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Russian Coat of Arms

Last modified: 2014-03-15 by zoltán horváth
Keywords: coat of arms | heraldry | eagle: double-headed (golden) | eagle: double-headed (black) | saint george |
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Russian Coat of Arms
image by Eugene Ipavec, 14 July 2006
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The current Coat of Arms

Present coat of arms was adopted on 30 November 1993 with the Decree of the President #2050. The arms: red shield, golden double-headed eagle with scepter, orb and three crowns. Silver horseman is in red escutcheon. Author of drawing — Evgeny Ukhnalyov from St.Petersburg. The horseman is not St. George. Russia is not a christian-only country, there are many muslims, buddhists and other. That’s why the authors decided not to name the horseman as “Saint”. The comission to design the arms was created on 16 November 1993, the comission was led by R. Pikhoya, state archivist of Russia. In 1991 double-headed eagle (without crowns), breast-shield, scepter nor orb was drawn on coins. The arms may be used without red shield (article 2, Regulation on State Coat of Arms). Later this arms was named “coat of arms of The Bank of Russia”.
Victor Lomantsov, 10 Nov 1999

The horseman on historical russian arms (and on the arms of Moscow too) is St. George. In official description of modern arms of Russia (1993) the horseman became simply a «horseman» as a tribute to the muslim population, but he “looks like” St.George. Some heraldists want to rename back «horseman» to «St. George».
Victor Lomantsov, 10 Nov 2000

I suppose that there’s a (legal?) prescription which specifically says that the dragon slaying rider on the russian arms is not St. George, in order not to ostracize some 10% of the citizens of Russia who are not christians.
António Martins, 09 Nov 2000

If it isn’t St. George, one misses the reference to Moscow’s patron saint in Georgiy Zhukov, the latter-day savior of Moscow, riding a white horse through Red Square over the captured Nazi regalia. I’m sure it wasn’t intentional on Stalin’s part, but I’ve been told the Muscovites certainly caught the association of images.
Joe McMillan, 11 Nov 2000

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I located the official version of the Russian Coat of Arms. Source: PC Screenshot of the Official website of the President of the Russian Federation (http://www.president.kremlin.ru/eng/articles/state_insignia_03_3.shtml)
Esteban Rivera 11 Jul 2006

Differences between Tsar’s and current Coat of Arms

The current Russian coat of arms differs from the imperial one. Now it is red with a golden eagle, back then the shield was golden with a black eagle. And there are neither the chain of St. Andrew Order, nor the six arms on the wings anymore.
Carsten Linke, 02 May 1996, and Norman M. Martin, 05 Dec 1997

Another difference between the current coat of arms of the Russian Federation and the coat of arms of Imperial Russia is that today, the centre arms of St. George is mirrored. The “czarist” knight shows his left flank, riding to the heraldic right side; modern St. George is seen from the opposite side, riding to the left.
Stephan Gorski, 28 Sep 1998

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History and Discription of the Coat of Arms

The Russian coat of arms is formally the golden eagle and all it’s charges on a red shield (with no other elements) — much the same way that the Imperial coat of arms (before 1917) was the black eagle (with slightly different charges) on a golden shield.
António Martins, 01 Apr 1999

Ancient russian coins had the drawings of a horseman with a spear since XIII c. Greater State Seal of Grand Duke Ivan III (1497) had the drawing of a horseman killing a dragon too. A horseman was a symbol of a Defender of Motherland. Since the times of czar Ivan IV Groznyi a horseman was situated on the breast of double-headed eagle, the state coat of arms. In that times the horseman was «a portrait of the czar». He had a crown and (sometimes) a mantle. Later, in times of czar Alexei Mikhaylovich, the horseman on the eagle’s breast became the portrait of crown-successor (for example, in official description of russian seal and coat of arms of 1667). Western travellers usually perceived the horseman as St. George. Many russians did it too (because he looks like famous orthodox icon St. George and Dracon). He officially become St. George in 1730 (Decree of Empress, description of coat of arms). Now St. George is Coat of Arms of Moscow.
Victor Lomantsov, 16 Aug 2000

It’s definition: "St. George-Pobedonosec", which means "victor".
Michael Simakov, 09 Nov 2000

In Meyers Konversations-Lexikon 1889 I found the following description of the Russian coat of arms:

On a golden shield a black, twoheaded, triple-crowned eagle with red beak and talons and spreaded out wings, holding the golden sceptre in his right, the golden imperial orb in his left talon; on the breast the Moscow coat of arms: St. George on horseback, piercing the dragon [lindwurm]. On every wing of the eagle there are three shields: the coat of arms of Astrakhan, Novgorod and Kiev on the right, the arms of Siberia, Kazan and Vladimir on the left one. The eagle is surrounded by the chain of the St. Andrew Order and headed by the imperial crown with two blue bands bordered golden.

Further it said, that the coat of arms was adopted in 1497 by Tsar Ivan III, who took the Byzantinian twoheaded eagle and improved it with the arms of Moscow.
Carsten Linke, 02 May 1996

The two major symbolic elements of Russian vexillography [the two-headed eagle and St. George slaying the dragon] which predate Peter I [the Great] were both considered Russian state arms. The older form (a mounted dragon slayer known as George the Victorious) was always associated with the Grand Duchy of Moscovy, later becoming the official arms of the city of Moscow. The earliest graphic representation of a rider with a spear (1390) figures in a seal of the prince of Moscow, Vasilii Dimitriyevich. The serpent or dragon was added under Ivan III (1462-1505), probably to represent the Christians of Russia defeating the pagan hordes of the east — Russia’s traditional enemy, the Tatars.
The familiar Russian double-headed eagle was in fact a foreign symbol, adopted to demonstrate the imperial pretensions of the Russian Tsars beginning with Ivan III (the Great) in 1497. … Ivan married Zoe Paleolog whose uncle Constantine had been the last Byzantine emperor. … From 1497 on the double-headed eagle proclaimed Russian sovereignty over East and West…
Nick Artimovich 06 May 1996, quoting [smi75b]

The colours of Moscow coat of arms were settled in the 18th century. Before 1730 various colours were used. After 1730 the shield became red, the dragon — black, the cape of St. George — yellow. Only in 1856 the cape became blue! I think colours of the coat of arms of Moscow are based on national flag, and not the other way around.
Victor Lomantsov, 10 Nov 1999

I have seen the Russian coat of arms displayed both with and without a shield behind the eagle. I believe that this is true for all the eagle-arms that stem from Roman Imperial Eagle. At least I am sure for Austro-Hungarian one, which was more often represented without the (yellow) shield behind it then with it. I believe it is also true of German arms, and most of arms of kingdoms in Balkan.
Željko Heimer, 06 Dec 1997, and Ossi Raivio, 05 Dec 1997

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History and Discription of the Two-Headed Eagle

Archeologists found on russian territory many mongol coins (Gold Orda coins, 1330-1350) with double-headed eagle. Some russian local princes copied mongol coins with eagle (for example, Mikhail, prince of Tver principality, coin of 1486).
Victor Lomantsov, 14 Apr 2000

The eagle, facing both east and west, was an old byzantine emblem (of roman origin?), with whom the tsar was linked by marriage. This eagle is also found in some balkanic coats of arms (Serbia and Albania come to mind).
António Martins, 13 Apr 2000

The arms on the wings of the russian imperial arms are (clockwise starting from the heads):

  1. Kingdom of Astrakhan
  2. Kingdom of Siberia [actually, the arms of Novosibirsk]
  3. Kingdom of Georgia
  4. Grand Duchy of Finland
  5. Grand Duchies of
    1. Kiev
    2. Vladimir
    3. Novgorod
  6. Kherson and Taurida
  7. Kingdom of Poland
  8. Kingdom of Kazan
(I have followed European custom in translating "Knyaz" as "Duke", although many historians say "Prince" would be better.) The escutcheon is the Grand Duchy of Moscow. Note that the Dynastic Arms (Romanov-Gottorp) does not appear in the Small State Arms (Maliy Gosudarstvenniy Gerb) but does however appear on the Great State Arms (Bolshoy Gosudarstvenniy Gerb) of the Russian Empire.
Norman Martin, 18 Jul 1998
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History and Discription of the Horseman

It may be noted that the figure of St. George killing the Dragon (not under that name, of course) is found in many pre-christian symbols and sources of various peoples that was living or passed though great plains, not only Slavic but other Indo-European and others too. The legend can be traced back to “primordial” miths of many nations. It is often deep rooted and local population often regard the “story” as it’s own.
Željko Heimer, 17 Aug 2000

Ancient russian coins had the drawings of a horseman with a spear since XIII c. Big State Seal of Grand Duke Ivan III (1497) had the drawing of a horseman killing a dragon too. A horseman was a symbol of a Defender of Motherland. Since the times of czar Ivan IV Groznyi a horseman was situated on the breast of double-headed eagle, the state coat of arms. In that times the horseman was «the portrait of the czar». He had a crown and (sometimes) a mantle. Later, in times of czar Alexei Mikhaylovich, the horseman on the eagle’s breast became the portrait of crown-successor (for example, in official description of russian seal and coat of arms of 1667). Western travellers usually perceived the horseman as St.George. Many russians did it too (because he looks like famous orthodox icon St. George and the Dragon). He officially become St. George in 1730 (Decree of Empress, description of coat of arms). Now St. George is Coat of Arms of Moscow.
Victor Lomantsov, 16 Aug 2000

First seal of Ivan III with horseman killing a dragon dated 1479. Russians had begun name the horseman like St.George since XVIII c (officially since 1730). Before it the horseman was «tsar», later (in times of tsar Alexei, father of Peter I) he was «heir» in official documents.
Victor Lomantsov, 14 Apr 2000

Known from seals dated between 1390 and 1423 the knight (without the dragon) appeared together the eagle on the seal of Ivan III in 1497. One figure was on the obverse, the other on the reverse of the seal. It is likely that the knight represented the czar himself, in the Byzantine meaning of Imperator debellator hostium. Because he was represented killing the dragon, this lead to identificate him in S. George, but in the description of the seal of Ivan IV (1562) it is still said «a man on a horse». Still the 1667 official blasoning of the coat of arms says of him as the «heir» [of the Byzantine throne]. Following modern russian heralds (f.e. Elena I. Kamanceva) the knight was the «symbolic representation of russian wars in defending the homeland from the enemies». The main colors were blue for the knight dress, white for the horse and red for the background. So it is likely that white, blue and red colors derived, as in many other cases, from the coat of arms.
Mario Fabretto, 27 Nov 1998, based on [zig94], [sto74] and [fow69]