Czech and Slovakian Arms

Kingdom of Bohemia (12th c.-1918)

The historic arms of Bohemia appear in the late 12th c. It dates to 1158, and can be seen on the tomb of Ottokar I, first hereditary king of Bohemia, died 1230 (illustration in Neubecker). The arms of Moravia appear in the 13th c. Moravia was conquered in the 14th century, as was Silesia, but most of it was lost to Prussia after the War of Austrian Succession in 1748. The 2000 square miles left to the Habsburgs (who ruled Bohemia after 1526) were then known as "Austrian Silesia", with a capital in Opava (Troppau in German). Also, in the 14th-15th centuries, the Bohemian kings conquered Upper and Lower Lusatia.

Under the Hapsburg dynasty (1526-1918) the kingdom of Bohemia appeared in the grand arms as a quarter of the following disposition: Quarterly Moravia, Silesia, Upper and Lower Lusatia, en surtout Bohemia.

Czechoslovak Republic (1918-39)

In 1920, three sets of arms were designed for the newly created Czech Republic. The small arms were: gules, a lion rampant, queue fourchee argent, crowned , langued and armed or, on its breast an escutcheon bearing Slovakia.

The medium arms were:Quarterly Slovakia, Ruthenia, Moravia and Silesia, en surtout Bohemia. For Ruthenia (annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 and now a part of Ukraine), a coat of arms was designed, evoking Ukraine and Russia, namely: per pale, Azure three bars or, and Argent a bear rampant gules. These arms are still used as ethnic symbols by the Rusyns (Ruthenes).

The grand arms included three more coats, which unfortunately represent duchies which were in fact parts of Silesia. The grand arms were:Quarterly of seven, in rows of 2, 2 and 3: Slovakia, Ruthenia, Moravia, Silesia, Tesin, Opava and Ratibor, en surtout Bohemia. The arms of Tesin were Azure an eagle or, Opava was per pale gules and argent and Ratibor was per pale, Azure an eagle or, and per pale argent and gules. The supporters were two Bohemian lions standing on linden tree branches. The motto, taken from the 15th c. Hussite king George of Podebrady, was "Pravda vitezi" (Truth prevails).

Czechoslovak Socialist Republic (1948-90)

At first the small arms of the pre-war Republic were used. In 1960, a new coat of arms was designed: in a Hussite shield, Gules a lion queue fourchee argent beneath a star of five points voided or, on its breast an escutcheon bearing gules, on a mountain azure a flame or. The star represented Communism (see Albania), the escutcheon was meant to replace the arms of Slovakia, and the mountain represented was mount Krivan. Note that the crown of the Bohemian lion was eliminated.

As part of Czechoslovakia, the Czech republic had its own flag, based on the colors argent and gules of the arms of Bohemia (identical to pre-1991 Poland, but now Poland has its arms: gules an eagle displayed argent crowned or, on the white stripe of the flag).

Czech Republic (since 1993)

The current Czech Republic is composed of Bohemia, Moravia and bits of Silesia. This explains why the large arms of the Czech Republic, as described in the New York Times of Jan. 3, 1993 are: quarterly: 1 and 4, Bohemia, 2, Moravia, 3 Silesia. The small arms are simply those of Bohemia. The flag of the Czech Republic is identical to the flag of the former Czechoslovakia.

Some of the above material comes from an article by Jiri Louda in Coat of Arms, 1962.

See also a page on Czech symbols.

Slovakian Republic

The arms for Slovakia were taken from those used by a 19th century patriotic society, the "Matica slovensk". Slovakia was a part of Hungary since the 12th century, and remained a forgotten province of the Hungarian kingdom until 1918. It was never an independent political entity. This is why its arms had to be invented. They are: Gules, on a mount in base azure a patriarchal cross argent. This resembles very closely part of the arms of Hungary (in which the mount is vert, and there is a crown or around the base of the cross). A patriarchal cross has two traverses, the upper one shorter. The mount is represented with three copeaux, or domes, corresponding to the three main mountains of Slovakia: Fatra, Tatra and Matra.

Concerning their striking similarity with those of Hungary, the following was once posted on rec.heraldry, describing the two interpretations of the design.

From: Tamas Kocsis 
Subject: Magyar or Slovak Coat-of-arms
Date: 16 Apr 1994 17:44:30 GMT

the Slovak View

The right side of the hungarian coat-of-arms was stolen by magyars from the predecessor of Slovakia, the Great Moravia. The double cross was brought to them by Cyril and Method. The double cross is the symbol of the conversion to Christianity. Amongst the descendants of the Sloveni of the Great Moravian empire, the Apostolic Cross is set upon the prior common slavic deity's symbol, that is, the triple mound, and symbolized the conversion of the pagan Sloveni to Christianity.

the Hungarian View

Per pale: barry of eight Argent and Gules; Gules, on a triple mound vert an open crown or, therefrom issuant a patriarchal cross argent.

the sinister coat

First occurence under on a seal of a charter of Imre (1174-1204) in 1202. Imre's wife was aragonian and her family coat was Or, four pallets gules. Imre did not want to disgrace himself before her and her aragonian knights she brought with and he chose quickly a coat which "rhymed with" the Aragonian.

the dexter coat

The oldest part in the coat is the double cross. The (double) cross represented the power of hungarian kings.

First occurence on the coins of Bela III (1172-1196). At first it was represented without escutcheon. On the coins minted around 1190 the cross is on escutcheon in floating position.

Bela III was brought up in the Byzantian court. Possibly he started to use it there as symbol of the king's power. His son Andrew's wife was the niece of Henry the Latin emperor of Constantinople. Henry had no descendants and it seemed that Andrew could manage to get the throne.

During the reign of Andrew II (1205-1235) and Bela IV (1235-1270) the silver double cross on escutcheon became coat-of-arms. It became customary to put a crown with leafs to the foot of the cross (Andrew II).

The base of the cross first was three arches of a gothic trefoil (13th c.). It turned into triple mound (late gothic era, 14th c.). The circular form (renaissance) became parabolic arch (baroque) and finally returned the unaffected triple mound. Hungarian heraldry didn't like floating symbols. Things are always in hand, on pedestal, leaning against something, etc.

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François Velde

Last modified: Oct 15, 1997