Recessional: The Noble Science of Heraldry

We had technical problems this week, and thus a short session; we only advanced from 1277 to 1286. Unfortunately, the Aiello spent that entire time wandering in the wilderness – that is to say, out of political power; thinking about it, the origin of that metaphor is probably Biblical and refers to Jews wandering in actual wilderness, but I was using the phrase in the modern sense of being unable to get elected. In any case, I did not get any good narrative inspiration; so instead I turn to heraldry. Judging by previous responses to heraldry-related AARs, I’m probably about to bore my readers, but that’s too bad; I love heraldry. It is such a fractal subject, a humongous collection of completely useless knowledge, fine distinctions, and obscure facts.

So let’s start with the Aiello arms:

Azure Three Bezants

Azure, three bezants. The blazon – oh wait, let me digress for a moment to explain this term of art. The blazon is the text that describes the picture, in such a way that you can reconstruct the arms without having to expensively illustrate the scroll you’re writing down “the arms of family X are such-and-such” in. To ensure unambiguity, blazons follow a very strict form; they are a very early compression algorithm – perhaps the first one? In any case, the first word is always the background colour of the shield, in this case blue, but because heraldry was invented by Frenchmen with nothing better to do, it’s called ‘azure’. Then come the charges, the animals or keys or whatever-it-is that the arms depict. Again there is a strict order: First the number, then the type of charge, then the colour.

So where, you ask, is the colour of my bezants? Being golden, they should be ‘or’; but in fact a ‘bezant’ in heraldry is always gold. A circle of a colour other than gold is a ’roundel’. So if I had silver coins instead of gold the arms would be “Azure three roundels argent”, but as I have golden ones I can just say “bezants” – that’s compression; saves a ha’penny’orth of ink per scroll. As I say: This thing is fractal. You could study it for a lifetime and still be learning new things, and people have.

Anyway, the Aiello arms represent the sea (blue) and the wealth that comes from it (gold coins). Obviously, somewhere in the backstory Salomone designed the arms himself and these are not just any old coins, they are three very specific bezants; but this is not common knowledge in Venice. Incidentally, you’ll note that “three bezants” does not specify any particular arrangement of the coins; so far as the blazon is concerned it seems they could be arranged horizontally, vertically, with one on top and two at the bottom, or any other way. But as nothing is specified, for three objects it is conventional to put them two on top, one at the bottom. Compression again; this was the most common arrangement, so leaving off the specification saved space in most cases.

The arms of Venice itself, meanwhile, bear the Lion of St Mark:

Arms of Venice

Gules a lion or, winged and haloed or, bearing a codex argent inscribed “Pax tibi Marce, Evangelista meus” – that is, “Peace unto you, Mark, my Evangelist”. Note the placement of the adjectives “winged and haloed” following the noun – unusual in English, conventional in heraldry. In the naval ensign of Italy, the lion appears along with the arms of three other maritime republics of medieval Italy, but in that case it bears a sword instead of a book – the naval ensign is a war flag. It’s not clear to me what the little golden doodads under the lion in the Paradox version are supposed to be. In some representations the Venetian lion is shown with its hind paws in water and forepaws on land, in obvious symbolism for a naval power, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here.

Now, some other families. BaronBowden, in England, has chosen boars for his dynasty’s charge:

Adam of Shrewsbury

Per pale argent and or, three boars gules. “Per pale” indicates that the background is divided by a vertical line down the middle; the left-hand colour (which is technically the ‘dexter’ colour, because the directions of the shield are named from the perspective of the bearer, not the viewer) is mentioned first. Heraldic boars symbolise courage in battle, and are most commonly seen in Ireland. The arms of England are gules, three lions passant guardant in pale or, armed and langued azure. “Three lions” has obvious royal symbolism. “Passant” means they are standing or walking on all fours, as opposed to upright which is “rampant”, and “guardant” indicates they are looking out of the shield. (If they were looking backwards it would be “reguardant”.) “Armed” refers to the claws, and “langued” to the tongues. Finally, “in pale” means they are arranged vertically down the middle of the shield; note the difference with my bezants and Baron’s boars – if you’re not going to use the triangle arrangement, you have to specify.

Baron’s vassal Dragoon has chosen to quarter his family’s arms:

Jordan D'Mertagne

Quartered, first and fourth azure, a fleur-de-lis or, second and third, argent a cross or. Again the division of the shield comes first. Then follow the descriptions of the quarters (numbered left to right, upper ones first), which are just shields in themselves, providing an early example of recursion. (Compression, recursion – I wonder what other computer-science concepts are going to show up? Perhaps this is why heraldry appeals to me.) The fleur-de-lis symbolises French royalty, after an angel allegedly presented a golden lily to Clovis upon his conversion. It seems that, like the bezant, it should be unnecessary to specify “or”, since nobody ever uses anything but golden ones, but it looks like convention has not caught up with usage in this case. The golden cross on a silver field is dubious, as both colours are considered “metals” and putting one metal on another is not allowed – and indeed these arms show why that’s so, with the low contrast between the cross and the background. However, heraldry is sufficiently fractal that most of its “rules” are more guidelines, and there’s always someone, somewhere, who has broken any given one. In particular, the arms of the Kingdom of Jerusalem were “argent a cross potent between four crosslets all or”; this was justified by the immense holiness of the kingdom, and is a bit hubristic for a plain old feudal family. The flag of the kings of France also had this colour combination, with gold fleurs-de-lis on a white field; flags, of course, are technically not subject to heraldic rules. The gold and silver in Baron’s shield doesn’t count; as they are divisions of the background, neither is on top of the other. Anyway the most important rule of arms is, “him that has the arms, makes the rules”.

The historical arms of Aquitaine are “Gules, a lion passant regardant or armed and langued azure”, ie the same as England’s except with only one lion; I don’t know where the eagle-cross-fleur-de-lis thing comes from. Excuse me, I meant the “Gules a cross voided argent, superimposed an eagle displayed sable, armed and langued gules, haloed or, superimposed a fleur-de-lis or”. Which is why another rule of heraldry is “Keep It Simple, Noble Lord!” The “voided” cross, ie hollowed-out, is probably deeply symbolic of something, perhaps of the power of Jesus over death, but I cannot make Google disgorge what it is. The eagle “displayed” means its wings are spread. The red beak and claws show up very badly against the slightly different shade of red in the background; “armed, langued, and haloed or” would have been better. Over on Ederon Dragoon has proposed an even more complicated coat of arms whose blazon involves the phrase “a saltire raguly-counter-raguly gules”, but at that point even a heraldry geek like myself tends to pass on in silence.

I only got through three players but I’ve got more than a thousand words; enough’s enough. I’ll return to heraldry if I need filler for another week; although Dragoon’s blazon is pretty complex and the gold crosses on silver are dubious, you ain’t seen nuffink yet when it comes to uneducated moderns making bad heraldry decisions.

Azure Three Bezants

I mentioned last week that I was not completely displeased at losing the election; this is because the Doge cannot go to war for trade posts. As a private family, I could; and this allowed me to take the extremely strategic TP in Rhodes from the Morosini:

Venetian Trade, 1286

Venetian trade, 1286.

The port in Rhodes is the only one that gives onto the Cyclades; and the Cyclades sea zone divided my Levantine trade zone from my Black Sea one. With its conquest, and the completion of the TP in Smyrna, I’ll have a single seven-province trade zone instead of a four and a two. Income should rise considerably.

Apart from this there is little to report; I fought and won a minor war to take Miletos, a city in Ephesos – where the 3000-strong army whose flag is “azure a goat passant argent, horned gules” is standing in the screenshot. Not my greatest triumph, but I had the CB and it was a war that could be won by a single mercenary company. The AI Doge has actually done something useful and started a holy war for Sinai, and even seems to be winning it; it remains to be seen whether any Muslim players take exception.

Central Med, 1286

The Central Med, 1286.

On a more RL note, while I’m playing the Doge of Venice, the Crown Princess of Men plays the Doggie of Pisa!

Doggie of Pisa

The Dalmatian costume is a little small for her, but she likes it a lot.


1 Comment

Filed under Azure Three Bezants, God of Our Fathers, Recessional

One response to “Recessional: The Noble Science of Heraldry

  1. Pingback: Azure Three Bezants: More for Viciousness than Valour | Ynglinga Saga

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