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History of Russian Coat of Arms
February 17, 2014 15:06

Russian Coat of Arms

The Russian Coat of Arms is one of the major state symbols of Russia, along with the flag and the anthem. When renamed from the RSFSR into the Russian Federation on December 25, 1991, the country reinstated its old pre-revolutionary coat of arms depicting a two-headed eagle. The roots of this symbol are what we tackle upon in this article.

The first images of the two-headed eagle date back to the 13th century BC. The rock carving depicted a two-headed eagle that had captured two hares. It was the coat of arms of Hittite tsars. The two-headed eagle was known in the Median Kingdom (the area of the Western Asia). In 625-585 BC the kingdom was governed by Kiaksar. A few more centuries later the image of “the proud bird” appeared in emblems of Rome. In the year 326, under the reign of Constantine the Great the two-headed eagle was selected by the emperor as his own emblem. After the foundation of Constantinople in 330 the eagle became the state emblem of Rome.

Speaking about Russia, the two-headed eagle first came here after the marriage of Ivan III of Russia and Sophia Paleologue, a niece of the last Byzantine emperor Constantine XI.

From the late 15th century the two-headed eagle appeared on the seals of the Moscow governor.  It supplemented the former Moscow coat of arms with the image of St. George the Conqueror. This was a sign of Russia showing its belonging to Byzantium.  It is also interesting to note that in various times the two-headed eagle was depicted on the coats of arms in different aims. The website pinpoints that under Ivan III the eagle was shown with its beak closed. However, during the reign of his son Vasily III (1505-1533) the eagle had its beak opened, with the tongue protruding. Under Ivan IV (1533-1584) the two-headed eagle was topped with only one crown that had an eight-pointed orthodox cross above it.  The symbols used by Ivan IV were adopted from the Book of Psalms. It testifies to a specific attitude to Christianity and its consolidation in Russia in general.
In 1667 the official explanation of the Russian coat of arms was given for the first time. The interpretation was based on the concept of Russia’s greatness.

When Peter I acceded to the throne (1682-1725) he made an essential contribution to the development of Russian heraldry. Under his the eagle started to be coloured black, though it had always been golden. It was associated with the Northern War. This is how Peter I decided to express the might and power of the Russian state. 

In 1740 the engraver Gedlinger made the State Seal. It was used till 1856 and fixed the image of the Russian two-headed eagle. Until the late 18th century there were no critical innovations in the coat of arms design.
Pavel I (1796-1801) introduced some changes to the coat of arms during his rule. emphasizes that the two-headed eagle became part of the imperial family in the epoch of Pavel I. The bright Maltese cross appeared on the eagle’s chest, with the Grand Master’s crown on top of the cross. 

Alexander I (1801-1825) in his turn decided to cancel the Maltese cross. Under his reign the eagle’s wings were spread apart and its feathers lowered. One head of the eagle was tilted more than the other. The eagle got new attributes in its paws: thunder arrows, a torch, and a laurel wreath.

The big State Emblem was introduced by order of Alexander II (1855-1881) on April 11, 1857. In the center of the coat of arms there was the French golden shield with the two-headed black eagle. It was topped with three imperial crowns and was holding an orb and a scepter in its paws, and had Moscow St. George emblem on its chest. The central part of the shield was integrated in the shadow of the main imperial crown and the holy banner above it. 6 shields with coats of arms of principalities were located to the right and to the left of the banner.

The Medium and Small coats of arms slightly differ from the Large one. The Medium one has no banners and coats of arms over the shade. The Small one is the same that the Medium, but without the shade and the patrimonial coat of arms. 
In the revolutionary year of 1917 the majestic eagle lost its status, since the Bolsheviks regarded it as a symbol of autocracy. In August 1991, when the democrats headed by Boris Yeltsin took the power, the eagle regained its place as the Russian coat of arms and is presently the state symbol.

Author: Vera Ivanova

Tags: Russian Coat of Arms Russian History    

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