Excerpts from the book





          Written and illustrated by

          Carl Alexander von Volborth , K.St.J., A.I.H.


          Copenhagen 1973


          Internet version edited by   Andrew Andersen, Ph.D.








(pp. 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 arms.


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 heraldry.



824. City arms of Kiev



795. The arms of Poland.

The white eagle on a red field goes  back to the thirteenth century


808. The 'small coat of arms' of Imperial Russia, as it looked in 1915. In the centre are the arms of Moscow (see Fig. 823) surrounded by the collar of the Order of St Andrew. The wings of the double-headed eagle are surmounted by the arms of cities and provinces. Dexter (top to bottom): Kazan, Poland (see Fig. 795), Taurida and Kiev (with Novgorod and Vladimir). Sinister: Astrakhan, Siberia, Georgia and Finland (see Fig. 782). The imperial crown at the top is taken from that of Catherine II, 1762. (The legs should be of the same colour as the beaks.)



818. City arms of Novgorod, 1781.



782. The arms of Finland

which go back to 1580s.




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.





830. Arms of the leibkampanetz family of Simonev. The sinister half with sword is the family's own coat of arms. The dexter half is an augmentation (see p. 54). Peter the Great's daughter Elizabeth (1741-62) seized the Russian throne in 1741 by a coup d'6tat. The soldiers who had helped her were all raised to the nobility and were granted the same addition to the arms they already bore, or were presumed to bear; on a black field strewn with three stars a chevron with three grenades. They also all had the same crest - a grenadier's cap with plumes and wings - and were given the title of leibkampanetz, meaning 'belonging to the company of Life Guards'.




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).





813. Coronet for barons,

after the French model,

see Fig. 441.




812. Helmets for Russian families with patents of nobility—in profile with visor raised.




814. Arms of the Princes Bariatinsky,

who are descendents of

the earliest known Russian ruler, Rurik (862-79).






441. French coronet

for barons, older form.



824. City arms of Kiev, 1782. Sometimes shown with the sword red and the shield silver.




274. Arms of the Russian aristocratic family of Mendeleyev,

of which Dimity Mendeleyev (1834-1907), the well-known chemist, was a member.








815. Charges such as these are characteristic of old families

of Tartar descent.



816. Arms of the Counts Tolstoi, one of whom was the writer Leo Tolstoi (1828 - 1910).




829. Coat of arms of the family of Rodzianko, typical of arms of the Ukrainian nobility.









819. City arms of Smolensk, 1780.


820. Arms of the aristocratic family of Tatistchev, descended from the Princes of Smolensk (see Fig. 819).




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 categories:


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 above.

3. Noblesse du cap, i.e. government officials who had reached a rank equivalent to colonel.

4. Foreign nobility who had become naturalised Russians.

5. Nobility already titled.

6. The old aristocracy, i.e. who were noble before 1685.


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.






67. Chief

487. Pattern for a city of first grade of importance.

(Napoleonic heraldry / Ed.)




489. Pattern for a city of third grade of importance.

(Napoleonic heraldry / Ed.)






71. Canton


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 arms.





825. City arms of St Petersburg, 1780.


823. Arms of the “Couvernement” of Moscow, as they were in 1856





810. City arms of Lvov, from the eighteenth century.

(NB! Lvov never belonged to Russia / Ed.)


811. City arms of Minsk, from the sixteenth century.

(Minsk was annexed by Russia in 1793 only / Ed.)




809. City arms of Jekaterinoslav, from the eighteenth century

807. City arms of Kharkov, from the eighteenth century

826. City arms of Vladimir, 1781.



828. City arms of Kaluga, 1777.


822. City arms of Poltava, granted 1803.



817. City arms of Rostov (on Don), 1811.






821. City arms of Vladikavkas after 1873.


832. City arms of Nijni Novgorod, 1871.


827. City arms of Tsaritsyn, 1857

(later Stalingrad, now Volgograd).


831. City arms of Ufa, 1782




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.