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Croatia - Coat of Arms

Last modified: 2004-12-18 by dov gutterman
Keywords: croatia | dalmatia | checquy | lion | leopard | head | three | goat | star | sixpointed | river | marten | heraldry |
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by Zeljko Heimer, 3 October 2000



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The Checquy Argent and Gules

The arms of Croatia, checquy argent and gules, were originally used by the medieval Kings of Croatia. They are attributed to Demeter Zvonimir (d. 1089).
Jim Terzian

Checquy argent and gules. That seems to date from 1525. In the 9th century the Croats form a political entity, and their leader takes the title of king in 929. In 1102, a succession crisis is solved with the choice of the king of Hungary as king of Croatia. The two kingdoms are ruled by the same ruler until the Turkish conquest in 1526, though Croatia retains its institutions, its governor or ban, and its coinage. On medieval coinage, the arms of Croatia appear to be a mullet of six over a crescent (the motif appears on coins as early as the late 12th century).
In 1525, under circumstances I have not yet cleared, the arms "checquy argent and gules" were adopted, and remained the arms of Croatia in the Habsburg achievements until 1918. They were used on the flag of the puppet regime in 1941-45, but (interestingly) they also appeared on the seal of the republic of Croatia after 1946.
The Croatians use, in addition, their provincial arms as a crown above the escutcheon. There are five shields, each bearing arms of a particular province.

The arms of Slavonia appear on coins of that region as early as 1235. The arms that I called "old Croatia" appear in 1196 on coinage.
Francois Velde, 30 June 1995

The symbol of checquy fields is more ancient than written Croatian history, and that is to say older than 7th century. Much older that the arms itself (that are not older than 11th century, of course). The traces of checquy could be found on the way Croatian tribes came from what is today Poland (Vistula valley), and even further back to east. According to some findings of checquy patterns in Iran, there are scientists who would like to prove an Iranian (or Arian) descent of the Croatians.
There is a legend of a Croatian king arrested in Venice, who got his freedom playing three parties of chess with his arrester. The story is much younger than the Croatian checquy, and is, I guess, invented sometime in the 1700's or so.
Zeljko Heimer,, 26 March 1996

According to Jerzy Gizyski: "History of Chess", which also has more extensive references to chess in polish heraldry: "A chequerboard appears in the Croation coat of arms. It is said that Svetoslav Surinj beat the venetian Doge Peter II in a game for the right to rule the Dalmatian towns" Note the expression "it is said", which to me at least signifies that perhaps the author considers it less than 100% historical accurate...But it is a story.
Knut A. Berg, 14 July 1998

The stroy is probably 19th century romantical invention, and even as such not very much rooted. I have heard some "romours" to it, but none in any heraldry relevan source, which tend to avaid the legen and do not mention it at all.
The name of the "hero" Svetoslav Surinj is quite unknown to me (only is the surname is Zrinjski, maybe ... but Svetoslav doesn't ring the bell)
In any case, chequy field is as old as heraldry if not older (well, as say some...) and I am not sure in which century the story goes.
Zeljko Heimer, 18 July 1998

According to [zna 99] - "The crown surmounting the present state arms is composed of shields with the historic arms of Croatia (golden star above silver crescent), Dubrovnik (two red stripes on a blue field), Dalmatia (three golden lions' heads), Istria (golden goat with red horns and hooves) and Slavonica (golden star above red stripe, fimbriated silver, and charged with black marten)."  Page 155.
John Ayer, 3 October 2000

The five "things" are five Coat of Arms, called in the legislation*) 'the historical Croatian coats of arms' and are also named in the legislation from left to right (non-heraldical!) so (translated):
1. The oldest known Coat of Arms of Croatia
2. Coat of Arms of the Republic of Ragusa (Dubrovnik)
3. Coat of Arms of Dalmatia
4. Coat of Arms of Istria
5. Coat of Arms of Slavonia

*) Zakon o grbu, zastavi i himni Republike Hrvatske, te zastavi i lenti Predsjednika Republike Hrvatske, 21. prosinca 1990, NN 55/90.

The Coat of Arms under 1, 3 and 5 (as well as the chequy arms) were all at least at some times used as the Coat of Arms to represent the whole Croatia, especially in early heraldic period. Afterwards, in late middle-age the distinction for the three crownland (Croatia, Dalmatia, Slavonia) was made.
The Coat of Arms under no. 1 was used in the earliest heraldic and preheraldic period by Croatian rulers, and was under natuional renaissance movements of 18th century used as the symbol of Croatian unity connecting the three crownlands. From that period the Coat of Arms is known as the Illirian Coat of Arms. The name stems from a misconception of the time believing that the Illirians (pre-Roman peoples living in the region) were predcessors of Croats. The national movement is also known as the Illirian movement.
The Coat of Arms under 2 is the Coat of Arms of Dubrovnik Republic. It is in fact the Hungary Ancient (Barry Gules and Argent), granted by one or the other Hungarian kings as sign of ugmentation as he adopted for himself an other Coat of Arms (Per pale Hungary Ancient and Hungary Modern). The barry Coat of Arms should be red with white bars (usually four white bars), but in the state Coat of Arms they were rendered by the artist as blue and red, and reduced to four alltogether. The reduction was due to the simplicity (9 striped shield would be very unpractical here in small representations) and the change from white to blue was considered valid as there are many historical examples of such use.
The Coat of Arms under 3 is Dalmatia, Azure, three crowned Leopard's Heads Or. This is probably the most well known of the five, also was found in the Coat of Arms of Austria, Hungary, Venice... at some times either as the arms of pretence or as sign of a real power over Dalmatia.
The Coat of Arms uder 4 is Istria, Azure, a goat Or attired and hoofed Gules, used for the Austrian (Habsburg) markgrafshaft as well as by the Venetian rulers. This is probably the elast well known and the least "repected" Coat of Arms in the set.
The fifth Coat of Arms is Slavonia, an other very well known Coat of Arms reaching into the fist days of heraldry.
Sometimes one can read that the five Coat of Arms are representing the five historical regions of Croatia which is not quite true, but maybe it is approximation good enough for scope of such books as are the flag pocketbooks.
Zeljko Heimer, 4 October 2000

Concering The Coat of Arms under 2 (Dubrovnik Republic) - Metallic inks sometimes used to illustrate silver/argent tended to degenerate into some sort of matt blue. A clear example can be seen in a 15th century nautical chart illustrated in Smith 1975 (FTAAATW, [smi75c]) where the flag of England appears as a red cross on a blue field etc.
This is *only* a hypothesis, but maybe this is the origin of the "blue" in the Hungary Ancient version used in Croatia?
Santiago Dotor, 4 October 2000

Indeed. It seems reasonable explenation and quite posible. There is also an other possibility, but in the end it may easily be only a result of the efect mentioned by Santiago. In many sources the four silver/white bars were explained as rivers and if so, it is not far from representing the water as blue instead of silver.
Zeljko Heimer, 5 October 2000

Iranian orign of the croatian arms (c. 1200 B.C) was first sugested some years ago and hypotesis adopted by Fra Dominik Mandic and later by other erudits. Similar design of the croatian arms is in archeologic rest in Iran. Now Ignacio Lopez de Montenegro analized this hypotesis in Banderas 77. I believe that is very unsure, but....
Jaume Olle', 22 January 2001

I haven't seen the Banderas, but the hypotesis is not new here. The Iranian origin of Croats was, as far as I am aware, hypotesed by scolar (and 'scolars') before WWII, and it became quite popular within the right extremist idelology of the time - suggesting the Aryan origin of Croats vs. the "lower rase" Slavic roots. The hypotesys remained fairly popular within the cicles of exiled Croats during the rest of 20th century, but was also from time to time taken into consideration in Croatia as well. As far as I am aware, the hyposesis is quite far fetched and there is only a small number of experts that are willing to accept it without much suspicion. Withing the hypotesys there are many elements that "proove" the origin. Among other thins there are linguistic proofs (finding names of peoples living in northern Iran that are similar to name Croat), ethnologic proofs (connecting some folk songs with some songs alegedly sung several dozen centuries ago in Iran), and of course - the Croatian chequy shield - one of the main Croatian symbols - could not have been "ignored". Finding of stone carvings in northern Iran that are patterned in chequy pattern have been used as such proofs.
However, In my humble opinion, such proofs are not very well based. Chequy pattern in used by many nations (and without naational connection at all) as one of interesting and most natural ornamentations, and it is hardly to be proved hat there was some special affection of Croats towards chequy pattern before the heraldic era.
To put it quite sarcastically, it would be kind of similar if an American tourist would find somewhere in ancient carvings two arches similar to McDonalds symbol, and use that to prove that native Americans had influence there much centuries before!
Zeljko Heimer, 24 January 2001

The coat of arms with crescent and star in the modern Croatian coat of arms has nothing to do with Islam. That coat of arms is nowdays usually reffered as the "oldest roatian coat of arms" while in late 18th century and forward was usually called the Illirian coat of arms. The story goes more or less so...   The oldest Croatian tribes that setteled the area of modern Croatia before Christianization (we are talking about 7th centruy or so) worshiped pagan gods, and as it is not unusual, these were represented by star and crescent (as is the ultimate origin of the muslem symbols as well, but that is an other story). Even after christianization the symbols remained important. However this is a preheraldic period, so we may not talk about coats of arms. It is only in 11 century that coat of arms appear, but none in Croatia have survived. It is only on 1196 coins issued by Croatian rules (then already subdued under Hungarian crown even if with much authonomy) show the two symbols and they are continously used afterwardsfor some time as the symbols of Croatian souverenity.   With the arival of the newer Croatian symbols (Slavonian, Croatian and Dalmatian coat of arms on which you may read more above, the old symbols were gradually forgotten. It is only in 19th century that the national reformation movement leaders (principally Ljudevit Gaj) readopted that symbol as the original Croatian symbol. From that time the crescent and star (then usually on red background) as a rule followed the three coats of arms of the Croatian "Triunited Kingdom" in artistic representations (see examples at Croatia - Historical Flags (1848-1918) ). The movement called itself the Illiric movement, according to the misconception that the old Illirian tribes (pre-Roman population of western balkans) were predcessors of Croats. The Illirian name was used for Croats in many cases since middle-ages. Thus the Illirian coat of arms became an important national symbols, especially since it was the only emblem that would differentiate the "revolutionary" patriotic feelings from the "regime" coat of arms that was using the three coat of arms.   In 20th centruy the symbol was gradually lost from official and popular usage but was not forgotten. As an important national symbol it was included in the coat of arms adopted by the independent Croatia in 1990.   In regard with Islam, Croatians came into contact with Islam only in 15th century and were for a long time bitter enemies. It may be noted that the use of the symbols in Croatia was reverted only after the Turkish treat was declined (practical end of Turkish treat ends in Croatia in early 18th century).
Zeljko Heimer, 15 December 2004


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