in Rome, a series of posts will be published showing the arms I encountered just walking the streets. Note that I did not go out looking for heraldry, I just ran into it!

As this is the first of a series of posts on the heraldry I ran into during my very short visit I will start with a brief history of the arms of the Eternal City itself.


(image originally from released under GNU to Wikipedia)

The blazon of the arms is: Gules in bend a cross and the letters S P Q R Or

For a city with an outstanding heraldic history and an immense heraldic wealth, we run into a case where the city’s arms are, in my personal opinion, ugly. I have never been a fan of writing/letters in arms and this example doesn’t change my mind.

Having said that, I fully understand the history and meaning of the arms. I also have complete respect for the story behind them. However, I think it would’ve been better if the design did not have any writing on it.

But, as the Romans say: suum cuique

SPQR stands for “Senatus Populusque Romanus” or, in English, “The Senate and the People of Rome”. Though it is not certain when was the first appearance of this phrase, it is found mostly during the Roman Republic period that began in the 5th century BC.

As expected of any city’s insignia, the Roman Coat of Arms can be found everywhere. From fountains to manhole covers to water drains, the simple shield can be seen anywhere.

Interestingly, the initials SPQR are found on other arms as well. A prime example is the northern Italian city of Reggio Emilia whose arms are displayed below:


(image courtesy of Wikipedia)

The blazon of these arms is: Argent a cross between the letters S P Q R Gules

Related links:

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!