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Гербы городов Российской Федерации
Russian Civic Heraldry


Origin/meaning :

The original arms of Russia show St. George, the patron saint of Moscow and the Russian State since the 13th century, with the double eagle as a supporter. The combination of eagle and shield with St. George, has been the Russian National Arms for a number of centuries. The first images date back to the fifteenth century, but at that time it was used only on coins and a bit later as the state stamp, see below.

The Russian national arms reflects the history of the Russian Empire, it changed with the flow of time. Every era introduced its own elements to the arms. The arms have always been a symbol and a characteristic trait of the czar family, who added the national arms to their own arms. The orb and sceptre were also added in the claws of the eagle as symbols of sovereignty of the czars. Also, the eagle was no longer seen as a supporter, but was placed on the shield itself.

Some older versions of the arms.

At the end of the nineteenth century there were three types of national arms: large, middle and small.
The description of the large arms was first given in 1800 by Pavel I, but the idea was realized only in 1857 by Alexander II and the final version was introduced and adopted by Alexander III on November 3, 1882.

The large arms looked as follows:

In the center there is a golden shield with an image of the double eagle with the escutcheon with St. George. The eagle is black and crowned with two imperial crowns. Above them there's another large imperial crown with two flying ends of the ribbon of the Order of St.Andrew Pervozvanny.
The shield is crowned by the helm of St. Alexander Nevsky.
The chain of the St. Andrew Pervozvanny Order surrounds the shield.
The supporters are the archangels Gabriel and Michael.
The golden canopy is crowned by the imperial crown, studded with Russian eagles, and with ermine lining. "God is with us" is written on the canopy in Cyrillic letters. The state gonfalon with a cross is seen behind and above the canopy.

At its bottom the main shield is surrounded by nine shields, representing the eight kingdoms or titles of the Czar, each crowned by the relevant crown. These are the following (the shields are numbered per row) : I. Kazan (dragon); II. Astrachan (sword); III. (eagle); IV. Siberia; V. Khersonis Tavrichesky; VI. Georgia; VII. the united arms of the grand duchies: Kiev, Vladimir and Novgorod; VIII. the grand duchy of Finland; as well as the arms of the Romanov dynasty below the main shield.

Above the canopy there are six more shields, representing minor titles and areas : X. The shield of united arms of duchies and districts of Great Russia (Pskov region, Smolensk and eight more), left of the banner; XI. the shield of united arms of south west districts, right of the banner; XII. The shield of united arms of Belorussian and Lithuanian districts (left below X); XIII. the shield of the united arms of Baltic districts (right below XI); XIV. shield of north-east regions (left below XII) and XV. The arms of Turkestan (horse).

The small shields are placed on two laurel and oak branches. They symbolise glory, honor, merits (laurel), valor and courage (oak).

The large arms were used widely on all major occasions. For minor and daily cases the middle and small arms were used.
The middle state arms are the same as the large arms, but without the state gonfalon and the six arms above the canopy.

The small state arms are just the main shield with an imperial crown, no supporters, canopy or surrounding shields.

The triune essence of the Russian idea: for faith, Czar and Motherland" is reflected in the large national arms by means of heraldry. The faith is expressed by the symbols of the Russian Orthodox church: a lot of crosses, saint Michael and Gabriel, the motto "God is with us", and the cross above the state gonfalon.
The czar, the idea of the autocrat is expressed by the symbols of power: the large imperial crown, other crowns, sceptre and the orb.
The motherland is expressed by the arms of Moscow, the arms of other Russian regions, by the helm of Alexander Nevsky. The circular depiction of the arms shows the equity between the regions and the central position of the Moscow Arms (St. George) shows the tendency to unite around Moscow. The large National Arms creates the image of the united and indivisible Russia - the way it was at the time.

After the revolution in 1917, the czar was dethroned and Russia became a soviet republic. Correspondingly, the arms were abolished and new arms were introduced.


The arms of the Socialistic Russia were the first symbol of the Soviet state. The arms of the Russian Socialistic Federal Soviet Republic were originally made according to the heraldry rules, but with new emblems. The arms were adopted on the 10th of July 1918. Later the arms were mainly shown as a logo, without a proper shield.
The description is as follows: "Against the red background above a rising sun a golden sickle and hammer, placed crosswise, handles downwards, circled by the ear wreath bearing the sign: a) The Russian Socialistic Federal Soviet Republic; b) " Proletarians of all countries unite!"

After the decline of the Soviet Union new arms were considered necessary. By the presidential decree of November 30, 1993 new National Arms were adopted (see above, upper image). The design follows the composition of the small arms of the Russian Empire.

The official description of the arms can be translated as: "The State Arms of the Russian Federation is golden double eagle on a red heraldic shield; above the eagle there are three crowns of Peter the Great; the eagle holds a sceptre and an orb in his clutches. On the eagle's chest a red shield with the image of a horseman, thrusting the dragon with a spear".

Surprisingly the description mentions an undescribed horseman on the escutcheon, not the original St. George !

Literature : Information and images provided by Olga

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