The Lion and the Cross

Modern Times

The Achievement

The Italian Interlude


Back to Ethiopia


The Lion and the Cross


The lion and the cross depicted in the report of Ulrich Richental and shown here, matches the description of the King of Ardeslib as the defender of the church (of Nubia).

The three coats of arms in the report of Richental suggest that the three delegates represented the administrative, the religious and the armed powers of the Ethiopian state, the arms with the balance and strewn with crosses symbolizing the judicature exercised by the clergy.

This, together with the Abuna we met before, makes the organization of the Ethiopian state consisting of a supreme spiritual leader, a chief executive, the administrators, the judges and the warriors. This very much resembles the organisation of the Mameluk state in Egypt (1250-1517) which consisted of the Caliph, the Sultan, the men of the pen, the men of the turban and the men of the sword. [1]

The arms with the lion and the cross in the Constanz Chronicle [2]

Argent, a lion rampant Or with a latin cross Gules.



The coat of arms, Argent, a lion rampant Or, in his forepaws a latin cross Gules, was copied by other European authors in the 16th and 17th centuries, for example by Sebastian Münster and Abraham Ortelius. [3] After the “Historia de Ethiopia” of Manoel d’Almeida of the middle of the 17th century, the cross in the paws of the lion was changed into a crucifix and this was copied throughout the 18th and 19th centuries until the end of anarchy in Ethiopia in 1855. [4]



` Arms of Ethiopia by Sebastian Münster, 1550.



















Arms of Ethiopia in European sources:

1. 17th century a ribbon with the motto VICIT LEO DE TRIBU JUDA added; 2. From L’encyclopédie de Diderot et d’Alembert (1751-’72), a crown of  thorns and two whips added; 3. 19th century.



Modern Times



Menelik II



King of Shoa 1855-1913

Emperor 1889 -1913



Emperor Menelik II undertook a throughgoing restyling of the imperial presentation. That, also, is demonstrated by the new title of “Elect of God, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah and King of Kings of Ethiopia” he adopted  [5].

The restyling started with the adoption of a coat of arms which differed slightly from the coat of arms passed on in European sources. In its place, the coat of arms as depicted in the report of the Council of Konstantz was more or less readopted, the lion passant instead of rampant now, the colors reversed, all like on the seal of 1874. The shield crowned with the imperial crown.



A second coat of arms was adopted about 1894 when a postal service was organized and coins were struck. This coat of arms was:


Arms: Argent, masoned Sable, a natural lion passant guardant Gules, imperially crowned Or, keeping in his sinister claw a procession cross with a streamer of the national colors, standing on a green field.

Motto: He is Born the Lion of Judah, in amharic, on a listel, its ends knotted, Argent above the arms.

Garland: Branches of coffee and cotton. [6]


16 guerche stamp, 1894


A version of this arms is on stamps issued 1894 shown here.



The Achievement



On an uncertain date but somewhat before 1909, an Imperial Achievement was designed which replaced the older coat of arms. [7] 


¼ Guerche stamp issued 27.03.1909

Representing the achievement

The achievement is as follows:


Emblem: The Lion’s Throne of Solomon, on its seat an orb proper, on its back a Solomon’s seal.

Exterior Ornaments: The archangels Michael and Gabriel, vested Or and Vert, on their breasts a square cross cross  patonce, above the throne an open bible between the amharic letters Alef, Wau and Alef; before the throne the Ethiopian Lion, walking to the dexter

Motto: The Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, on his procession cross a note. 

Mantle: On two branches of olive, Gules, lined Argent, fringed and tasseled Or, crowned with the Imperial Crown of Ethiopia.



This achievement demonstrates the claim of the Ethiopian rulers that they descended from Solomon, king of the united monarchy of  Israel (970-931 BC) and which served to legitimize their power. Its central symbol is the Throne of Solomon, mentioned in the Bible:


1 Kings 10 : 18 Moreover the king made a great throne of ivory, and overlaid it with the best gold. 19 The throne had six steps, and the top of the throne was round behind: and there were stays on either side on the place of the seat, and two lions stood beside the stays. 20 And twelve lions stood there on the one side and on the other upon the six steps: there was not the like made in any kingdom.


2 Chronicles 9 : 17 Moreover the king made a great throne of ivory, and overlaid it with pure gold. 18 And there were six steps to the throne, with a footstool of gold, which were fastened to the throne, and stays on each side of the sitting place, and two lions standing by the stays: 19 And twelve lions stood there on the one side and on the other upon the six steps. There was not the like made in any kingdom.



The Lion’s Throne was from ancient Egyptian times the seat of the ruler. In the European middle ages it was the seat of kings but only in a very few cases these thrones can be interpreted as the Throne of King Solomon. Such an exeption is the throne on which the Roman Emperor Henry VI (1190-’97) is sitting in the manuscript of Petrus of Ebulo. [8]


On the back of the throne is a hexagram which can be interpreted as the symbol of King David, the father of Solomon and in this case the symbol of the Ethiopian Solomonic Dynasty.  


The orb is the common symbol of the Empire, the orb with the cross the symbol of a Christian Empire.


The archangels Gabriel and Michael are also mentioned in the Bible [9] They are the main spokesman and the main warrior of the Jewish and Christian God and in this sense they were also adopted by Islam. The two archangels are always depicted winged and armed, Gabriel holding a balance as a symbol of the Last Judgement, and Michael a palmleaf as a symbol of Victory. In the time of the designing of the Ethiopian achievement the two archangels were the supporters of the arms of the Emperors of Russia. 


The crown is the symbol of administrative power, the Imperial crown of Ethiopia the symbol of the supreme administrative power with which the Emperor is invested.  On the front of the crown is the effigy of St. George slaying the dragon. St. George can generally be interpreted as the personification of the Defender of the Faith and in this way the qualification of  “Servant of the Cross” of the mediaeval rulers of Ardeslib became a part of the Ethiopian imperial presentation.



Haile Selassie


Regent 1916-1930

King 1928

Emperor 1930-1974


Shield of the Imperial Embassy

Coll. Musée Quai Branly, Paris [10]


Imperial achievement of Haile Selassie.

It is the same as the achievement of his predecessor Menelik II, but the lion walking to the sinister, keeping the processional cross in his dexter paw, the note replaced by a streamer in the national colours.



The Italian Interlude








An achievement for the Emperor Victor Emanuel III of  Savoy was adopted by Royal decree of 31 of August 1939 and published in the Gazzetta Ufficiale of 16 April 1940.

Foto Archivio Centrale dello Stato, Roma.


The decree reads:




Roma - Martedi, 16 aprile 1940 - Anno XVIII

(pp. 1373-1374)


REGIO DECRETO  31 Agosto 1939-XVII, n. 2225.

Determinazione della foggia dello Stemma Imperiale dell’Africa Orientale Italiana.







   Volendo determinare la foggia dello Stemma Imperiale dell’Africa Orientale Italiana;

   Veduti i Regi decreti-legge 9 maggio 1936-XIV, n. 754, covertito nella legge 18 maggio 1936-XIV, n. 867, e 1° giugno 1936-XIV, n. 1019, convertito nella legge 11 gennaio 1937-XV, n. 285;

   Sentito il Nostro Commissarario presso la Consulta Araldica;

   Sentito il Consiglio dei Ministri;

   Sulla proposta del DUCE del Fascismo, Capo di Governo e Ministro Segretario di Stato per l’Africa Italiana e del Guardasigilli, Ministro Segretario di Stato per la grazia e giustizia;

   Abbiamo decretato e decretiamo:


   1. - Lo Stemma Imperiale dell’Africa Orientale Italiana è formato da uno scudo sannitico inquartato: Nel primo (Eritrea): troncato: al 1° d’argento alla leonessa illeopardita di rosso, armata d’oro, caricata di una stella d’argento sul cuore; al 2° ondato d’azzurro e d’argento di sei pezzi; Nel secondo (Amara): al 1° d’oro, al braccio steso vestito di manica di camicia nera impugnante con la mano destra di carnagione un gladio romano, il tutto posto in fascia; al 2° di rosso alla croce copta d’oro; Nel terzo (Somalia): troncato innestato d’argento sulla partizione; al 1° d’azzurro al leopardo d’oro, chiazzato di nero, sormentato da una stella d’argento nel punto del capo; al 2° di rosso a due stelle d’argento di sei raggi poste in fascia; Nel quarto (Galla e Sidama): d’oro alla fascia ondata di azzurro, accompagnata in capo da un aratro al naturale; Controinnestato, in capo (Scioa): d’azzurro al monte di cinque colli all’italiana d’argento, movente dalla punta, sormontato dall’emblema legionario romano d’oro; in punta (Harar): d’argento al montante di verde. Sul tutto allo Scudo di Savoia: di rosso alla croce d’argento.


   Lo scudo:


       accostato da due Fasci Littori, sostenuti da due leoni d’oro, linguati di rosso, controrampanti, con la testa in maestà, pogginati su una lista d’azzurro con la scritta: «FERT - FERT - FERT »;

       accolato alla grande Collana dell’Ordine Supremo della SS. Annunziata e alla decorazione dell’Ordine coloniale della Stella d’Italia;

       sormontato dalla Corona Imperiale che è chiusa da otto vette d’oro (cinque visibili) moventi da aquile d’oro ad ali aperte, e da scudetti di Savoia sostenuti da Fasci Littori d’oro, alternati le une e gli altri con gruppi di tre perle disposte 1-2, riuniti con doppia curvatura sula sommità, fregiata all’esterno da otto grosse perle decrescenti dal centro e sostenenti un globo d’oro cerchiato, cimato dalla Croce Mauriziana d’oro, trifogliata, sulla sommità del globo; il tutto con alla base un cerchio d’oro con i margine cordonati fregiato da otto grossi zaffiri e rubini, cinque visibili, divisi da otto nodi di Savoia, quattro visibili.


   2. - La foggia del presente Stemma è approvata come  è effigiata nella tavola unita al presente decreto, la quale sarà firmata dal Nostro Commissario presso la Consulta Araldica, con il visto, d’ordine Nostro, del DUCE del Fascismo, Capo del Governo.


   Ordiniamo che il presente decreto, munito del sigillo dello Stato, sia inserto nella Raccolta ufficiale delle leggi e dei decreti del Regno d’Italia, mandando a chiunque spetti di osservarlo e di farlo osservare.

       Dato di San Rossore, addi 31 agosto 1939-XVII






VISTO, il Guardasigilli: GRANDI

   Registrato alla Corte dei conti, addi 31 ottobre 1939-XVIII

  Atto dei Governo, registro 414, foglio 143. - MANCINI



That is to say:


Arms: Quarterly: 1. Eritrea; 2. Amhara; 3. Somalia; 4. Galle and Sidamo; the chief entée en point of Shoa the base entée en point of Harrar. On an escutcheon Savoy.

Crown: A crown of five hoops, on the diadem four groups of three pearls, two escutcheons of Savoy and one golden Roman eagle, being the Imperial Crown of Ethiopia.

Orders: The collar and jewel of the Order of the Annunciation and the star and ribbon of the Ordine Coloniale della Stella d’Italia.

Supporters: Two lions guardant each supporting a fasces proper.

Motto: FERT FERT FERT in golden lettering on a blue ribbon.



Amhara: Per fess, the first Or, an outstreched arm, vested in a black sleeve of a camicia nera, holding a Roman sword (gladius) per fess pointing to the dexter; the second Gules an Ethiopian cross Or.

Eritrea: Per fess, the first Argent, a lion passant Gules, langued and unguled Or,  his shoulder charged with a mullet Argent; the second barry wavy of six pieces Azure and Argent. 

Galle and Sidamo: Or, a fess wavy Azure in chief a plow proper.

Harar: Argent a crescent Vert. 

Shoa: Azure, a five topped mountain Argent supporting a Roman standard Or.

Somalia: Per fess a fess nebuly Argent, the first Azure a leopard passant proper, in chief a mullet Argent; the base Gules two six pointed stars Argent. [11]








Pietro Badoglio


Rodolfo Graziani


Amedeo, Duca d'Aosta


Pietro Gazzera

23 may -6 july1941

Guglielmo Nasi

6 july-27 nov.1941


The vice-regal flag shows the crowned coat of arms taken from the national- and navy flag of 1879 on a white field and within a blue border charged with italian fasces in the four corners, their axes pointing inwards.




After the collapse of A.O.I. and the return of Haile Selassie, the old symbols of state were restored


Stall plate of Haile Selassie, Knight of the Garter, 1954

© The Dean and Canons of Windsor




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© Hubert deVries 2009-11-04; Updated 2015-07-11




[1]  The organigram of the Mameluk state in: Riley-Smith, Jonathan: The Atlas of the Crusades. London, 1991.

[2]  Richental Ulrich: Das Konzil zu Konstantz MCDXIV-MCDXVIII. Faksimile Ausgabe. Josef Keller Verlag. Hamburg, 1964. Fol. 130a.

[3]  Ortelius, Abraham: Presbiteri Iohannis sive Abessinorvm Imperii Descriptio, 1572.

[4] Telles, Balthasar: Historia geral de Ethiopia a Alta ou Abassia do Preste Ioam, e do que nella obraram os Padres da Companhia de Iesus: composta na mesma Ethiopia pelo Padre Manoel d'Almeyda, natural de Visev, Provincial e Visitador, que foy na Índia. Abreviada com nova releyçam, e methodo. Coimbra, Officina de Manoel Dias Impressor de Universidade, 1660.

[5]  See: Royal Ark:  Shoa4.

[6] Zervos, Adrien: Les emblèmes et insignes nationaux de l'Ethiopie. In: L'Empire d'Ethi­opie, le miroir de l'Ethiopie moderne. 1936, pp. 29-31, ill..

[7] The oldest representations available on stamps issued 1911.

[8] Ebulo, Petrus de: Liber ad Honorem Augusti  sive de rebus Siculis. Codex 120 II der Burgerbibliothek Bern, fol. 147.

[9]  Gabriel in Daniël 8 : 16 and Lucas 1 : 19 and Michael in Daniël 10 : 13 and Revelation 12 : 7.

[10] N° inventaire : 71.1940.3.4 D / Toponyme(s) : Afrique /Afrique orientale / Ethiopie / Précédente collection :Musée de l'Homme (Afrique) / Matériaux et Techniques :Bois, pigments /Dimensions : 72,5 x 62 x 3,5 cm, 1280 g / Objet non exposé

[11] Der Herold, 1941, pp. A2 & A3, A22;  Gallo, G.: Vexilla Italica (s.d.); Bascapè, 1983.