National and historical symbols of Hungary

Heraldic Overview

From ancient times people have striven for either the manifestation of their belonging to a group (of blood relationship, as well as ethnic, religious, organisational, political, etc.) or their distinction from others, e.g. by painting their bodies and adorning their hair, by legends, sagas, totems, similar clothes, distinguishing marks, hallmarks, etc. Later the motifs of distinction might have been applied on armorial bearings as well, thus the time and origin of the appearance of coats-of-arms is uncertain.

With the fall of the Roman Empire the uniforms and standard equipment of troops also vanished. When the early feudal states were on the rise, armies of relatively small size went into battle. The warriors might either have known each other personally or they fought clearly distinguishable enemies such as nomads, Arabs or Vikings. Consequently, the marks of distinction were obvious and easy to recognise.

A new situation emerged during the age of crusades, when huge armies assembled from every corner of the Christian world. The knights expressed their relatedness with crosses sewn on their surcoats and painted on their shields, whereas their distinctness was manifested by various colours or complementary motifs painted beside the cross.

It was not before half a century had passed that, with the establishment of knighthood and the spreading of heavy armoury, the use of coats-of-arms developed. Their primary function was the identification of the bearer, whose face was now covered with a helm. The first occurrences of armorial bearings date back to the mid-12th century. Within a short time arms law was codified (13th century) and the principles of design were committed to writing. In the 14th century heralds were already keeping records in Rolls of Arms.

The early names of armorial bearings (arma in mediaeval Latin, arma in Italian, armes in French, arms in English, Wappen in German, etc.) all refer to their military function. The Hungarian word címer came into being by the extension of the meaning of cimier, a contemporary French word, which originally only meant the crest. When in 1326 it first occurred in Hungary in a document by King Károly (Charles) I, it was still used in this sense.

Thus the coat-of-arms can be defined as a permanent, coloured symbol designed and drawn according to certain rules from specific tinctures and geometrical or stylised pictorial devices displayed on a shield. On the basis of old unwritten law or a grant given by a ruler, the coat-of-arms was borne as a distinguishing or identifying mark by individuals or corporations (natural and legal personalities alike) that were entitled to it, or by communities claiming legal continuity.

The central element of the coat-of-arms is the shield, which may take various forms from the elongated tapering kite (also called Norman) shield to the pointed triangular heater or the rectangular, square banner shield. It may take the shape of a horse's head or a diamond (lozenge), it can be pierced flanchwise with a pointed base (often referred to as Renaissance shield), whereas the one named buckler is oval or circular (round). The base may be pointed, round, fish-tailed or curved to a point (the latter being called spade shield). As regards positioning, it can be borne erect (upright) or at a slant to the right (dexter) or to the left (sinister). A shield turned upside down indicates that the family entitled to it has died out. It can also be single or compounded (marshalled). Marshalling may take place by displaying the shields side by side, above each other (in this case one shield is surmounted by the other), at an angle towards each other, or by joining more than one coat in a divided field (called impaled if the division is vertical, fesswise if it is horizontal and quartered if the marshalling is quarterly). If the coat-of-arms is made up of several shields whereby one is placed over the field of the other, proceeding from below the components are called chief shield and inescutcheon or heart shield (placed in pretence, that is, in the middle of the chief shield).

For a heraldic description, the sides of the shield are reversed (as if viewed by the bearer who holds it in front of himself in defence). This is the reason why the right-hand side is called sinister and the left-hand dexter. The field can be partitioned by a line of division per pale (vertically), per fess (horizontally), per bend (diagonally), per saltier (i.e. per bend and bend sinister), per chevron, etc. If divided by one single line per pale and one per fess the field is quartered. If divided by several (even-numbered) vertical and horizontal lines the field is checky (chequy), whereas several divisions by lines per bend and bend sinister result in a lozengy field. Consequently, two vertical partitioning lines enclose a stripe called the pale, two horizontal lines make the fess, the stripe formed by two diagonal lines (of identical directions) is the bend, and so on.

For an accurate description of the position of heraldic devices (charges), the surface of the shield (the field) is divided into nine sections by two vertical and two horizontal lines of partition. Of the sections the upper three are called the chief, the middle ones the fess, the lower three the base. If viewed vertically, the heraldically right-hand side sections form the dexter, those on the left-hand side form the sinister, whereas those in between the middle field(s) of the shield. If a charge extends vertically into all the three middle sections, it is borne in pale or palewise.

If the field is undivided and single-coloured, the shield is plain. The components of the field design are formed of tinctures, which include colours (gules [red], azure [blue], vert [green], sable [black] and purpure [purple]), metals (or [gold/yellow] and argent [silver/white]), as well as furs (ermine, ermines, erminois, pean, vair and counter vair). Colour may not be placed on colour, nor may metal on metal. Natural charges, however, may be painted with natural colours (e.g. a brown bear); in such cases the charge is described as proper.

Charges can be classified as (1) ordinaries and (2) object charges. Ordinaries display a given variation by the combinations of various geometrical forms (horizontal, vertical, wavy, embattled, bendy, cross-shaped, concave, arched, indented, etc.). In fact they are stripes of a colour and, according to their directions, positioning or shapes, are called the fess, the pale, the bend, the chevron, the saltier, the pile and the cross. Object charges are two-dimensional stylised drawings, which may display natural objects or phenomena (the sun, minerals, water, fire, etc.), living beings (human figures, animals, plants, fruit), supernatural beings (a griffin, a unicorn or a phoenix), inanimate (man-made) objects such as buildings, ships, instruments (weapons and tools), or sometimes letters and names (mottoes), as well as their parts or combinations. Ordinaries normally extend to the edge of the field (except for certain types of cross), whereas the charge is usually borne couped, that is, not touching the edge. If only half of the charge is visible, it is called demi- (e.g. a demi-lion).

To describe an uncoloured (black and white) representation of a coat-of-arms, a graphic system consisting of lines, dots and figures is used. Identical charges displayed in a single field must bear the same tincture, whereas the tinctures of divided charges in a partitioned field must alter. Animated creatures may be armed (i.e. the beak, the tongue, the claw or the talon may be tinctured gules or or).

The other, similarly important element of a coat-of-arms is the helm. Helms can be divided into two categories: (1) battle helms (pot-helms, tilting helms), which are closed, and (2) tournament helms (barred and vizored helms), which are open. Round the neckpiece (gorget) they are often ornamented with a medallion. The helm is usually tinctured azure or argent (imitating steel); gold [or] may only be the tincture if so specified in the deed of gift. On top a helm they put a crest, which may be a horn, a pair of wings [vol], one single wing [demi-vol], a feather, a panache (i.e. a cluster of feathers), a bough, a flower, etc., but most often it is the repetition of the principal motif of the charge. The point at which the crest is attached to the helm is covered with a wreath (torse) or a crest coronet (but not a coronet of rank). In the beginning coronets of rank only adorned princely helms; later, however, other dignitaries such as counts, barons and dukes were also entitled to wear them. High priests put an ecclesiastical hat of rank couped above their shields with a certain colour and number of hanging tassels, and popes used tiaras. As regards towns, their arms soon started to display mural crowns. Later other crests such as headgear (shakos, high caps, etc.) also occurred. A single coat is usually surmounted by one helm; where there are more than one, even-numbered helms face each other, whereas in the case of odd-numbered helms the middle one is always borne affronté (i.e. facing the viewer).

It is a generally accepted rule that the helm, the coronet of rank and the mitre are displayed on the upper edge of the shield. If the shield is borne at an angle, they must be placed on the upper point; however, the ecclesiastical hat of rank is always borne couped above it. The positioning of the helm is usually identical with that of the charge (i.e. if the charge faces dexter, so does the helm). It is always the crown that surmounts the helm and never the other way round. If, due to the bearer being raised to a higher rank, augmentation takes place, whereby several arms are combined in one single shield, the helms of the original coats may surmount the coronet of rank placed on top of the new shield. If the crest is attached to the crown with a wreath, its tinctures are of the tinctures of the scarves.

The full achievement also includes the scarves (also called mantling) which, according to some assumptions, developed from the capes worn by crusaders in the desert. However, it is also supposed that this ornamental drapery originates from the small mantle used for identifying participants at tournaments. At first the edges of the scarves were straight or scalloped, but later they became fringed and reminiscent of floral ornaments. Scarves are usually tinctured of the principal colours of the arms, whereas their revers are either a metal (or or argent) or a fur (ermine). Occasionally a motif of the charge, such as a star, may also be borne.

Beneath the coat-of-arms - usually written on a scroll - the armiger's battle-cry or motto may also be displayed. Moreover, in the late period of heraldry, outer ornamental elements were added as well. These include supporters (human beings or animal figures), mantling, a heraldic tent, flags put behind or beside the coat-of-arms, weapons and other additional related symbols.

Arms Registration

In the Middle Ages bearing a coat-of-arms was the privilege of rulers, barons (great landlords), nobles, royal boroughs, as well as certain institutions and offices; however, arms motifs also appeared, albeit not displayed in a shield, on the seals of market towns and well-off villages. Following the expulsion of the Turks, many Hungarian settlements acquired or were granted a seal of their own. The seals would often be schematic (e.g. if the settlement had its own church, the seal bore a church, while the agricultural character of the place was usually indicated by a ploughshare or a coulter, etc.); nevertheless, it was not rare that the armorial bearings of the settlement were to develop from these seal charges. Other settlements, owing to their rise in rank and economic power, were granted a coat-of-arms. Thus armorial bearings gradually lost their knightly and nobiliary character, and were to become the symbolic representations of economic strength and social status. (It must be noted, however, that in Hungary a coat-of-arms was not a prerequisite for nobility, nor did bearing one make anybody a noble.)

It was due to a civil initiative that in the 1870s a team including K. Tagányi, G. Altenburger and B. Rumbold was brought to life. They collected the seals and armorial bearings of Hungary's settlements, and from the 1880s onward they published them in a series of booklets. Work on discovering the origin and development of the coats-of-arms of many families also started, of which the research carried out under the leadership of Count Gyula Andrássy may have been the most considerable. Despite all the effort, because of the political changes that followed, these projects were never completed. Following the Trianon Peace Treaty, which had tragic consequences for the Hungarian nation, the focus of attention turned towards the past again but, as regards armorial bearings, it was the national coat-of-arms, meant to suggest the unity of the nation, that became the dominant emblem. Moreover, as the number of state offices, organisations, schools and institutions was growing, the national coat-of-arms was to be used nearly exclusively.

After the second world war privileged ranks and titles were abolished and, as stated by Act IV of 1947, the use of coats-of-arms was also banned. This was followed in the 1950s by a fierce political and spiritual attack against heraldry, criticised heavily with damning attributes, and against coats-of-arms, which were regarded as feudal emblems. However, people's desire to seek and manifest their self-identity could not be suppressed. As a result, the so-called 'socialist-realistic' coats-of-arms were created, either by the 'modernisation' of old ones or by using entirely new symbols such as foundries, red stars, cogwheels, electric wires, etc. These coats-of-arms, the designers of which often utterly ignored the rules and conventions of heraldry, were to become objects of ridicule instead of symbolising the awareness of their bearers' identity.

The regaining of independence, the re-establishment of democracy and the decentralisation of power brought with themselves the demand for individual symbols and emblems, with which the bearer is able to identify and which also promote integration into the nation as a whole. By the provisions of Article 1 (6) 2 of Act LXV of 1990, local authorities were invested with the right of choosing their own emblems. On the other hand, since the law forbade the unlimited use of national emblems, it also contributed to the revival of coats design in an indirect way. The local authorities of our settlements may now be inspired by the practice followed in Western Europe, where a coat-of-arms also means a trade mark, a 'brand image', since its use has been continuous for centuries, and because it directs the tradesman, the tourist, the entrepreneur and the traveller. In addition, it makes local inhabitants feel respect for their homeland and become aware of their own values; thus it helps them feel rightfully proud of their past expressed by their armorial bearings, and enhances their efforts aimed at making their settlement or region prosperous.

It must be noted, however, that not all settlement symbols abide by the strict rules of heraldry. It may occur in our publication that local symbols, even though they are faulty, are called coats-of-arms and described as ones more or less accurately, by the self-government that has created them, even though they are irregular. However, such symbols, which are nevertheless graphically expressive and describable, have to be called and interpreted as signs (signum), to distinguish them from coats-of-arms (arma).

These signs, however, are by no means meant to express isolation or introversion; on the contrary, they are to carry the message of openness to the public, which will raise/arouse the desire to learn about the emblems of other groups in the nation. On the one hand this means protection against schematism, while on the other it promotes mutual understanding and develops communication through graphic symbols. The pace of establishing relationships between twin towns and villages, in tourism, through joint ventures, etc. is ever faster, which also means knowing about and displaying each other's emblems at sports events, congresses, festivals, etc. All this is the manifestation of the fact that, as was the case in the late 19th century, a civil initiative has once again emerged in order that a national register of coats-of-arms and signs be established.

Being part of this register means honour and rank; furthermore, it indicates the features of the armiger's integration, the depth of the knowledge of the past, the relationship with the nation as a whole, and the self-esteem of the settlement's dwellers. During the process of creating their emblems, designers may receive feedback on the quality of their arms and signs (whether or not the blazoning is schematic, whether the rules of heraldry are observed and the events of history recorded correctly, etc.), which may be helpful in the error-free implementation of the design. It is our belief that this register could also serve as a tourist guide, since good coats-of-arms can arouse tourists' interests, and because a wide variety of arms within a region can be an attraction for collectors and 'lay' visitors alike. Well-designed coats-of-arms suggest that the region is welcoming and its inhabitants are cultured, and they also enhance confidence and arouse interest.

It is our hope that the publication of this register will serve as an initiative for the self-governments of the settlements not featured here to create their own symbols, which is an opportunity provided by law, and also that it will change our citizens' relationship to individual, family, institutional and other kinds of coats-of-arms. Consequently, they can start to insist on the collection and accurate registration and accessibility of these coats-of-arms and signs.