Excerpts from the book
HERALDRY OF THE WORLD
and illustrated by
Carl Alexander von Volborth ,
Internet version edited
by Andrew Andersen, Ph.D.
152-157, 231-234, 24-25, 51, 93, 114 and 148)
Heraldry developed late in Russia. In the
western part of the country the nobility, being influenced by Poland, began
to assume armorial bearings during the course of the fifteenth century, but
further to the east, not until the following centuries. Devices were used on
seals and as ornaments but were never used in Russia as heraldic military
symbols or even for tournaments. The result has been that the divisions of
the shield and other simple heraldic charges, which in Western Europe are so
typical of the earliest heraldry, are literally non-existent in Russian arms.
Other charges, such as animals, were as a rule neither stylised nor por¬trayed in heraldic form, as is normal in Western
Europe, but were shown in true form, sometimes even in natural surroundings,
so that they look more like illustrations in a book on zoology than coats of
In 1472 Ivan III (1462-1505) married
Sophia, niece of the last ruler of the Eastern Roman Empire, which had fallen
when the Turks conquered Constantinople (Byzantium) in 1453. Ivan III
regarded himself as the heir to the Byzantine Empire and emphasised this by
assuming the title of Czar (a derivative of the
name and style Caesar), and taking the Byzantine double-headed eagle as his
device. Yet an official description of the double-headed eagle as the arms of
the Russian Czars is not found until the close of
the seventeenth century, when it was given new form and was proclaimed with
the arms of thirty-three other realms and principalities which included the
complete title of the Czars. This was done with the
collaboration of an Imperial German herald who had been summoned by the Czar. At about the same time a register of Russian noble
armorial bearings was compiled.
806. The crown of
Ivan the Terrible, sixteenth century.
Peter the Great (1689-1725), who worked
hard to introduce Western European ideas and institutions into his kingdom,
took an active interest in heraldry. In 1722 he established a government
department for heraldry directed by a 'master of heraldry', among whose
duties was the creation of armorial bearings for all noble families that had
none, and for all the officers of the army and navy. The 'vice-master of
heraldry' was an Italian (Francesco Santi / Ed.) whose special task it was to design arms
for Russian provinces and towns. He produced in all 137 such coats of arms,
and the influence of French heraldry was very noticeable here. Heraldic
matters became so important during this period that the Imperial Academy of
Arts and Science invited a German professor in 1726 to give a lecture on
There had from early times been many
princely families in Russia, those who were the descendents of Rurik, who was
the ruler of Novgorod 862-79 and was regarded as the founder of the Russian
realm, and those whose ancestors were princes of Lithuania and Georgia or of
Tartar origin. In 1707 Peter the Great made a complete innovation by raising
his favourite Alexander Menschikov to the rank of
titular prince. And this move, promotion to the aristocracy by grant of
letters patent, was continued to an even greater extent by later rulers.
Under Peter the Great's
daughter Elizabeth (1741-61) the Office of Heraldry issued 200 patents of
nobility, some of them to the soldiers who had helped her to power (see Fig.
830), and up to 1797 patents of nobility giving a right to armorial bearings
were granted to 355 persons with no previous title, as well as to
thirty-seven barons and counts.
Coats of arms were as a rule depicted on a
shield known as 'French' (Figs 814 and 815). People newly raised to the
aristocracy bore a helmet with raised visor in profile (Fig. 812), the old
nobility a barred helmet affronty, sometimes with a
coronet (Figs 274 and 815). There were other coronets for barons (Fig. 813)
and counts (Fig. 816). Princes had a right to a robe of estate and a prince's
crown (Fig. 814). The arms of the ancient princely families were often shared
by several branches with different names. The Princes Bariatinsky,
who descended from Rurik and the old princes of Kiev, bore the arms of Kiev
(see Fig. 824) together with those of Tchernigov (Fig. 814, also Figs 819 and 820).
The crest was often the main charge
repeated. Occasionally three plumes or vambraced
arm with sword might be used instead.
At the close of the eighteenth century the
Emperor Paul (1796—1801) ordered the registration and proclamation of all
Russian coats of arms borne by the aristocracy of the following six
1. Nobility without title granted a patent
of nobility by the Czar.
2. Noblesse d'epee,
i.e. officers in the army and navy who had reached the rank of colonel and
3. Noblesse du cap, i.e. government
officials who had reached a rank equivalent to colonel.
4. Foreign nobility who had become
5. Nobility already titled.
6. The old aristocracy, i.e. who were noble
The first volume of this work appeared in
1798, but ten others that were planned were never printed, and in any case
the work was incomplete. Before publication all armorial bearings were to. be ratified by the Office of Heraldry and by the Czar himself, and since many of the families did not wish
to submit to such an investigation they did nothing about it.
Similar works were planned for Russian
Poland and the Ukraine. Here too the heraldic authorities demanded that a
coat of arms should be ratified before it could be used or proclaimed, but
this was never put into effect. (Annexed
by Russia at the end of the eighteenth century only, Poland and Ukraine had
had their own heraldic system long before the events described / Ed.)
In 1780 all towns of a certain size which
had no armorial bearings were ordered to assume one, and this again had to be
confirmed by the Czar. Regional capitals as a rule
used the same coat of arms as the region. The other towns used it as a chief
(Fig. 67) in their own bearings. In 1857 this was changed to a canton (Fig.
71), and it was at this time, perhaps in imitation of Napoleonic heraldry
(see Figs 487 and 489), that a system was introduced of mural crowns, gold,
silver and red, with varying numbers of crenellations
depending on the size of the population of the town and its administrative
position, historical importance and so on. Moscow and St Petersburg were
allowed to use the imperial crown (Figs 823 and 825) as well as the sceptre,
the ribbon of the Order of St Andrew and other items.
During the same period it became customary
to frame a civic coat of arms with a wreath of foliage or two green branches
or ears of corn. It seems probable that the wreath of corn bound with ribbon
in the arms of the Soviet Union - since copied by nearly all the communist
states - is a continuation of this practice from Czarist
times. The Russian Revolution of 1917 meant of course an end to all family
National arms on the other hand continued
to an even greater extent, although in a different form. The Czarist double-headed eagle disappeared and the hammer and
sickle, symbol of the industrial and agricultural classes, took its place. In
the arms of the Soviet Union the hammer and sickle are placed with the globe
as background, and for the people of the world the red star of the Soviet
heralded a new dawn, a fact made comprehensible to all by its composition (click here
for the Soviet and communist symbols).
The position of civic heraldry today is not
yet clear, but it certainly arouses interest. In recent years numerous publications
with illustrations and information about the old civic arms from before 1917
have appeared in the Soviet Union, and it is quite possible that those which
do not contain Czarist or religious devices, but
are politically neutral, such as Figs 831 and 832, may be adopted once again.