Eagle (heraldry): Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

German coat of arms, featuring an eagle as the primary charge

The eagle is used in heraldry as a charge, as a supporter, and as a crest. Parts of the eagle's body such as its head, wings or leg are also used as a charge or crest.

The eagle symbolized strength, courage, farsightedness and immortality. It is considered to be the king of the air and the messenger of the highest Gods. Mythologically, it is connected by the Greeks with the God Zeus, by the Romans with Jupiter, by the Germanic tribes with Odin and by Christians with God.


Use of the eagle

In the same way that a lion is considered the king of beasts the eagle is regarded as the pre-eminent bird in heraldry. It has been more widely used and more highly regarded in Continental European heraldry than in English heraldry. For instance, in the roll of Henry III of England (reigned 1216-1272) there are only three eagles.

Eagles are often (outside of Italian heraldry) drawn with the beak, tongue and talons in a different colour to the rest of the body. In that case they are blazoned "eagle [main colour] langued and armed [second colour]."

An eagle can appear either single- or double-headed. On at least one occasion a three-headed eagle is seen.[1] Additionally, Reinmar von Zweter fashioned the wing bones of his eagle into a second and third head.[2]


Tetradrachma from the reign of emperor Elagabalus with Roman eagle (218-222). In 102 BC, the Roman consul Gaius Marius decreed that the eagle would be the symbol of the Senate and People of Rome.

Iranian Empires (Persia) are among the first who used eagle as a standard. To the pagans, the eagle was an emblem of Jupiter, the god of the sky. The eagle and lion of Inishowen were used as Celtic drudic holy symbols. In 102 B.C. the Roman Consul Gaius Marius decreed that the eagle would be the symbol of the Senate and People of Rome. It is said that when the Second Temple of Jerusalem was being expanded and renovated in 20 B.C., Herod the Great offended the people by mounting a Roman golden eagle over the gate. When Herod died some years later, his opponents tore down the eagle. It is believed that the Prophet Muhammad's first standard or flag in 7th century A.D. was a plain flag with no insignia on it to contradict the national standard of the opposing pagan Quraish tribe, Al-Uqaab, that had a black eagle on white background, the sacred Eagle that carried pagan prayers from Earth to the Sky.

Central Asian Turkish Shamans carried a wooden stick pole with seven or nine horizontal sticks forming stairs to an Eagle put on the top of the stick during their rituals. The eagle was regarded, for example, as a holy bird, a protective spirit, and the guardian of heaven. It was also a symbol of potency and fertility. Eagles on tombstones reflected the Shamanistic belief that the souls of the dead rose up to Heaven in the form of birds or were accompanied and protected by the eagle while traveling in the underworld and the sky. Eagle also was believed to be a carrier of prayers to the sky. The Altaic figures carved into rocks suggest that the eagle also was a sign of grandeur and magnificence among the Turks.

The Turkish shamanistic religious heritage of Asian roots survived to some extent after their acceptance of Islam and migration westwards. The metaphorical meaning of the name of Tougrul Beig (993-1063 A.D.) who founded the Seljuk State as its foremost commander was "Eagle". The spirit of the Türkmen is accepted as 'horse' in the fifth and as "eagle" in the third period.

In mediæval and modern heraldry eagles are often said to indicate that the armiger (person bearing the arms) was courageous, a man of action and judicious. Where an eagle's wings were spread ("displayed") it was said to indicate the bearer's rôle as a protector. When mythological beasts are used, such as a griffin (part eagle, part lion) they indicate that the bearer of the arms possessed a combination of those animals' qualities.

Sumerian and Hittite eagles

Two headed eagle mural from Borzeşti Church, Romania.

At the base of Ab-ú's statue, found in the Old Sumerian shrine of Eshnunna (Tell Asmar), his symbol of a lion-headed eagle, with outstretched wings and talons, is shown as diving down upon his prey, arranged mirror-symmetrically. The lion-headed eagle was also known as the Ningirsu (storm-bird) in the Sumerian city of Lagash and said to have appeared as one or two lion-head eagles on recently excavated historical artifacts. The two-headed eagle later was an emblem of twin gods depicting power and omniscience. It appeared on monuments of the first Hittite Empire in central Anatolia and was an attribute of Nergal. Another very archaic Mesopotamian symbol that survived in Phoenician culture was the Gryphon, a mythical beast with the lower body of a lion and upper body of an eagle.

Twin-headed eagle and the Turks

The Seljuk Turks emigrating from Central Asia occupied Baghdad in 1055 and Tougrul captured Mosul, and upon returning to Baghdad in 1058 was given the title of the King of the East and West. The Seljuks were even more anxious to have their rule legitimized: seen as aliens they were unpopular with the townsfolk of Persia and Iraq, and Tougrul's investiture by the Caliph in 1058, in a magnificent ceremony during which two crowns were held over his head as symbols of his regal authority over East and West, confirmed that the he now was the Commander of the Faithful. At the time the double-headed eagle became his and the Seljuk state's coat of arms and flag, one head symbolizing the east and the other one symbolizing the west. As the Seljuk Empire's insignia, the twin-headed eagle appears in Turkish coins from 11th century and onwards as well as a number of architectural remains scattered in central and east Anatolia. These architectural remains also depict palm trees under bicephalous eagle as the tree of life, symbolizing peace and prosperity. Seljuk Turkish Sultans' use of references to the east and the west as well as the palm tree of life were inspired by the passages in Quran:

"And the pains of childbirth drove Mary to the trunk of a palm-tree: She cried in her anguish: 'Ah! would that I had died before this! would that I had been a thing forgotten and out of sight!' But (a voice) cried to her from beneath the palm-tree: 'Grieve not! for thy Lord hath provided a rivulet beneath thee. And shake towards thyself the trunk of the palm-tree: It will let fall fresh ripe dates upon thee. So eat and drink and cool thine eye. And if thou dost see any man, say, 'I have vowed a fast to Most Gracious, and this day will I enter into not talk with any human being'. At length she brought the (baby Jesus) to her people, carrying him in her arms. They said: 'O Mary! truly an amazing thing hast thou brought!' (19:23-27) (Moses) said (to the Pharaoh): 'He is the god of the East and the West, and all between; if you only had sense'(28:28) Now I do call to witness the Lord of all points in the East and the West (70:40) (He is) Lord of the East and the West: there is no god but He: take Him therefore for (thy) Disposer of Affairs (73:9)".

Seljuk Turks, led by AlpArslan whose name meant "a valiant lion" and who was the nephew of Tougrul Beg, captured Jerusalem from the Egyptians in 1071, the same year as they entered Anatolia through Manzikert, introducing to the localities the bicephalous eagle standard of Seljuks of Rum (Roma) which transcended to generations from subsequent interface of nations through the crusades.

Arab heraldry

Arabs used the eagle in their heraldry before Islam. The Quraishi hawk, used today in the coats of arms of Yemen, Syria and the UAE, was also used by the Quraish tribe, the strongest in Arabia.

Egyptian coat of arms, using the Saladin Golden Eagle

Another very popular eagle, used by Arab states today and historically, is the Saladin Golden Eagle. Used by Saladin in the 12th century, it is also used in the coats of arms of several Arab countries today, such as Egypt and Iraq.

Western European heraldry

According to Carl-Alexander von Volborth the first instance of the use of an eagle as an heraldic charge is the Great Seal of the Margrave Leopold IV of Austria in 1136. On the seal his figure carries a shield charged with an eagle. Also from about this time is a coin, minted in Maastricht (the Netherlands), dating from between 1172 and 1190 after contacts with the East via the crusades. It shows a single-headed eagle, see here.It should be noted that Gilbert d'Aquila who was granted Baronetcy of Pevensey by William after the Battle of Hastings. The family who held Pevensey castle and the newly formed Borough of Pevensey used the Eagle Symbol in the 11th Century. .

From the reign of Frederick Barbarossa in 1155 the eagle became a symbol of the Holy Roman Empire in its one-headed state. The eagle was clearly derived from the Roman eagle and continues to be important in the heraldry of those areas once within the Holy Roman Empire. Within Germany the placement of one's arms in front of an eagle was indicative of princely rank under the Holy Roman Empire. The first mention of a double-headed eagle in the West dates from 1250 in a roll of arms of Matthew Paris for Emperor Frederick II.

Charlemagne was a Frankish ruler and the first Holy Roman Emperor from AD 800 - 814, well before the introduction of heraldry. In later periods, a coat of arms attributed to Charlemagne shows half of the body of a single-head black eagle as the symbol of the German emperors next to a fleur-de-lis as the symbol of the kings of France on an impaled shield.

Eastern imperial eagles

Double-headed eagle emblem of the Byzantine Empire. The head on the left (West) symbolizes Rome, the head on the right (East) symbolizes Constantinople. Relief from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (Istanbul)

The double-headed eagle became the symbol of the Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos. Palaiologos recaptured Constantinople from the Crusaders in 1261 and adopted the double-headed eagle as his symbol of the dynasty's interests in both Asia and Europe. It represented looking towards the East (Asia Minor, traditional power center of the Byzantine-government in exile after the IVth Crusade) and the West (newly reconquered land in Europe) centered on Constantinople. The Byzantine double-headed eagle has been seen in late 13th century, certainly pre-dating the development of the same in western heraldry.

In Russia it was Ivan III of Russia who first assumed the two-headed eagle, when, in 1472, he married Sophia, daughter of Thomas Palæologus, and niece of Constantine XI, the last Emperor of Byzantium. The two heads symbolised the Eastern or Byzantine Empire and the Western or Roman Empire.

The Empire of Trebizond (1204-1461), one of the states created after the capture of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade, used the emblem of the normal (single headed) eagle. The black eagle on yellow background is still used today in Greece by descendants of Pontian Greeks.[3]

Later use of the eagle

Francoist shield

Napoleon used an eagle, again derived from an Ancient Roman eagle, as did his nephew Napoleon III. An eagle remains in the arms of the House of Bonaparte.

Since 20 June 1782, the United States has used an American Bald Eagle, wings displayed, on its Great Seal.

The Mexican coat of arms and the Mexican flag bear an "eagle perched upon a nopal, devouring a serpent".

The flag of Egypt illustrates an eagle as its official coat of arms.

Many modern states and individuals continue to use the eagle in their arms. These include:

In Spain the eagle, though it was first used by the Catholic monarchs as a symbol of Saint John the Evangelist, came to be associated with the regime of Francisco Franco and since his death has been removed from official usage.

Spread eagle

The Great Seal of the United States features a spread eagle

The popular, informal term spread eagle is derived from a heraldic depiction of an eagle "displayed," with both wings, the body and the legs displayed, which has been used as the emblem of a number of states and monarchs. According to Hugh Clark, An Introduction to Heraldry, the term spread eagle refers to "an eagle with two heads, displayed,"[4] but this distinction has apparently been lost in modern usage.

Examples can be seen:

See also




  1. ^ Arms granted in 1957 to the Duke of Swabia display a three-headed eagle. See here.
  2. ^ Reinmar von Zweter's peculiar eagle is famously depicted in the Codex Manesse.
  3. ^ Eleni Kokkonis-Lambropoulos & Katerina Korres-Zografos (1997) (in greek). Greek flags, arms and insignia (Ελληνικές Σημαίες, Σήματα-Εμβλήματα). E. Kokkonis-G. Tsiveriotis. p. 52. ISBN 960-7795-01-6.  
  4. ^ Clark, Hugh (1892). An Introduction to Heraldry, 18th ed. (Revised by J. R. Planché). London: George Bell & Sons. First published 1775. ISBN 143253999X


  • Fox-Davies, A.C.; A Complete Guide to Heraldry, Bloomsbury Books, London, 1985
  • Puttock, Colonel A.G.; Heraldry in Australia, Child & Associated Publishing Pty. Ltd. Frenchs Forest, 1988
  • von Volborth, Carl-Alexander; Heraldry, Customs, Rules and Styles, New Orchard Editions, Poole, 1981

External links


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address