Trident, tamga or griffin? Reflections on Crimean heraldry

Trident, tamga or griffin? Reflections on Crimean heraldry


We celebrate Constitution Day, and our Basic Law declares that the state has symbols. Crimea formally has its own symbols. What is the oldest sign in the Crimea? Runes ready, Byzantine eagle, Crimean khans tamga, mythical griffin…

If the family coats of arms of the nobility evolved from the drawings on the shields of knights, the state symbols begin with the seals that fastened state documents.

The seal of the empire was the Byzantine double-headed eagle, because it was not in Constantinople or Asia Minor that the European heraldic tradition originated, the seal of the khans of the Gerai dynasty is the tarak-tamga, which became the national symbol of the Crimean Tatars.

Trident, tamga or griffin? Reflections on Crimean heraldry
Coat of arms of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea

The double-headed Byzantine eagle, which we can see on the coat of arms of the Tavriya province, was depicted in ancient times on the coat of arms (seal) of the state of Feodoro, a medieval Crimean state. But this symbol is not Byzantine, it was widespread in the Middle East long before the emergence of the Eastern Roman Empire; in Sanskrit, the legendary two-headed bird is called gandaberunda and is revered for its strength, resisting the forces of destruction. Gandaberunda is used in Indian heraldry, in particular on the coat of arms of Karnataka.

The cities of medieval Gothia, as the Southern coast of Crimea was called till 1475, had the symbolism. We find tamga-like signs on seals and coins.

Trident, tamga or griffin? Reflections on Crimean heraldry

Tamga is a ancestral sign common among the Turkic peoples, and hence among their neighbors. When the Crimean People’s Republic was proclaimed in 1917, its coat of arms was a tarak-tamga on a Byzantine (ie round) shield.

When trying to artificially create symbols for artificial education – the Republic of Crimea – it was even proposed to combine the Ukrainian trident with a double-headed eagle and a tamga on one shield. As a result, in September 1992, the griffin – unexpectedly for itself – was on the coat of arms of the Crimean Autonomy. The griffin did not contain anything unacceptable to either side and was an ancient figure, and therefore somewhat neutral. But although he did not cause disgust, he did not become his own, neither for the Crimean Ukrainians, nor for the Crimean Tatars.

Maybe they will object to me – they say, why talk about coats of arms, flags, when Crimea itself is occupied. But let’s not forget that Ukraine still officially recognizes symbols that are identified with separatism and pro-Russian, let’s not forget that Ukrainian symbols in Crimea are specifically looking for katma, and tarak-tamga is an ancient symbol, but it is not recognized in any official state document.
Is it still worth holding on to that ARC flag and coat of arms? Perhaps it is worth thinking about the new symbols of the Ukrainian Crimea?

Heraldry and heraldry

Consider what happens to the coats of arms of the cities of Crimea.
The laws of the heraldic tradition are the same, regardless of whether it is a state, regional, city or knightly coat of arms. Halftones and shades in heraldry are excluded. The colors should be chosen from a certain list: red, green, blue, black, purple (this is enamel), yellow, which symbolizes gold, and silver, which symbolizes silver, but in fact most often painted just white (these are metals), and two types of fur: white in a black spot called an ermine (for example, the coat of arms of Brittany), and blue so-called hats on a white (silver) background, this is fur called bleach. Metal cannot be applied to metal and fur cannot be applied to fur.

Trident, tamga or griffin? Reflections on Crimean heraldry
Medieval coat of arms of Kafa

The word “emblem” in both our language and Russian is borrowed from Polish, and it got there from German. Ukrainian heraldic traditions are closely connected with the legacy of the Commonwealth. Each of the schools of heraldry has its differences, but the general principle is the clarity of the elements, conciseness and expressiveness.
Russian heraldry dates back to the second half of the 17th century. In the next XVIII century the process of creating provincial and city coats of arms in the Russian Empire continues.

After 1783, in an attempt to begin the history of Crimea from scratch, the imperial authorities imposed their vision of heraldry on the cities of the Tavriya province, ignoring the principles of European heraldry, which were firmly rooted in Ukraine at that time.

The symbolism always has a certain meaning: it is enough to compare the city coats of arms of Central and Western Ukraine with those painted in the Russian Empire to understand what Magdeburg law is and how the Cossack regimental town differs from the Russian county wilderness.

Tiger and tiger

… More precisely, tyger and tiger: tyger is a heraldic animal, and tiger is a real tiger, which is found in the wild and zoos. Tigers are not as common in heraldry as lions-leopards, and the heraldic tiger bears little resemblance to a natural animal. The eloquent fact about Russian heraldry concerns the tiger and the coat of arms of Irkutsk, namely: when the symbols of this Siberian city were developed in the XVIII century, it was decided to place a tiger on the shield; in the decree of Catherine II it was written: “In the silver field of the shield is a running tiger, and in his mouth is a sable. This coat of arms is old. ” In the Yakut language “baabir” – the Amur tiger; this noble animal in those places has long been called “beaver”. According to the plot of the coat of arms, the tiger had to carry a sable in its mouth. However, in 1878, an official, not understanding the word “beaver”, ordered to paint on the coat of arms of a beaver, only a giant, and even such,that feeds on sables, devouring them together with fur valuable in export value. Thus, instead of a tiger, a new beast unknown to heraldic science emerged in Russian heraldry — whether it was a giant black beaver, or a wolf-rod, or a greyhound, or a devil: a beaver the color of a Confucian cat.

And a griffin from the coat of arms…

Trident, tamga or griffin? Reflections on Crimean heraldry
Coat of arms of the city of Kerch

The eagle and the lion are the two most common animal figures in heraldry. The eagle symbolizes power and state foresight, and the lion – strength, courage and generosity. Not surprisingly, there is a figure that combines their best qualities. The griffin is a mythical creature with the body of a lion, the head and wings of an eagle; its origins are Middle Eastern – archaeologists have found in Iran an ancient seal depicting a griffin, which is more than five thousand years old.
In contrast to the coat of arms of the Crimean Autonomy, on the city coat of arms of Kerch the griffin stands on its hind legs, which is more in line with heraldic customs. Under the feet of this creature is the key. The small coat of arms of the city looks exemplary, the large coat of arms of Kerch hardly causes any remarks. Only the crown of the Russian Empire is combined in it with a pentagonal gold star. However, the star is under the shield, and the crown is above the shield.

Lion and leopard

Trident, tamga or griffin? Reflections on Crimean heraldry
Yalta city flag

In classical heraldry, the lion must stand on its hind legs and be turned in profile; if the animal stands on three legs, and the fourth (of course, the front) is raised – it’s a leopard, and his mane is useless. The leopard must look from the shield, ie his head must be turned full face. Further more interesting subtleties: if the head of a leopard is turned in profile, it is a so-called leopard lion, and if, on the contrary, the snout of a lion is turned on the spectator it is a lion leopard (an example – the coat of arms of Estonia).

What did not suit the Yalta deputies ancient, since 1884, the famous coat of arms with laurel and grape branches, I do not understand; I guess he didn’t like the fact that the twigs were golden on the blue shield. Then the coat of arms of Yalta, approved in 2005, and then re-approved in the occupation with changes in 2015, got a lion. Two seahorses holding the shield on both sides are an interesting solution. The lion fell on all fours, which is allowed in heraldry, although it happens infrequently. Not inspiring, frankly, a combination of colors: blue with magenta (in the version of 2005 was instead of magenta red), but it’s not the worst.

The most symbolic thing we see on the Yalta coat of arms in both versions – a lion goes forward, with his head turned back. Apparently, it will go very far…

Emblems and emblems

The transition to the Russian occupation caused some changes in the shape of the shield of the Yalta coat of arms, which was changed from the “Italian” (with a rounded lower part) recommended by the Ukrainian Heraldic Society to the long-accepted “French”, ie one with a sharpening in the center of the lower part. ; in the official description of the coat of arms this shield is for some reason called “Russian”. Well, this is the “Russian world” – in it not only the French shield is Russian, but also the French “charming Catherine” turns into a harmonica, the Roman Matron becomes a matryoshka, and the Hellenic Harmony – an accordion.

Tradition is not a dogma, but an experience, the meaning of which must be understood. Symbolism is not just signs drawn by an artist. The heraldry of the West is the embodiment of a long struggle for dignity: it is a matter of honoring the nobility or defending the rights of urban communities. Russian embodies only one centuries-old tradition – the custom of lack of dignity, to which is added a copy of the external attributes of Western life.

After all, there is nothing more eloquent than the symbolism…

Crimean cities have a long and outstanding history. The Goths left runes here, the Greeks “brought” mythical animals, the Turks gave tamga, the Venetians and Genoese brought here European heraldic symbols. Heraldry is a serious matter. The knight could not be admitted to the tournament if the herald saw the wrong coat of arms on his shield. Both glorious feats and low deeds were to be forever recorded on the coat of arms of the owner or on the coat of arms of the city.
Each conqueror, coming to a foreign land, first of all changed the symbols. Conversely, there were several willing “heirs” to such signs as, for example, the Byzantine double-headed eagle. Changes and coats of arms of Crimean cities did not escape.


Trident, tamga or griffin? Reflections on Crimean heraldry
The coat of arms of Sudak is current

The history of this now small, but very respectable city in the past is full of turbulent events. The soldier was destroyed and decayed, rebuilt by trade and the wealth of the fertile land. Favorable location on busy trade routes was both the happiness and the curse of Soldaia.

From the mythical Bravlin to the mythical Italians, Tatars, and Turks, everyone wanted to own this city, so they had to be able to defend themselves.

This coat of arms was observed until 2015, when the City Council adopted the current symbols.

In 1475, Soldaia refused to submit to the Turkish invaders and defended herself heroically, having no chance not only of victory but also of acceptable terms of peace. Therefore, it would be quite natural to reflect the military glory of the past, the entrepreneurship of the inhabitants and the modern generosity of this part of the peninsula.
In Soviet times, a bunch of grapes and something like a half-bowl with a piece of a snake was “commissioned” to symbolize the city… A bowl with a snake is a symbol of medicine; some kind of semi-medicine came out. Not to mention the most significant monument left from Soldaia – the fortress.

The background is red, below the waves of the Black Sea. The Genoese fortress is made in the center of the coat of arms. I do not dare to call this stylized image successful, because without additional comments it is impossible to understand what it is: the Cyrillic “G” or the Latin “L”. The fortress, which seems to hang in the air against the golden sun, does not give the impression of a fortress, it would be better if it stood firmly on the ground.

One can understand certain deviations from heraldic traditions – everything passes, everything develops. But to choose a colorful frog as a tourist emblem of the city with the name of a fish… But they did it in Sudak, as if mocking the visitors. And from themselves.


Trident, tamga or griffin? Reflections on Crimean heraldry
The coat of arms of Feodosia is present

The coat of arms of medieval Kafa contained a sign resembling the tamga of the Golden Horde.
In 1811 (apparently in a desire to sever ties with the past and rewrite the history of the city from scratch) the city received a new coat of arms. This is probably the best version of the coat of arms that Theodosius received during its existence: in the blue field, the trident of Neptune intersects with the scepter of Mercury.

Interestingly, the current approved coat of arms of Feodosia repeats not the ancient city coat of arms, but the coat of arms of Feodosia County, approved in 1844. This composition is too overloaded with complex details, which, however, is commonplace for Russian heraldists. The coat of arms does not claim to be original, it can be easily confused with the coat of arms of another city: a red tower on a blue field, the bow of a sailboat protrudes from behind the tower, a double-headed eagle above the tower. In order not to doubt that the bird belonged to the Russians, not the Byzantines, small shields with the coats of arms of the conquered principalities and khanates were hung on it, and in the center, on the eagle’s chest, the coat of arms of Moscow.

In the late 1960s, the cities of the USSR began to create their own emblems, most of which only remotely resembled coats of arms. This epidemic did not escape Theodosia. The coat of arms of the city of 1967 was an image of the tower of the Genoese fortress of Kafa. The sailboat set sail somewhere overseas and disappeared from the coat of arms, while the maritime specificity of the city was marked with the image of an anchor and fashionable in the Soviet emblem waves at the bottom of the shield. At the top of the shield, the sun rose (or set) from behind the tower. This not very successful coat of arms, with some changes, was approved by the City Council of Feodosia on June 30, 2005, and lasted until 2016, when the new ruling force began to look for a more pro-Russian meaning in the symbols of the city.


Trident, tamga or griffin? Reflections on Crimean heraldry
The coat of arms of Evpatoria is present

The largest city in the Western Crimea received the coat of arms “by the highest grace” in 1844. The shield is divided in half: on the left is a golden ram’s head on a green background, on the right is a red snake on a red background, which has woven a silver scepter and is drinking a drink from a black bowl.
According to the plan, the head of a ram meant thick flocks that graze well on Tarkhankut, and a snake with a bowl – the resort and medical specifics of the city. Black drink in a bowl – healing mud.

In Soviet times, a bee was added to the coat of arms on the upper field, and for some reason the colors were changed. However, this project was not officially adopted, although it was sometimes used, in particular (as well as the pre-revolutionary coat of arms), on souvenirs, which were willingly brought from the Crimea by vacationers. But since 1997 and still the symbolism of Evpatoria – the coat of arms of 1844.

Bees “swarmed” on other Crimean coats of arms of the Soviet period. In general, this “heraldic animal” deserves a separate story.
Initially, Soviet emblems destroyed any symbolism associated with the past before 1917, renouncing the inheritance; coats of arms, flags, state seals had an ideological meaning.

But it is worth recalling the peculiarity of urban heraldry: originated in the Middle Ages, it symbolized the love of freedom and dignity of citizens. The independence and sprouts of democracy in medieval cities contributed to the development and enrichment of cities, and thus to the strengthening of states in general, which proved the effectiveness of the new model of social order. So urban emblems for Europe are not a whim, not a burdensome legacy of barbarism, but, on the contrary, a reminder of the long and difficult path that the West has taken to reach the standard of living it has today. And for Ukraine – a sign of belonging to Europe.

Instead, the unwillingness to adhere to European traditions, even in symbolism, shows a desire to avoid Western influence. Crimea is at a crossroads.

Bees of Simferopol

Trident, tamga or griffin? Reflections on Crimean heraldry
One of the projects of the coat of arms of Simferopol for the USSR
Trident, tamga or griffin? Reflections on Crimean heraldry
The coat of arms of Simferopol in 2006

The city, which became the administrative center of the Tavriya province, was unlucky with the symbols from the very beginning. The upper part of the coat of arms, approved by royal decree in 1844, blue with a gold cross, is generally acceptable. The lower, golden, half of the shield contains a pile of something green; without further explanation in the description of what is the Chatyr-Dag mountain, it is not clear what it is. But only fifteen years later another version of the city’s coat of arms was developed; “Designed” to say too much, because it was identical to the coat of arms, which existed since 1784: a golden shield, a black double-headed eagle, on the chest of which is a small blue shield with an “Orthodox” cross. This project did not “like” the highest mercy, that is, it remained unapproved.

The bee got on the coat of arms of Simferopol in 1970, when the fashion for city coats of arms began in the Soviet Union. It is unlikely that a living insect was meant: the silhouette of a bee was “cut” in the head of the key, which was proposed to make a symbol of the city. Then this project of city symbols was not approved, but the following year a new project of the coat of arms was developed. And the bees took their place on it again – there were as many as five of them, they surrounded the circle with the date of the city’s founding, and at the top Soviet artists placed a sickle and a hammer. Subsequently, the number of bees and their disposition changed several times, until finally in December 2006 the coat of arms with a single bee and a golden bowl in the lower field was approved.

Trident, tamga or griffin? Reflections on Crimean heraldry
The coat of arms of Simferopol in 1844-1920.

Bees are found on hundreds of family coats of arms around the world, on several city coats of arms (from Manchester to Tambov), and once, though not for long, they decorated the state coat of arms – the coat of arms of the Napoleonic Empire; then, in the early nineteenth century, these industrious insects sowed a field of blue shields of France, instead of royal lilies.
The coat of arms with a bee is even on the chevron of the Simferopol patrol police, which has not yet been created by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine. After all, the city still has no other official emblem.

The death of the squadron

Trident, tamga or griffin? Reflections on Crimean heraldry
Design of the new coat of arms of Sevastopol

During the Russian crown, the coat of arms of Sevastopol was completely different: a red shield depicting a silver griffin. It differs from the Kerch coat of arms in color (the Kerch griffin is yellow, ie gold, and the Sevastopol griffin is white, ie silver); in addition, two anchors placed under the shield in Kerch are black, and in Sevastopol – gold. From the ancient coat of arms – the “suit” of the griffin: the modern is all silver, and the old paws and claws were gold.

The griffin returned in the 1990s, but for a short time, it was the coat of arms of Sevastopol from 1994 to 2000. Today, the official emblem of the largest Crimean city is the one inherited from the Soviet era – it was adopted in 1969.

Trident, tamga or griffin? Reflections on Crimean heraldry
The current coat of arms of Sevastopol

You can’t call this composition anything other than damage to the main base of the Black Sea Fleet. Except for a conscious ideological sabotage.
On a diagonally cut field: on a silver background – a gold star of the hero and a laurel branch, on a blue background – a monument to sunken ships. Yes, this beautiful monument has long been a symbol of the city, its business card. liquidation of the Black Sea Fleet as such under the terms of Russia’s capitulation in that war; in 1918, the Black Sea Fleet ships were sunk by sailors instigated by the Bolshevik agency so that the fleet would not reach the Ukrainian State (death of the squadron). Eventually, in World War II, the Black Sea Fleet retreated to Tuapse and Poti instead of storming the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles instead of ocean crossings, and naval crews were used in infantry, not even naval ranks.Therefore, this monument is a true symbol of the Black Sea Fleet and the city, inextricably linked with its history.

Heraldic incident: white in heraldry is considered metal – silver, gold elements of the composition (the star of the hero city and the laurel branch) are also “metal”, and metal on metal is strictly forbidden to impose heraldic laws, this could not be done even in the barbaric heraldry of tsarist Russia .
Even the Priputin Heraldic Register of the Russian Federation was outraged by such neglect of the saint and refused to register the nostalgic-Soviet symbols of the city, and the Heraldic Council recommended to the Sevastopol authorities to adopt the coat of arms from the XIX century, so Sevastopol has no official coat of arms.

In February 2015, the so-called “legislative assembly” of occupied Sevastopol introduced a bill proposing to return the old, royal coat of arms of the city, with a small addition: below, under the shield, painted a medal “golden star” (as well as the Kerch coat of arms).
However, even this compromise does not satisfy “veterans of the fleet and most of the city’s residents”, who insist on preserving the Soviet emblem of Sevastopol, which is illegally called the coat of arms.

Does the eagle spread its wings?

Trident, tamga or griffin? Reflections on Crimean heraldry
The coat of arms of the Tavriya province

The double-headed eagle was a symbol of the Byzantine Empire. Both Austria-Hungary and the Muscovy wanted a double-headed eagle. The double-headed eagle is also depicted on the coat of arms of the Ukrainian city of Chernihiv; double-headed eagles in heraldry are different. In the same Russian Empire, there are three versions of the image of a heraldic eagle. That’s the least.

Trident, tamga or griffin? Reflections on Crimean heraldry
The coat of arms of the Tavriya region

They were different on the coats of arms of the Tavriya region and the Tavriya province. In 1784, the Tavriya region was formed, and immediately its coat of arms became a black double-headed eagle on a golden shield. The eagle’s wings were spread and raised. But during the reign of Paul I, the region was liquidated, and its counties were transferred to the Novorossiysk province. Accordingly, the need for a coat of arms has disappeared.
The Tavriya province was created in 1802, and a new coat of arms was approved for it in 1844. It was again a black eagle, only in a different configuration – with lowered wings.

It is time, if not today, then tomorrow, to search for new symbols of Crimea, because each of the old coats of arms bears the imprint of the political realities that divided the peninsula and mainland Ukraine.

Valeriy Verkhovsky, “Crimean svitlytsia” № 26-28, 2017

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Valery Verkhovsky

Author of culturological articles, journalist of the newspaper "Crimean svitlytsia"

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