Children of the Fatherland: On Heraldry

I was a bit annoyed when I wrote this, having just lost a war with Croatia.

Making good on my threat; don’t say you weren’t warned! If I don’t get the City back this sort of thing will be all you get for the next six hundred years, bwah-hah. Or to blazon that properly, sable threatened, a laugh madder.

A brief consideration of the arms of the Powers, their histories and blazons, and their symbolism.

Arms of the Caliphate

The Caliphate, claiming as it does to represent all of Dar-al-Islam, has undoubtedly the simplest arms in all of heraldry, the blazon consisting of the single word ‘Vert’. The green field is symbolic of life and growing things, a powerful image for the nomadic desert tribes with whom Islam is still associated in its lands of origin. Moslem teaching forbids the use of images, and in the strictest interpretations even symbols for the faith, lest they become idolatrous; although the proscription is not universally observed, the Caliph’s banners are a model of this piety.

Arms of Persia

The arms of Persia are the diametric opposite of this pristine simplicity. Descending from seals of the Zoroastrian dynasties, and isolated from the European tradition of single charges consisting of strong outlines, the Abbasid banner may be blazoned “quarterly gules and azure; a roundel quartered and inescutcheoned roundel, bearing in its first quarter a faravahar or, in the second the sun in his glory issuant from a lion or bearing a sabre, in the third sable bordered or a sabre or handled argent, a mullet or, in the fourth a griffin segreant or; the inescutcheon azure bordered argent, the sun in his glory issuant from a mountain or with peaks argent.” In Europe, any one of the six parts of this would be considered quite sufficient; the complexity of the blazon reflects the difficulty of bludgeoning arms from a very different heraldic tradition into European forms. It also reflects the long history of Persia, with many different symbols of sovereignty and royal power. The faravahar, a charge unknown to European heralds, might – if the blazon were not already long as a bad year! – be described as “a winged disk overlaying a feather-robed crowned archer”. It is associated with Zoroastrianism, and represents the glory of the human soul in its struggle with Ahriman. This is of course anathema, in a quite literal sense, to the orthodox imams of the Caliphate; but Islam in Persia has perforce reached an accomodation with the Iranian sense of national unity and strength. The Lion-and-Sun emblem and the griffin are both conventional symbols of royalty, symbolising power and courage in battle, and the sabre is a reminder of its real basis. The mullet, when placed with the curve of the sabre, recalls the Crescent-and-Star of Islam. Finally, the mountain represents Mount Damavand, a symbol of Aryan resistance against foreign domination and tyranny, and of the highland plateaus that to this day are the heartland of Iranian strength.

[OOC aside: The Persian CoA in CK appears to be based on that of the Pahlavi dynasty, which obviously is very anachronistic, but does have the advantage that you can find it on the Internets and have a look at the details. When I tried to figure out the blazon just from the bitmap CoA, the faravahar ended up being a tulip, on the grounds that the tulip is associated with Persia and who was going to argue? Going by the CK file, you could just as well blazon that part “a blob or”. I also took the sabre-and-mullet for a comet-and-star.]

Arms of Russia

Turning north, we find Russia with much more conventional arms, gules a bear rampant or crowned or bearing an axe argent. The bear is of course a traditional symbol of Russia, the crown is a traditional symbol of royal sovereignty, and the axe is a traditional tool for enforcing sovereignty through beheadings. The symbolism, then, is like the Russians themselves: Conservative and to the point, without hidden complexity.

Arms of Croatia
Arms of Bavaria

Croatia and Bavaria both have simple geometries, Croatia’s arms being chequy gules and argent, and Bavaria’s lozengy azure and argent. The rumour that Croatia’s red-and-white represents blood flowing on the pale skin of virgins sacrificed to Satan in exchange for victory in battle is unsubstantiated but very persuasive.

Arms of Denmark

Denmark’s arms of hearts and lions, “or three horny lions passant azure crowned and armed or, langued gules, nine hearts gules”, recall those of Holger Danske, “Ogier l’Danois” in the Chanson d’Charlemagne. The famed knight himself sleeps, of course, under Kronborg Castle, waiting for the hour of Denmark’s greatest need, when he shall again rise and wield his sword Curtana against the infidel. With the infidel now right across the English Channel from the Danelaw, that day may not be too far distant.

Arms of al-Andalus

The arms of al-Andalus, in a minor historical irony, are descended from those of the Christian kingdom of Leon, mainstay of the resistance to the taifa emirates before the Caliphate’s resurgence. They therefore form a cant, or pun, that no longer has any basis. Apart from this footnote, the arms are conventional: Argent a lion rampant purpure, crowned, armed, and langued or.

Arms of Byzantium

Finally, Rome, like Persia, has a multitude of symbols from its long history, but unlike the Iranians the Romans do not insist on displaying all of them on a single coat of arms. Field armies, of course, carry a golden Eagle as their standard, variously cadenced. The Komnenos dynasty has its own familial arms, separate from those of the Empire as such in spite of the long dominance of the family; the seal of Antioch, long lost to the Caliphate, is also sometimes associated with the Komnenoi in memory of their long defiance from the walls of that city. The arms of the Empire as such are “gules quartered by a cross or, bearing in each quarter a firestone or”. The firestones are conventionally shown as having the shape of the Greek letter beta, and thus the four charges together represent the motto “Basileus Basileon Basileuon Basileonton”, “King of Kings, Ruling over those who Rule”. The motif of a cross separating four charges goes back to Constantine, and has appeared in many variants; it recalls the cross-in-circle that appeared to the Emperor in a dream with the motto “In Hoc Signo Vinces”, “In This Sign Conquer”.

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