[Achievement – the name given in heraldry to the full pictorial representation of a coat of arms.]
Previously : 4)
Count Albrecht von Bernstorff (1890-1945) studied at Oxford as a Rhodes
Scholar, named after 5) Cecil Rhodes
(1853-1902), who made his fortune in diamonds, said to have been first
introduced into Europe by 6)
Alexander the Great (356 BC-323 BC).
A controversial achievement and a confusing one, which is
why this particular heraldic article has a different format to my previous ones.
When heraldry was in its early stages of development many kings and nobles
adopted coats of arms. Once heraldry became popular, spreading across Europe
and developing its own rules, a new trend emerged in which long-dead kings and
nobles from history had coats of arms designed for them, even if heraldry
didn’t exist in their life time. It was assumed in the Middle Ages that if a
contemporary king can had a coat of arms then so can a historical one. It
didn’t matter to the medieval heralds how far back in time anyone lived. These
coats of arms are called attributed arms.
Among the many historical people to whom coats of arms were
attributed were King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, the Three
Kings, Achilles and even Satan. Nine men in particular were to become symbolic
of chivalric ideals and had coats of arms attributed to them. They are called
The Nine Worthies. Among the Three Worthy Pagans in this group (with Julius
Caesar and Hektor of Troy) was 6)
Alexander the Great.
Unfortunately, throughout the medieval period the attributed
arms of each of the Nine Worthies were often interchanged, whether by mistake
or intention is never clear. Below I’ve gathered together images from medieval
documents which show some of the various attributed arms of Alexander the
Great. Like 5) Cecil Rhodes the legacy of Alexander is still
causing controversy in the modern world in the nation of his origin, and one of
Alexander’s coats of arms are at the centre of it.
GRIFFIN : The
oldest representation of Alexander the Great’s coat of arms appears in a series
of statues of the Nine Worthies at the city hall in Cologne, Germany. Alexander
holds a shield bearing the image of a griffin. The statues date from the 1200s.
Legend has it that Alexander captured two griffins and harnessed them to his
throne. Then, like a carrot on a stick, except that he used meat, he enticed
the griffins to fly up towards Heaven with him seated on his throne. After a
week of flying upwards an angel appeared (a bit like a celestial traffic cop stopping
someone going the wrong way down a one-way street!) and scolded Alexander for
wanting to see the wonders of Heaven before he’d seen all the wonders of Earth.
This fabulous flight was very popular in medieval art.
The 1459 image comes from “Die Wappenbücher Herzog Albrecht
VI von Österreich”, also referred to as the Ingeram Codex after the herald Hans
Ingeram who compiled it.
The 1519 image (it should read 1516, sorry) comes from a
series of woodcuts depicting the Nine Worthies by Hans Burgkmayr the Elder.
LION : The
earliest depiction of a lion in the attributed coat of arms of Alexander the
Great appears in 1394. It appears in a manuscript referred to as “Chavalier
Erant” and was produced in Paris. The lion is carrying an axe. Alexander’s
association with the lion goes back to his own time. The lion hunt was a
popular royal pastime and king’s like Alexander wore lion’s skins. Like his
hero Herakles, you see him wearing a lion’s scalp on coins.
In 1581 “Le Blason des Armoiries” by Jérôme de Bara showed
the lion without an axe. These are the arms which appear quite a lot in
heraldry books as those of the kingdom of Macedonia, claiming to date from as
early as 1340 (as shown in the image from the Fojnica Armorial, a Bosnian
manuscript whose title page gives this date but which may only date from about
1680). The lion was proposed as the national coat of arms of the Former
Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in 1992. As with other traditional Macedonian
symbols and names the Greek government protested against their use by Yugoslav
Macedonia, which they do no recognise as being of traditional Greek Macedonian
heritage. The controversy continues.
LION ENTHRONED :
Another version of the lion reintroduces the axe and adds the royal throne on
which the beast is seated. This is the attributed coat of arms often given to
Prince Hektor of Troy. It may have been mis-assigned to Alexander the Great
because of his association with the lion. Here are three depictions of
Alexander with the enthroned lion. The arms in the 1520 engraving are difficult
to make out, but they are on the elephant’s caparison (cloth covering its
THREE CROWNS : Like
the enthroned lion the three crowns are also often attributed to another of the
Nine Worthies, King Arthur, as they are on 13th century Nine Worthies statues
in Cologne. The crowns of Alexander appear in “Wernigeroder Wappenbuch” which
may have been produced as early as 1475. Ten years later in appears in “Chronik
des Konstanzer Konzils” published by Anton Sorg in Augsburg.
While Alexander’s lion arms may remain as a point of dispute
between Greek and Yugoslav Macedonia it remains a popular symbol of his reign
and power in the ancient world.
One of his greatest early successes was by the side of his
father King Philip II at the Battle of Chaeronea in 338 BC. To honour his
fallen enemies Philip placed a lion statue over their communal burial site.
This site marked the last resting place of an elite fighting corps of 150
same-sex partners, the Sacred Band of Thebes.
The Sacred Band had been the top fighting troop in Greece
for 30 years and history suggests that their success can be credited to a
former cavalry officer called 7)
Gorgidas of Thebes (pre 400 BC-c.375 BC?).
We look at Gorgidas and the Sacred Band next time.