Greek Heraldry – A Lesser Known History

Written By: Jennifer L Gordon

Greek Heraldry, though not as developed as other countries, has an interesting history. This has been stated as not well known, possibly because it was almost completely exterminated during the Ottoman rule of the Greek lands, which was traditionally placed from the fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Greek War of Independence in 1821. A strong example of this is the Byzantine heritage and influences from the various western powers that have occupied Greece over the years.



As many are aware, heraldry was introduced as a form of identification for knights and leading warriors when in battle. Because heraldry was originally used in the battlefield, and imagining what the battlefields of the Middle Ages may have looked like, the earliest symbols were very simple: a single tincture, charge, or ordinary.

Ancient Greek warriors painted their shields, but, unlike traditional heraldry, they did not use the same symbols for each battle. They changed them each time and they were customized for the occasion, typically to spark terror on the enemy. Other times, the symbols were used to identify the origin of the warriors such as with the well-known lambda Λ of the Spartans, which some may remember from the movie 300.

Interestingly enough, one cannot claim that the ancient Greeks used the symbols they painted on their shields to identify a person or family and that it may not be true heraldry. During the Middle Ages, Greece was still under the Roman Empire; with its capital in the newly renamed Constantinople, it was better known as the Byzantine Empire. The latter Byzantine period overlapped with the beginning of known heraldry in the remainder of Europe. With crusaders having to travel through the empire to get to the Holy Land, many of the traditions of the eastern and western parts of Europe were swapped back and forth. If heraldry had not already taken flight, it did with the Crusades; as many sources note. However, heraldry tended to remain with the upper classes and was not as widespread as other countries in Western Europe. The arms typically ascribed to the Byzantine Empire are the double headed eagle and the tetragrammatic cross. One can read further at: http://www.idtg.org/archive/155-heraldry-in-greece/#sthash.iaff4Nfc.dpuf

The Greek Heraldry Society

The Greek Heraldry Society, established in 2009, is a social and cultural non-profit organization. Their main goal is to contribute to the increasing interest in the Greek heraldic history and to offer its members with a forum to discuss such topics.

They have posted numerous articles and coat of arms of old Greek families never seen in color before along with genealogy interest information over the last two years. Most have been sponsored solely by Greek Heraldry Society while others have been held in cooperation with other societies and organizations. They also sponsor and organize educational events each year, including lectures. Constant research of genealogical profiles and the hope to sponsor annual social gatherings to bring its members together, from across the world are also on their agenda.

More information on the Greek Heraldry Society can be found at http://www.linkedin.com/company/greek-heraldry-society/

Additional Societies and Sources

There seem to be many sources one can look at to get information of Greek Heraldry and the families involved. An important and well known source is the 1983 book by Mihail Dimitri Sturdza GrandesFamilles de Grace, d’Albanie et de Constantinople. Another excellent and well researched source on heraldry focused the Ionian island of Kefalonia is the website created by Mr. Panayotis Cangelaris. For anyone that is of Greek ancestry or interested in the family histories of the region, many of which go back to the height of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire. The link to the Society’s website, which should be noted is entirely in Greek, is: http://www.egee.gr/.

One more item of importance is that there is an extremely small community of heraldic enthusiasts in Greece who have come together and created the Heraldic and Genealogical Society of Greece. They’re located in Athens, Greece. They meet regularly and publish essays and works. Their website can be further looked into at http://www.idtg.org/archive/155-heraldry-in-greece/.

And, the oldest organization involved with heraldic and genealogical studies in Greece founded in 1975, The Heraldic & Genealogical Society of Greece, is now online. The Society has set the high standards in Greek genealogical and heraldic research for particular area concerned. They also have a library that contains some of the most important texts ever published on the histories of Greek families or the heraldic research of particular regions. Among its collection are all the volumes of the Society’s journal that have been issued since 1979.

The Heraldic & Genealogical Society of Greece should not be confused with the Greek Heraldry
Society based in London. See more at: http://www.idtg.org/archive/1791-the-heraldic-genealogical-society-of-greece/#sthash.HGmaCHCe.dpuf