Arms and Emblems



The Byzantine Empire

The Latin Empire

The Nicean Prelude

The Empire of Constantinople

The Aftermath

Back to Byzantium



In the Roman Empire the emblem of the armed forces was a thunderbolt, the arms of Zeus/Jupiter and heaven. In the christian Empire of Constantine the emblem of the armed forces became the cypher of Christ consisting of the letters chi and rho of the greek alphabet, XP (χρ). This cypher was placed on the labarum or imperial banner but also on the shields of the christian army. The emblem of the army staff itself consisted of this cypher on a clipeus, supported by two angels, symbolizing the heavenly mandate. In the achievements of the lower divisions of the army the cypher was supported by heraldic beasts like peacocks or griffins.

As far as we know the emblems of rank within the armed forces did not change and consisted of a gorgoneion, an eagle, a griffin and a lion for the four highest ranks.

This system was not abandoned when the Roman Empire was divided into a Western and an Eastern part. In both parts it continued to exist even after the fall of the Western Empire. In the West it was adopted by the successor states like, for example the empires of the Franks and the Visigoths (and probably the Vandals). In the East a major reform took place when the defense of the empire was organised in themes. In this system the rank of caesar became obsolete and the commanders of a theme apparently had the rank of consul of which the eagle was the emblem. Such eagles were placed on seals, accompanied by a personal cypher or other relevant emblems like a crescent or a crux quadrata. [1]


The Byzantine Empire


The emblem of the early Byzantine Empire was a sun radiant. This was depicted for example at the beginning of the 6th century in Ravenna

(ð see illustration in the head of this essay).

The achievement of state in that time consisted of this sun radiant supported by two angels (the state considered to be a function of the Empire sanctioned by heaven).

Later these emblems were replaced by other ones.


The arms of the Co-emperor himself was green, charged with the XP-cypher. This can be seen on the mosaic in the Church of S. Vitale in Ravenna, depicting Tiberius II Constantine (578-582).



The badge of rank of the Co-emperor was an eagle. It was on a shoulder patch and on the tablion of the chlamys (cloak) of Tiberius II Constantine: Or, and eagle sejant Sable within an annulet Gules. (ill.ð)


The XP-symbol of the army in the East was replaced by a crux quadrata when the stress of the defense force was shifted from the regular imperial army to the Imperial Guard (Scholae). This crux quadrata was on the imperial banner but was also on the shields of Imperial Bodyguard. The Varanger Imperial Bodyguard for example bore shields with a drop-cross, the horizontal bars blue and the vertical bars  red.



Shield of the Scholae (Imperial Bodyguard) .

Madrilene Chronicle of John Skylitzes. Palermo, ca. 1150-’75. Bibl. Nacional, Madrid, Vitr. 26-2 fol 28 v°.


This shield is depicted on a scene of the refusal of Michael II (820-829) at his enthronement of the request of the patriarch Nicophorus to reject inconoclasm.

Behind the patriarch the bodyguard of Michael with a shield with a cross.

John II (1118-’43) is portrayed in the Hagia Sophia with such a cross on his crown.

* The shield is almost identical with the shield of William the Conqueror on the Bayeux Tapestry (scene 20).



At about the same time the Imperial banner showed a golden crux-quadrata, the blade red with a blue bordure, the tails red and blue.


Imperial banner

Madrilene Chronicle of John Skylitzes. Palermo, ca. 1150-’75. Bibl. Nacional, Madrid,  Vitr. 26-2 fol. 43 r°.


* From the scene when Theophilos arrives at the church of Blachernai. The emperor on horseback, behind him his banner: Red, a golden square cross, a blue bordure, the tails red and blue.

On fol. 86 (when Basileus I (867-886) gives Michael III (842-867) back his escaped horse) the banners of the bodyguard are the same but with three or four tails.


At the end of the 12th century the emblem of the army or the Imperial bodyguard seems to have been red, strewn with little golden square crosses potent. Such a shield can be seen on this icon of St. Theodore:


Icon with Saint Theodore Teron.

Byzantine, ca. 1200. Tempera and gold on wood. 33 Í 20.5 cm. Inscribed: OC  QEODw O TURON

The Holy Monastery of Saint John the Theologian, Patmos, Greece (New Treasury).


On this icon Theodore I Lascaris (*1173-†1222) is portrayed as a warrior and before he became despot (lord) of Nicea in 1204 and emperor in 1208.


The Latin Empire



In a way the Latin Emperors after 1204 continued this tradition. The first Emperor Baldwin had a two-sided seal combining the two traditions: on the obverse is the emperor on his throne, on the reverse he is on horseback, a shield at his arm.









House of Flanders

Baldwin I




House of Courtenay

Peter II                



Regent 1218-1219



Baldwin II


Baldwin I of Flanders



Count of Flanders 1194-1205

Count of Hainaut 1195-1202

Latin Emperor 16.05.1204-14.04.1205


The arms of Baldwin as a count of Flanders was a black lion on a golden field. This can be seen on his seals as a count of Flanders but also as an emperor of Romanie. [2].


Reverse of the seal of Baldwin, 1204 [3]


Arms: Or, a lion rampant Sable.


Obv.: Majesty’s seal: Enthroned ruler with sceptre and globe. L.: baldoui­nos. despo­tes. Date: 1204

Rev.: Equestrian seal: Rider on horseback with crown, sword and shield. Arms: [Or], a lion [Sable]L.: BALD(ui­nus) D(e)I GRA(tia) IMP(erato)R ROM(anie) FLAND(r­ie) HAIN(onie) COM(es). Date 1204. [4]


The emblem of his rank was an eagle. This is documented for his coronation when his ceremonial dress was decorated with eagles.  [5]


Shield of Baldwin I


A shield said to have been of Baldwin, has been preserved for a long time in Nôtre Dame de Flines abbey but has disappeared. It was described and drawn about 1601 by Antonio de Succa in his memoirs. [6] His sketch shows a rectangular shield with a round base strewn with rings and with an estcutcheon of a square cross between kings enthroned and riders on horseback.


Fol. 17 r°  Transcription [7]


Bauduyn, comte de Haynaut, at donné ce bouclié a Flines.

 Diverses figures a cheval courant a la turquesque

 les fuiellians sont d’argent doré et les figures par dedens illuminees.

 un roi assis

    un roi assis

    chevalier turque qui couret (a).

 Le fond est feullié d’or et par dessus rondeaus sont clouts et par dedans couroyes (b) verd avecque un coussin de satin rouge.

 rouge et aultres bleu, aussi de perles

    Un bouclee vu tel facon que Bauduyn conte de Haynaut at gaingné sur les turcques et l’at laissé à Flines.

 Pieret du boclié ainsi sont ouvré fort les ovalles du fil tort d’argent doré.

    Une pieret du boclier.


a  last word difficult to read

b  a word crossed out


Henry I

*1176 - † 11.06.1216

Latin Emperor 20.08.1206-1216


The successor of Baldwin, his brother Henry had a different coat of arms. His emblem of rank was also an eagle.



Obv.: Majesty’s seal: Enthroned ruler with sceptre and orb. L.: .....DESPOTES

Rev.: Equestrian seal Rider on horseback with sword and shield. Arms: [Gules] strewn with crosslets patée encircled [Or].L: HENRICVS DEI GRATIA IMPERATOR ROMANIE. [8]


The eagle of Henri can be found on the socalled Staurotheque of Henry of Flanders made in Constantinople (before 1216) by goldsmith Gerald. [9]


Arms: [Gules] strewn with crosslets patée encircled [Or]

Eagle of Henry I

On his Staurothèque

 (wood, gold; 33.5 Í 24 cm)

Treasury of the S.Marco, Venice.


Dalmatic of Charlemagne


A piece which could probably be ascribed to Henri or his successor Peter II,  is the so-called  “Dalmatic of Charlemagne”, today in the Treasury of the St. Peter in Rome. This “dalmatic” is thought to be a saccos (liturgical attire) and is dated in the 11th but also in the 14th century. A fact is that the saccos was a gift from the Patriarch of Constantinople, Isidore of Kiev (1439) to Pope Eugene IV (1431-1447).

As the saccos is of purple textile and strewn with crosslets encircled in a manner of  12th-13th century fashion, the saccos may as well be of that period. 

The purple certainly is the colour of an emperor and goes back to the colour of the cloaks of the Roman supreme commanders in the field.

The crosslets encircled are emblems of civil authority in general and of the Emperors in particular. As we have seen, the crossletts encircled are also on the shield of Henry I. It is known that Henry was forced to accept the authority over the Orthodox church like his predecessors and this would explain the patriarchal crosses on the saccos.

As the piece seems to be of Western manufacture but was preserved in Constantinople it may have been of a Latin Emperor and the owner may well have been Henry I or even Peter of Courtenay.We may suppose that the dalmatic was worn by the emperor presiding the Orthodox council. At such occasions the emblem of rank was on the suppedion of the Emperor.


So-called Dalmatica of Charlemagne. Rome, Tesoro di S. Pietro.


Peter of Courtenay

*1167-† ? 01.1218

count of Auxerre 1184

count of Namur 1212

crowned emperor 09.04.1217


Peter of Courtenay was married with Yolande, the sister of Baldwin and Henry I and was amongst others for that reason a candidate for the succession in Constantinople. He often quarrelled with the church of Auxerre about taxes and was excommunicated for that reason a few times. His election as an Emperor of the Latin Empire was against the liking of Pope Honorius III. As a compromise Honorius decided to crown Peter outside the walls of Rome in the S. Lorenzo fuori le Mura. [10]

After his coronation Peter, after his siege of Durazzo travelling to Constantinople through Albania and Epire, fell into an ambush set up by Theodore Angelus and disappeared completely. [11]


Crown of Namur


A piece that may have a relation with Peter or his wife Yolanda is the crown of Namur. It may have come to Namur after the death of Peter when the crown of Byzantium was offered to Philip, the eldest son of Peter and Yolanda. As he refused to the benefit of his younger brother Robert, the crown may have remained in Namur where it was mentioned for the first time in 1219.


Reliquiary Crown with  thorns from the crown of Christ

Beginning of the 13th century. Æ 20,7 cm. H. 3.3 cm & 7.5 cm

Treasury of Namur Cathedral, formerly treasury of  St. Aubin, Inv. n° 4


The Crown consists of eight pieces set with precious stones, connected by hinges and set with fleurs de lys. The thorns in little containers. This crown is of West-European fashion and was probably made in the region of the Meuse. [12] Such is crown is also on the head of Baldwin on his equestrian seal. The fleurs de lys are the symbol of armed authority and for that reason the crown has belonged to a high ranking military commander (like Baldwin I).


Robert of Courtenay

*1198-† 13.02.1228




As the seal of Robert of Courtenay was identical with the seal of Henry I, his coat of arms was also [Gules] strewn with crosslets  encircled [Or].[13]


Baldwin II


John of Brienne

*1218 - † 15.10.1273

Latin Emperor 1228-25.08.1261

co-emperor 1231-†1237


Baldwin II was a younger son of Yolanda of Flanders, sister of the first two emperors, Baldwin I and Henry of Flanders. Her husband, Peter of Courtenay, was third emperor of the Latin Empire and had been followed by his son Robert of Courtenay, on whose death in 1228 the succession passed to Baldwin, then an 11-year-old boy. The barons chose John of Brienne (titular king of Jerusalem) as emperor-regent for life; Baldwin was to rule the Asiatic possessions of the empire when he reached the age of twenty, was to marry John's daughter Marie, and on John's death to enjoy the full imperial sovereignty. The marriage contract was carried out in 1234. Since the death of Baldwin's uncle, Emperor Henry of Flanders in 1216, the Latin Empire had declined and the Byzantine power advanced; and the hopes that John of Brienne might restore it were disappointed. He died in 1237.


In his Historia Anglorum Matthew Paris gives the arms of John of Brienne at the section reporting bis death. These arms are Or, a cross Argent for Jerusalem, and Azure, a fish per pale (hauriant) Or, for Brienne.:

Matthew Paris. Historia Anglorum. B.L. Ms Roy. 14.C.VII. Fol. 125v.

 Death of John de Brienne, King of Jeruzalem, 1237 - bottom left margin: two inverted shields: (a) Jerusalem (or, a cross argent): Scutum ejus secundum; (b) Brienne, above an inverted crown between two swords (azure, a fish hauriant or): scutum ejus primum. Beneath: Obiit rex Ierusalem Johannes de Bresne, cujus filia nuptui tradita fuit Fretherico imperatori, quae peperit ei Conradum.


Baldwin went to the West in 1236, visited Rome, France and Flanders, trying to raise money and men to recover the lost territory of his realm. His efforts met with success, and in 1240 he returned to Constantinople (through Germany and Hungary) at the head of a considerable army. Circumstances hindered him from accomplishing anything with this help, and in 1245 he traveled again to the West, first to Italy and then to France, where he spent two years. The empress Marie and Philip of Toucy governed during his absence. He was happy to be able to get money from King Louis IX in exchange for relics. In 1249 he was with King Louis at Damietta.

Baldwin is depicted in full armoury in about 1250 when he had returned from Damietta.


Kneeling Knight, Westminster Psalter, London, c. 1250

(London, British Library ms. Royal 2. A. XXII fol. 220)


His coat of arms is Gules, strewn with crosslets patée Or, and his pennon shows three golden crosslets patée on a red field. Around his helmet is a royal crown. It is a pity that his shield has been omitted in this manuscript.


Philip of  Courtenay



The famous arms: Gules, a cross between four crosses encircled between four crosslets Or, are only known from Baldwins son Philip:


The seal of Philip of Courtenay


Obv.: Majesty’s seal: Enthroned ruler with crown, sceptre and orb. L.: PHILIPPVS DEI GRACIA . IMPERATOR . ROMANIE . ET. SEMPER . AVGVSTVS  

Rev.: Equestrian seal: Crowned rider on horsback, on his shield and the clothes of his horse: [Gules] a cross between four crosses encircled between four crosslets [Or]. L.: ΦΙΛΗΠΟC ЄΠЄΙθV : ΠΙCΤS : ΒΑCΙΛЄVC K AVTOKRATOP POMЄON ΠOPΦΙPOΓЄΝΗΤS O ΦΛANθPAC.[14]


13th century rolls of arms show:

Arms: Gules, a cross, W.: rood, een gouden kruis tussen in ieder kwartier een omcirkeld kruisje en vier kruisjes. L.: lempreur de constantinouble. (Wijnbergen Roll no.1273.) [15]

Arms: L’empereur de Constantinople, gules crusuly d’or un crois passant d’or a quatre rondells d’or in les quarters et in chescun rondell un croisee. (Walford’s Roll, n° C.2) [16]


The monumental tomb of Philip of Courtenay, showing the arms, is in the Lower Church of the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi.

His successors, titulary emperors of Romanie, bore the same arms. 


This section ends with the arms of Constantinople in the Portuguese “Livro do Armeiro-Mor”, compiled 1509. [17]

Arms of the King of Constantinople.

Livro do Almeiro Mor, fol 12.


The Nicean Prelude


Theodore II Lascaris


*1222- †18.10.1258



The reign of Theodore Laskaris counted several diplomatic and military successes and Theodore could expand his political influence in the Balkans and in Asia Minor. Internally he met with considerable opposition which ended with the exile of his important opponent  Michael Palaeologus,  who was accused of conspiring with the Seljuqs of Rum. Theodore died in 1258, leaving his minor son John IV under the regency of his megas domesticus George Mouzalon.

The badge of rank of Theodore II was a two-headed eagle which was displayed on his suppedion.This eagle matches the function of supreme commander of the prefecture of Oriens. His predecessor in the use of the two-headed eagle had been Kaikhosrau II of Ikonion (1237-’45) who had to accept a Mongol protectorate in 1243 and who used a lion passant and a sun, the badge of rank of a high ranking mongol military official, since then.

The two headed eagle is on a portrait of Theodore II:


Suppedion on Cod. Marcianus graecus 404 fol. VI.

Gules, a two-heade eagle Or.


His coat of arms may have been Gules, a cross between four crosslets within an annulet Or, but this seems to be more certain for his son and successor John IV.


John IV Lascaris


George Mouzalon

Michael Palaeologus



Regent 1258

Megas Dux & Despot 1258

Co-emperor 1259


A few days after the death of Emperor Theodore II Doukas Laskaris in 1258, Michael Palaeologus instigated a coup against the influential bureaucrat George Mouzalon, becoming joint guardian for the new emperor together with the patriarch Arsenios. Michael was invested with the titles of megas dux and, in November 1258, of despotēs. On 1 January 1259 Michael VIII Palaeologus was proclaimed co-emperor at Nymphaion with the help of the Republic of Genoa. Probably to this political configuration a section in the Armorial de Gelre, compiled some hundred years later, refers. The arms of the Emperor of Constantinople and his vassals are depicted on fol’s 104v°-105 r° of this Roll of Arms. [18]



 Gelre n° 1484.


Die Keyser v Bolgheries

N° 1485

Die Keyser v Troppezunt

N° 1486

Die Keyser va Bodiin

N° 1487

Die Keyser v Vitric

N° 1488


These may have been the arms of :


í Koloman II  emperor of Bulgaria (1256-1257/61)

In 1256 Theodore II  concluded a peace treaty with Michael Asen of Bulgaria. In 1257, his successor Koloman II Asen was deposed and in his place Constantine Tikh was elected by the nobles (boyars). By 1261 Koloman  was decisively defeated, and sought asylum with Michael VIII Palaiologos, the emperor of Nicaea.


í Manuel I Comnenos Emperor of Trabzon (1238-1263)


í (A predecessor of) Jakov Svetoslav Despot of Vidin (1263-1276)

After having been lost in 1261 to the future king Stephen V of Hungary, Bulgarian Vidin and Lom was reconquered by the Bulgarians under the leadership of the Russian prince Jakov Svetoslav. He was invested with the practically autonomous possession of Vidin and maintained contacts with both Bulgaria and the Kingdom of Hungary.


íMichael II Dukas Despot of Epirus (1230-1267)

After a peace treaty with Nicaea in 1246 Serbia and Dyrrhachion were ceded to Theodore Laskaris  of Niceae by treaty of 1256 with Theodora, the consort of Michael II, and their son Nikephoros of Lenza. At the same time Nikephoros was betrothed to Mary, daughter of the Emperor and was granted the title of despot.


At about the same time the arms of the titulary emperor of Constantinople and of the Palaeologues were documented in the Wijnbergen roll.


In the rapidly changing political situation after the conquest of Constantinople these arms disappeared with the eclipse of the House of Laskaris.


The Empire of Constantinople



Michael Palaeologus, who was a co-regent of John IV Lascaris of Nicea since 1259, captured Constantinople in 1261 reaping the fruits of Nicean policy. There he was crowned Michael VIII and founded the dynasty which was to rule until the final fall of the empire in 1453.

Michael’s restored empire consisted of the Nicean lands of northwest Asia Minor, the capital, most of Thrace and Macedonia, with some of the islands as well as control over Epirus; as the result of his victory at Pelagonia (1259), he also gained certain strategic fortresses in the Peloponnesus. 

Ten years later, wishing to end the Great Schism that divided Rome and Constantinople, Gregory X convoked a council in Lyon in 1272 and sent an embassy to Michael VIII Palaeologus, who had reconquered Constantinople, putting an end to the remnants of the Latin Empire in the East, and he asked Latin despots in the East to curb their ambitions. Eastern dignitaries arrived at Lyon on 24 June 1274 presenting a letter from the Emperor. Michael offered the restoration of Christian unity in exchange for support by the Pope against the attacks from the West. Contrary to his predecessor Theodore, who had clinged to his spiritual supremacy, Michael offered to accept the supremacy of the Pope in religious matters.



Palaeologan Dynasty

Michael VIII

Andronicus II



Andronicus II

Michael IX

Andronicus III




Andronicus III


John V

John VI Cantacuzenus

Matthias Cantacuzenus

Manuel II





Andronicus IV

Manuel II


John VII


John V

Manuel II



Manuel II




John VII




Constantine XI, Dragases


The council was apparently a success, and the Greek and Roman churches were reunited indeed, but did not provide a lasting solution to the schism; the Emperor was anxious to heal the schism, but the Eastern clergy proved to be solidly opposed. Patriarch Joseph of Constantinople abdicated, and was replaced by John Beccos, a convert to the cause of union. In spite of a sustained campaign by Beccos to defend the union intellectually, and vigorous and brutal repression of opponents by Michael, the vast majority of byzantine christians remained implacable opposed to union with the Latin "heretics". Michael's death in December 1282 put an end to the union of Lyons. His son and successor Andronicus II repudiated the union, and Beccos was forced to abdicate, being eventually exiled and imprisoned until his death in 1297.


Michael VIII Palaeologus



The Arms

Also, after the restoration of the Empire, a new emblem appeared also continuing the tradition of the Latin Emperors It is a coat of arms “Gules, a cross between four β Or”. This has been the blason of the Palaeologues until the end of the Empire in 1453.

 Arms: Gules, a cross between four ߒs Or.

L.: “Le roi de Pariologre”. [19]



Banners of Salloniq and Constantinople

on a map of Petrus Vesconte, Genoa, 1320. In: Cod. Pal. Lat. 1362 A, fol 3 v /4r


Later versions show flints instead of the ‘B’-s. These are a corruption of the bèta’s of the original arms. This corruption occurred at the beginning of the 14th century, for example in the Book of Knowledge and on Catalan portolans, but a coin from the time of John V and John VI shows the (correct) B-version:



The Eagle

Michael VIII, the first emperor of the House of Palaeologus did not follow the example of Theodoros of Nicea who had two-headed eagles on his suppedion, matching a position of a caesar (of the prefecture Oriens.) Instead, matching his position of a prefect of Constantinople with the rank of a despot  (consul), there are golden single-headed eagles on his suppedion.


Suppedion of Michael VIII

on Cod. Monacensis graecus 442 fol. 174 r  en Cod. Marcianus graecus 404 fol 100 r .

showing: Gules, a haloed eagle Or.


In 1272, at the appointement of his son Andronicus as his co-emperor by prostagma of 8 November 1272 it was decreed that the co-emperor would sit at the acclamations, in the presence as well at the absence of the emperor,  on a throne decorated with a red eagle. [20]




Andronikos II




 Emperor 1282-1328


After the death of Michael VIII in 1282 Andronicus II adopted the two-headed eagle, being the emblem of a caesar and matching his position as a ruler of the main part of the former prefecture Illyricum. Such a two-headed eagle was on the imperial suppedion but also on the imperial banner.




Two-headed eagle on the suppedion of Andronicus II

Frontispiece of a Golden Bulla,

Museum of Byzantium, Athens, Ms. 1.


Banner of Andronicus II

in the Monastery of Watopedi on Mount Athos


After his deposition in 1328 he was blinded. In 1330 he retreated to Watopedi Monastery where he took the name of Antonios and died two years later on 13.February 1332. His banner preserved there is red with an embroidered  golden crowned two-headed eagle between the cyphers of  Άνδρωνίχος Παλαιολόγος. [21]


The Genoese


After the Fourth Crusade the Republic of Genoa, in order to regain control of the commerce, allied with Michael VIII Palaiologos, Emperor of Nicaea, who wanted to restore the Byzantine Empire by recapturing Constantinople. In March 1261 the treaty of the alliance was signed in Nymphaeum. On July 25, 1261, Nicaean troops with support from Genoa, captured Constantinople. As a result, the balance of favour tipped toward Genoa, which was granted free trade rights in the Latin Empire; besides the control of commerce in the hands of Genoese merchants, Genoa received ports and way stations in many islands and settlements in the Aegean Sea. The islands of Chios and Lesbos became commercial stations of Genoa as well as the city of Smyrna (Izmir). The colony of Pera was able to formalize their borders as a result of a decree dated 1303.



On 14th century portolans (sea-charts) the banner of  the Genoese colony is flown. This banner is of the same composition as the arms of some other Byzantine vassals and consists of a quarterly of Byzantium and Genoa, the quarter for Byzantium of the blason of Palaeologan Byzantium

The Genoese banner was flown over Pera until the fall of Constantinople in 1453.


Manuel II

*1347-† 1425

(1373) 1391-1425


The configuration of the arms and badge of rank of the emperors of Constantinople seems not to have changed in the 14th century. Portraits are known of Johan VI Kantakuzenos (1347-1354) on which he is standing on a suppedion decorated with golden two-headed eagles. [22]  His arms and/or banner seems to have been a cross between four crosslets (like the arms of Morea, governed by his son Manuel)

Ottoman vassalage (1371-1394) apparently did not have any impact and Manuel II Palaeologus (1391-1425) is portrayed, standing on a suppedion decorated with golden two-headed eagles.


Suppedion of Manuel II,  1384.

On the “Funeral Oration of Manuel II Palaiologos for His Brother Theodore”. Constantinople, 1409–11.

Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Département des Manuscrits, Paris (Supplément grec 309).


At the beginning of the 14th century Manuel II was portrayed with his family. The leaf may have been painted in 1415 at the occasion of his son John  VIII  becoming a co-emperor and when Andronikos was made governor of Salonika. The boys were then of the age of 23, 19 and 12 respectively.

On the picture are (from left to right):


Portrait of the Byzantine emperor Manuel II and his family.

Paris, Musée du Louvre. Ms. 416 dit de Saint Denis l’Aéropagite.


John VIII. co-emperor since about 1415, Manuel II Emperor (since1391) Theodoros II despot of Mistra since 1407, his brother Andronikos who was governor of Salonika (1415-’23), and Helena Dragaš, the empress consort since 1392.[23]


The badges of rank of  John VIII and Manuel II are not visible on this picture because their suppedia were in the missing lower margin. The red tunica of Theodore is strewn with two-headed eagles, enclosed by an annulet and this may be the badge of rank of a supreme commander not being an emperor (autokrator). Such two-headed eagles enclosed were also the badge of rank of the Serbian tsar (basileus)

Andronikos is dressed in a red tunica strewn with fleurs de lys enclosed by an annulet. This, as a fleur de lys is the emblem of armed authority, is the badge of rank of a supreme police commander.







Arms of  John VIII in the Bergshammer Roll



Two-headed eagle in the Prayer Book of Demetrius Palaeologus


The achievement of the Emperor of Constantinople is depicted in Bergshammer Roll (ca. 1440) [24]

It is:

Arms: Gules, a cross between four flints Or

Crest: On a helmet lambrequined of the colours, a tub of the arms filled with peacock’s feathers and issuant from a crown of three leaves and two pearls.


A two-headed eagle from the time of Manuel II is in the Prayer book of Demetrius Palaeologus.


This book in quarto and bound in green silk with silver fittings has to be begun under the reign of Emperor Manuel. The oldest pictures show the four Evangelists, St. Constantin and Helena keeping a long patriarchal cross, an allegorical picture of a globe with a cross on a rock, and the golden two-headed eagle on a red background. The two small crowns on its heads are added later. There is also a three-quarter portrait of Manuel II standing under an arch, his hair and beard grey. His tunic is green and trimmed with a wide golden bordure as are his belt and sleeves. His mantle is red trimmed with gold. On his head he wears a round red hat. Above the portrait is written: Βυζαντίου πολεος Μανǒηλ Παλαιόλογος Βασιλεΰς Θεοΰ χαριτι (Emperor of the City of Byzantium). On the last but one page there is a picture of Demetrius, the owner of the book, painted in Italian style, kneeling for prayer.  He is dressed all in black and has white hair and beard. Above him is written: † *** ο δουλοσ  χοτου θυ – δημέτριος – παλαιο – λο - γος..


This Demetrius was the fifth son of Manuel II and the last despot of Morea (1449-1460). He died in Adrianople in 1471 as a monk named David. He called himself δεςποτης ‘Ρωμαίων (Roman Despot) and had a two-headed eagle on his seal.  [25]


A later version of the arms, also with flints instead of B-s, of this achievement is in the Livro do Almeiro Mor, (1509)  fol 12v°  [26] :


Arms of the Rej d’ Pariologres


We may conclude that the arms and banners of the Emperors of the Latin and Byzantine empire were closely related with the several ruling houses. The eagle and two-headed eagle were certainly badges of rank, the eagle symbolizing the rank of despot (the roman consul), the two-headed eagle the rank of basileus (the roman caesar). Most certainly the two-headed eagle was not the arms of the House of Palaeologus.


The Aftermath


After the fall of Constantinople in 1453 the emblems of the former Empire did not disappear immediately.


Byzantine seal of Andreas Palaiologos (*1453-†1502) in Western style


Arms: (Gules) a crowned two-headed eagle (Or)

Crown: An imperial crown

Caption: ANDREAS PALEOLOGVS DEI GRATIA DESPOTES ROMEORVM  (“Andreas Palaiologos, by the Grace of God, Despot of the Romans”.)


As it was, the gates of the city were decorated with the arms of the Palaeologues and with crowned  shields showing the two-headed eagle.


View of Constantinople in the Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493.

Showing the arms at the sea-gates and towers


The sea gate with arms


The crowned arms with the two-headed eagle has to be:  Gules, a two-headed eagle Or.

The arms with the cross are the arms of the city, the crowned arms with the two-headed eagle of its ruler.


Also these emblems were preserved in western literature, in the first place by Conrad Grüneberg who gives for Des Turgisch Kaiser an alliance of some six arms: of the House of Osman (?), the house of Lascaris, the patriarch of Constantinople, the House of Palaeologus, the House of Comnenus and the House of Branković.[27]


In a spanish roll of arms of the Knights of the Fleece from the end of the 15th century the arms of the empire are:


El enperador de Costantynopla. Trae de colorado con una cruz de oro y en cada un cuartel un fyrmal de oro y más cuatro cruzetas de oro rrecruzetadas. (Gules, a cross and in each quarter a seal between four crosslets recrossed Or, ......which is of Philip de Courtenay)


El rrey de Por de Rromania. Trae de gulas con el ágila de oro de dos cabeças. (Gules, a two-headed eagle Or)  [28]


But also, as we have seen, the Palaeologean arms are in the Portuguese Livro do Almeiro Mor.


In the 16th century, Martin Schrot in his Wappenbuch, attributes the arms with the two-headed eagle to the Emperor of Constantinople and he was right in sofar that the two-headed eagle was the badge of rank of a basileus in general. [29]

Describing the rise of the Turkish Empire he also attributes a coat of arms to the first bey of Bithynia Osman I which is of the same kind as the arms of the vassals of Michael VIII, documented by Heraut de Gelre in the 14h century. It is quarterly, the 1st and 4th of Palaeologus, the 2nd and 3rd [Azure] a crescent [Argent]. [30] These arms suggest a submission, at least de jure, of Osman I to Andronicus II Palaeologus but nothing is known of such a vassalage, even when Bithynia had been a part of the Byzantine Empire.


In the 17th century, last but not least, also Ducange pays attention to the Byzantine empire in his Historia Byzantina. [31]

The arms of the despot of Romanie are described as:


Le Roy Depos de Romenie, de gueules à l’aigle d’or à deux testes bequé & empieté de senais. Despotæ Romaniæ insignia.


The Palaeologean arms are described as:


Le Roy de Romenie, de gueules à trois, (fortè 4) lettres qu’on appelle d’or. B. Palæologorum insignia.


but are depicted correctly as follows:




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© Hubert de Vries 2011.07.14. Updated 2020-04-27



[1] Zacos, G. & A. Verglery: Byzantine Lead Seals. Vol. One, Part One Nos. 1-1095. Imperial Seals: Vth to XVth centuries. Non-imperial seals: VIth to IXth centuries. Basel 1972.

[2] Vries, Hubert de: Wapens van de Nederlanden, pp. 169-174

[3] Laurent, René: Les sceaux des princes territoriaux belges du Xe sièclez à 1482, I, 1, Bruxelles, 1993, p. 161 en 162: T. II, pl. 26

[4] Zacos op. cit. ill 8/9. Wree, O. de: De Seghelen van de Graven van Vlaenderen. Brugge, 1640. p. 14. Prevenier, Walter: La chancellerie de l'empire latin de Constantinople (1204-1261), in : V.D. van Aalst en K.N. Cigaar (ed.), The Latin Empire, A.A. Bredius Foundation, Hernen, 1990, pp. 275. pl. XXX nos. 67-68.

[5] Brightman, F.E.: Byzantine Imperi­al coronations. In: Journal of Theological Studies, 2, 1901 pp. 359-392. And:  Hendrickx, B.: Les institutions de l'Empire latin de Constan­tinople (1204-1261). In: Byzantina, 6, 1974, p. 125.

[6] Bruxelles, Bibl. royale, Mss, II, 1862

[7] Memoriën van Anthonio de Succa: catalogus (van de) tentoonstelling georganiseerd in de Koninklijke Bibliotheek  Albert I. Brussel, 5 maart tot 20 april 1977. Bd. I-II.

[8] Schlumberger 1943 pp. 167-169 Pl. VII, 3; Zacos I. part 1, p. 102, no 112.; Tzotchev, A. "Molybdo­bulle de l'empereur latin de Constantinople Henri, découvert lors des fouilles de Tzarevetz. In: Numizmatika, 21 (1987) pp. 24-25. ill.

[9] Santuario San Marco, nr. 55 (catalogued in the inventarisation of 1402: nr. 2. Wooden patriarchal cross, on the upper crossing a medaliion with an eagle, nowadays called a phoenix (?). Die Zeit de Staufer Kat. Nr. 568, Abb. 372. De Schatkamer van de San Marco in Venetië. ‘s Gravenhage 1991, pp 252-259.

[10] In de S. Lorenzo fuori le Mura most frescoes and mosaics are lost.

[11] Sturdza, Mi­hail Du­mi­tru: Grandes Familles de Grèce, d'Albanie et de Constantinople. Dictionnai­re Historique et Genealogique. Paris, 1983. Chez l'auteur. 7 Rue de la Neva, F-75008 Paris. pp. 488 e.v.:  Courtenay.

[12] Orfèvreries du Trésor de la Catédrale de Namur. Namur, 1969. pp. 20-24. With an extensive bibliography.

[13] Prevenier, 1990, op.cit. p. 69; Zacos, op.cit. 1972. p. 103, no 13.

[14] Wree op.cit 1640,  p. 28; Paris, Arch Nat., service des sceaux, sceau dd. 1283.04.01

[15] Adam-Even, Paul & Léon Jéquier: Un Armorial français du XIIIe siècle, l'armorial Wijnbergen. In: Archives Heraldiques Suisses. 1953 pp. 55-77.

[16] Brault, Gerard J.: Eight Thirteenth-Century Rolls of Arms in French and Anglo-Norman Blazon. The Pennsylvania State University Press. University Park and London, 1973.

[17] Instituto de Arquivos Nacionais/Torre do Tombo.ð Instituto dos Archivos Nacionais. Also: Google: Livro do Armeiro Mor

[18] Ms. 15652-56. Koninklijke Bibliotheek. Brussel. ð Adam-Even, P.A.: Armorial Universel du Heraut Gelre, 1370-1395. In: Archives Heraldi­ques Suisses, 1961-1968; 1968 pp. 81-82.                                      

[19] Adam-Even, op.cit.  no. 1274.

[20] Dölger, Franz: Regesten der Kaiserurkunden des Oströmischen Reiches von 565 - 1453. 1-3. Hildesheim, 1924. P. 60

[21] Koehne B. von.: Vom Doppeladler In: Berliner Blätter für Münz-, Siegel und Wappenkunde. Dl. VI Berlin 1871 p. 6  Taf. lxvii –6. Also: The same: Das Kaiserlich Russische Reichs-Wappen. Reiter und Doppeladler. In: Vierteljahrschrift für Heraldik etc. Herold. 1882, pp 408-409. Taf. II. n° 2.  

[22] Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale Cod gr. 1242.

[23] See also Diana Gilliland Wright

[24] Raneke, Jan: Bergshammar Vapenboken - En Medeltidsheraldisk Studie. Lund, 1975. N° 2 (p. 175)

[25] Köhne, B. von: Das Kaiserlich Russische Reichs-Wappen. Reiter und Doppeladler. In: Vierteljahrschrift für Heraldik etc. Herold. 1882, pp. 408-409. Taf. II. n° 2. The ms is said to be in the Imperial Public Library

[26] Istituto op. cit.

[27] Stillfried-Alcantara, R. & A.M. Hildebrandt: Des Conrad Grüneberg Ritters und Bürgers zu Costenz Wappen­buch. Görlitz, 1875.fol. xxixb. Also: Conrad Grünenbergs Wappenbuch (Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Cgm 9210)

[28] Riquer, Martin de: Heraldica Castellana en Tiempos de los Reyes Catholicos. Barcelona, 1986. Nos 408 & 427 (pp. 302-303).

[29] Schrot, Martin: Wapppenbuch. München, 1581. p. Dlx

[30] Ibid. p. Dlxiiii

[31] Ducange, Car. Du Fresne: Historia Byzantina.  dupl. comment. illustrata prior: familias ac stemmata Imperat. Constantinop. &c. Paris, 1680.