Two-headed eagle

This article is about the device in heraldry . For the American coin, see Double Eagle.

The double-headed eagle is a common symbol in heraldry and vexillology. It is most commonly associated with the Byzantine Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, the Russian Empire and their successor states. In Byzantine heraldry, the heads represent the Emperor having authority over both secular and religious matters, Byzantine emperors were regarded as Christ's viceregent on Earth. It also signified the dominance of the Byzantine Emperors over both East and West. In the Holy Roman Empire's heraldry, it represented the church and the state. Several Eastern European nations adopted it from the Byzantines and continue to use it as their national symbol to this day.


Double-headed eagles have been present in imagery for millennia. The two-headed eagle can be found in the archaeological remains[1] of the Sumerian civilization and through the Hittite civilization, dating from a period that ranges from the 20th century BC to the 7th century BC. The Gandaberunda is another example of a mythological two-headed bird, which is in common use in India (The Kingdom of Mysore) .

Cylindric seals discovered in Bogazkoy, an old Hittite capital in modern-day Turkey, represent clearly a two-headed eagle with spread wings. The aesthetics of this symmetrical position explains in part the birth of this religious figure: It originally dates from c. 3800 BC, and was the Sumerian symbol for the god of Lagash, Ninurta son of Enlil. It can also be seen in the same region in three monumental settings: Circa 1900 BC, during the Hittite surge from north-central Anatolia down into Babylonia; in Alacahöyük around 1400 BC; and in Yazilikaya before 1250 BC. Here the context looks slightly different and totally religious: The eagle returns to its ancient origins as a symbol of divine power. The two-headed eagle is seen less and less during the last Hittite period (from the 9th to the 7th century BC) and totally disappears after the end of the empire.

The double-headed eagle was also in use by the Arsacid Dynasty of Armenia in the 3rd to 9th centuries.

Kingdom of Mysore

The Kingdom of Mysore was a kingdom of southern India, traditionally believed to have been founded in 1399 in the vicinity of the modern city of Mysore. The kingdom, which was ruled by the Wodeyar family, initially served as a vassal state of the Vijayanagara Empire. With the decline of the Vijayanagara Empire (c.1565), the kingdom became independent. The 17th century saw a steady expansion of its territory and, under Narasaraja Wodeyar I and Chikka Devaraja Wodeyar, the kingdom annexed large expanses of what is now southern Karnataka and parts of Tamil Nadu to become a powerful state in the southern Deccan.

A roof sculpture depicting a Gandaberunda is found on the roof of the Rameshwara temple in the temple town of Keladi in Shimoga District(now Shivamogga). The Gandaberunda was used by theWodeyar dynasty of Mysore as the Royal emblem. The Karnataka Government adopted this symbol as the state symbol and can be found on bus terminals and tickets issued by Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation. Coins(Gold pagoda or gadyana) from the rule of Achyuta Deva Raya are thought to be the first to use the Gandaberunda on currency

Byzantine Empire

Further information: Byzantine flags and insignia

Constantinople was the successor of Rome, and the Byzantine Greeks continued the use of the old imperial "single-headed" eagle motif. Although the roots of the transformation to double-headed are almost certainly connected with old depictions in Asia Minor, the details of its adoption are uncertain. It appears in Byzantine artwork as early as the 10th century, but it's confirmed in use by the Empire as such only much later, in the Palaiologos dynasty period, when it was used as a symbol of the Emperor and high-ranking members of the Imperial family.

The Ancients used no flags in the modern sense. The Romans used various signa, such as the bronze aquilas (adopted as the legions' symbol by Marius) and vexilloids, and, if the emperor was present, pikes or banners with the emperor's portrait. With the adoption of Christianity as state religion during the later Empire, the Chi-Rho and the cross became more and more used in military standards, such as the labarum. The Roman single-headed eagle however continued to be used as a symbol of imperial authority.

According to a popular story (which however lacks any direct support), the single-headed eagle was modified to double-headed by Emperor Isaac I Komnenos (1057–1059) being influenced from local traditions about such a (mythical) beast (the haga) in his native Paphlagonia in Asia Minor. Local legends talked about this giant eagle with two heads that could easily hold a bull in its claws; the haga was seen as a representation of power, and people would often "call" it for protection. Isaac Komnenos, deeply influenced by these beliefs, had already used it as a family emblem.[2]

Use by the Seljuk Turks (c. 1058 – 1246)

The double-headed eagle became the standard of the Seljuk Turks with the crowning of Tuğrul (meaning "Falcon") Beg at Mosul in 1058 as "King of the East and the West" and was much used afterwards. The Sultans of Rum, Ala ad-Din Kayqubad I (1220–1237) and his son Kaykhusraw II (1237–1246) used the dicephalous eagle in their standards, and the motif was also found on tissues, cut stones, mural squares, and Koran holders.[3]

Turcomans who ruled in Anatolia during the 13th century, inherited it from the Seljuk Turks. Islamic coins from the reign of Khalif Nasreddin Mahmoud bin Mohammad, following Turkish influence, sporting a double-headed eagle on one side and the Star of David on the other as early as year 1200.

Today, Turkish police have a double-headed eagle in its insignia as a secondary charge, in addition to the Atatürk University in Erzurum, municipality of Diyarbakır and two football clubs of Turkey, Erzurumspor and Konyaspor using it as their coat of arms.

Holy Roman Empire (c. 1250 – 1806)

Main article: Reichsadler

The first mention of a double-headed eagle in the West dates from 1250, in a roll of arms of Matthew of Paris for Emperor Frederick II of the Holy Roman Empire. Usually depicted black on a gold background, it replaced the earlier single-headed eagle, and was subsequently adopted in the coats of arms of many German cities and aristocratic families. After the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, the double-headed eagle was retained by the Austrian Empire, and served also as the coat of arms of the German Confederation.

Use by other countries

From Byzantium, two-headed eagles spread to Russia after Ivan III's second marriage to Zoe Palaiologina (a niece of the last Byzantine emperor Constantine XI),[4] and to Montferrat, where a cadet branch of the Palaeologi ruled. It remains also an important motif in the heraldry of the imperial families of Russia (the House of Romanov) and Austria-Hungary (the House of Habsburg), as well as the royal family of Montenegro (the House of Petrovic).

In England, the Mercian Kings used the double-headed eagle as a symbol prior to the Norman conquest. It was used by Leofric, Earl of Mercia to represent the ancient Shropshire family.[5]

In Scotland, the coat of arms of the city and burgh of Perth was supported by a double-headed eagle. The eagle later became the supporter of the arms of the district of Perth and Kinross (1975).[6]

It was the charge in the Coat of Arms of the Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Alexander (reigned 1331–1371). The Serbian Nemanjić dynasty adopted a white version as their own to signify their own independence of, and indeed, claim to the imperial throne of Constantinople. The white eagle was retained by most Serbian medieval dynasties, as well as the Karađorđević, Obrenović and Petrović-Njegoš houses and remains to this day in use in the coat-of-arms of the countries of Serbia and Montenegro. George Kastrioti (Skanderbeg) adopted a similar flag in his struggle against the Ottomans, consisting of a black eagle on red background, which has been resurrected in the current Flag of Albania. During the next centuries, the eagle was made to hold a sword and/or a scepter and an orb with a cross, symbols of the aforementioned double sovereignty.

Its usage also survived as an element in the Greek Orthodox Church, which was the inheritor of the Byzantine legacy during the Ottoman Empire, while it remained a popular symbol among Greeks and is still in use in Church flags. In modern Greece it is used officially by the Hellenic Army (Coat of Arms of Hellenic Army General Staff). It was also used as a charge on the Greek coat of arms for a brief period in 1925–1926.[7]

The two-headed eagle appears, often as a supporter, on the current and historical arms and flags of many countries and territories, including Albania, Armenia, Austria (1934–1938), Austria-Hungary, Byzantine Empire, German Confederation, Holy Roman Empire, Kingdom of Mercia (527–918), Montenegro, Kingdom of Mysore, Russian Empire, Russian Federation, Seljuk Empire, Serbia, Serbian Empire, Kingdom of Serbia, Spanish Empire (during the Habsburg dynasty), and Kingdom of Yugoslavia. It also appears on other coats of arms and flags, including the flag of the Greek Orthodox Church, the arms and flag of the Hellenic Army General Staff and the Hellenic Army XVI Infantry Division,[8] a number of cities in Germany, Netherlands and Serbia, the arms and flag of the city of Toledo, Spain, and the arms of the town of Velletri, Italy.

Use in Masonry

The Double-Headed Eagle of Lagash is used as an emblem by the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry.[9] There are many meanings attached to this symbol. It has been introduced in France in the early 1760s as the emblem of the Kadosh degree.[10]

Use in sports

The double-headed eagle is the emblem of the Greek sport clubs AEK and (since their merger with AEK in 1929) P.A.O.K.. It is a symbol of the clubs' origins, since both were founded by Greek refugees who fled to Greece from Constantinople in the 1920s.[11] It is also the emblem of the Turkish Konyaspor,[12] the Dutch clubs NEC and Vitesse, the English League Two football club AFC Wimbledon and Scottish Premier League side Saint Johnstone FC.


See also



  • (French)

External links

  •, Page on the use of heraldry in the Byzantine Empire
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art

Template:Symbols of Greece

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.