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Lost symbols of Russia
Lost symbols of Russia

The state symbols of Russia have a complex, confusing past. We still do not know "where it came from" the two-headed eagle, why George the Victorious was chosen as the "heraldic patron", and not Andrew the First-Called or Nicholas the Pleasant, whose veneration in Russia was much wider. But the genealogy of the coats of arms of Russian cities is even more confusing, the logic of symbolism of which is sometimes simply impossible to comprehend.

From the point of view of heraldic science, the coat of arms is intended to represent the main idea of ​​the symbolized, its formula, its DNA. But when you look at, say, the emblem of Great Ustyug (Neptune holds two jugs of pouring water in his hands), then you can hardly decipher the heraldic code of this plot. The city received the official coat of arms with the Roman sea deity in 1780. In fact, Neptune migrated from Count Minich's "Znamenny Herbovnik", published in 1730, and was called, according to the thought of its creators, to symbolize the favorable geographical position of Veliky Ustyug. Interestingly, the image was backed up by a legend: supposedly a certain Aquarius-hero descended to Earth to drain the waters of two rivers, the South and the Sukhona, into one - the Northern Dvina. It is highly likely that this legend was created in the same 18th century to somehow explain the appearance of Neptune in the Russian North.

Bestiary of Ivan the Terrible

Urban heraldry came to Russia rather late - under Peter I. Before that, the role of coats of arms was played by seals decorated with emblems. In the 1570s, the seal of John IV appeared, on which you can see 24 emblems - 12 on each side - of the princedoms, lands, cities that make up the Muscovy. It is interesting that the lion's share of the symbols is represented by images of animals, birds, and fish. The other part is weapons: bows, swords, sabers.

Scientists argue that most of the emblems did not contain any identification code of the places, the lands that they symbolized, but was a figment of the imagination of the court iconographers. Those were guided not so much by the "geniuses of the places" as by the Psalter and the "Physiologist" popular at that time in Russia. Thus, Nizhny Novgorod began to symbolize a deer, Pskov - a leopard (or lynx), Kazan - a basilisk (dragon), Tver - a bear, Rostov - a bird, Yaroslavl - fish, Astrakhan - a dog, Vyatka lands - an onion, etc.


Hardly anyone then seriously thought about the deep symbolism of cities. The main symbolic load on the seals of John IV was carried by the double-headed eagle with St. George located in the center on the one hand, and the Unicorn (the personal emblem of Grozny) on the other. The whole circle, the periphery, played on the seal of the sovereign the role of a sort of crowd, whose tasks were not so much the correct identification of the place as to show the power of the tsar.

By a tragic coincidence, the press of Grozny became a kind of program for the future - Moscow is everything, the periphery is nothing.

This does not mean at all that the territories represented on the seal did not have their own generic, authentic symbols. There were, and some of these symbols were centuries old. However, in the frame of reference of John, they, of course, could not find their place. So, Grozny personally invented the seal of Veliky Novgorod, which formed the basis of his future "bear" coat of arms, ignoring the existence for centuries of authentic Novgorod symbols on seals (Savior Almighty, Andrew the First-Called, horseman, lion).The main reason was that local authenticity was contrary to the policy of centralization of the Muscovy.

The first Russian brand book

A century later, in 1672, the "Big State Book", or "Tsarist Titular", appeared, which revealed a new heraldic version of the Russian lands. We already see 33 coats of arms in the book. The emblems of some lands that were present on the seal of Grozny have radically evolved.


So, Rostov the Great changed a bird for a deer, Yaroslavl - a fish for a bear armed with an ax, and Ryazan changed a horse for a foot prince.

However, it is unlikely that these changes were preceded by any serious study of the topic: most likely, the rebranding was based on all the free creativity of isographers, and not the primordial symbols of these lands. At the same time, "Titular" formed the basis for future heraldic experiments, which finally led to the loss of the primary symbolic codes of the ancient Russian territories.

We want a peacock

Peter I decided to systematize the Russian brand book and put into circulation real coats of arms, created according to all the rules of European heraldry. Interestingly, the decision was based on army goals. To facilitate the supply of food, the army was to be deployed in the cities and provinces of Russia. The regiments received the names of the cities and localities of registration, and the coats of arms of these territories were to be placed on the regimental banners.


In 1722, the tsar established a special heraldry's office, which was entrusted with the composition of the coats of arms, including the city ones. Count Francis Santi was invited to play the role of creative director. The Italian got down to business with frantic enthusiasm: firstly, he “brought to mind” the emblems from Alexei Mikhailovich's Titularnik, and, secondly, he created several dozen coats of arms for Russian cities “from scratch”. Before starting the creative process, Santi sent out questionnaires to local city officials in which they had to talk about the key features of their cities. It should be noted that the local chancellery reacted to the Italian's "technical assignment" without due enthusiasm: the answers of the officials were very local and meaningless.

True, there were also cities that took the assignment seriously. For example, Serpukhov officials reported that their city is famous for peacocks that live in one of the local monasteries. Soon, the overseas bird took its place of honor on the coat of arms of the city.

Despite all the inertia of the city offices, Santi still managed to draw a register of 97 coats of arms (another question, how authentic were these symbols?). Probably, he could have done more, but already in 1727, Catherine I, who ruled after the death of Peter, sent the count to Siberia on charges of conspiracy.

Heraldic fever

The next heraldic boom in Russia came during the reign of Catherine II. This was due to the 1775 local government reform. Over the decade, several hundred coats of arms of Russian cities have been created. Many of them, if not most, were completely contrived in nature, being the fruit of the taste of provincial city officials and the heralds' poor knowledge of the history of cities. So, the coats of arms of the cities of Velikie Luki (three bows), Sumy (three bags), etc. were born.

At this moment, many "heraldic" myths were born: local officials get involved in the creative process and begin to compose legends about the origin of the coats of arms. For example, the dignitaries of Kolomna told the story that their city was built in 1147 by a representative of the ancient patrician Roman family Colonna, which is why the city is called that way, and a pillar is depicted on its coat of arms.


But the people of Yaroslavl went farthest, claiming that the coat of arms in the form of a bear with an ax was invented by the greatest prince Yaroslav: I killed my retinue."

In the 19th century, the authorities tried to somehow systematize the heraldic fever, since - in a burst of creativity - some cities already had several approved coats of arms. I had to give up too much.

After the revolution, the domestic urban heraldry was waiting for a new boom in crest of arms, but the "hallmarks of territories" created by Soviet artists were only suitable for the signification of the circles of hell, rather than for cities inhabited by living people.

After the collapse of the USSR, a heraldic renaissance began, which was expressed in the massive return of cities to "Catherine's branding."

What we have?

Several centuries of experiments in the heraldry of Russian cities ended in nothing. Thus, the ancient Russian cities with centuries-old traditions, with the light hand of the central government, acquired empty meaningless symbols and plunged into depression. The coat of arms, designed to unite the townspeople into a single community, reflect the essence, character of the city, and remained in dreams.

It must be admitted that all the centuries-old work in the field of heraldry of Russian cities was done on the knee. All the true symbols of the ancient Russian lands were ignored even during the creation of the seal of John IV. And in the "Tsarskoe Titulyarnik" Moscow contrived herbalism, when the capital's clerks came up with beautiful emblems for the "rest of the world", was introduced into the system. The fascination of the Moscow elite with "the latest Western trends" played a fatal role.


So, "Titulyarnik" was created by order of the head of the Ambassadorial Prikaz by boyar Artamon Matveyev, who, as you know, was one of the first Westernizers in Russian history. It is important to know that the book was created not as an official coat of arms, but as a souvenir edition, which was shown to distinguished overseas guests. Say, look, we are not worse than you, we are also advanced, in a trend.

The trouble is that subsequent herbotwallers began to use this souvenir as the main source for Russian heraldry, which it was not for a second, as, indeed, was the seal of John IV.

Under subsequent sovereigns, the situation only worsened, the signs drifted further and further from the signified, the primordial symbols lost all hope of being discovered by the court masters of heraldry. It was also a real fate that the key roles in the creation of the coats of arms of the Russians were played by completely non-Russian people, "non-local artists" - Minich, Santi, Bekenstein, Köhne, von Enden (this creator owns the monstrous idea of ​​dividing the coats of arms of county cities in half - above is the governor's emblem, below city).

Carrying out the saints

The Russian tradition has always been closely associated with Orthodoxy. The attitude of the Russian person to the image was formed on the basis of the veneration of icons. In other words, the Russian person expected patronage from the image, rather than wanted, like a European person, to express himself through the picture. That is why most of the seals of the ancient Russian lands depicted saints who were considered patrons. That is why on the pre-Petrine battle banners we see the Almighty Savior, the Mother of God and Michael the Archangel. The fascination with the West of the Russian elite literally carried the patron saints out of everyday life, replacing them with contrived, meaningless inanimate objects and animals.

Why is it important?

In the Scandinavian sagas, the Russian land was called Gardariki, that is, "the country of cities." This indicates the development of the urban tradition in Russia. After the centuries-old policy of centralization, which was carried out first by Muscovy, and then imperial St. Petersburg, the Gardariki turned from a country of cities into a country of villages, posadov, settlements. The Russian urban tradition was destroyed. We are reaping the fruits of this policy even now, when Moscow, like a black hole, is sucking in the best human resources from the periphery, exsanguinating Russian cities.

The symbol of the city plays an extremely important role in establishing a strong bond between the city and the citizen.The city emblem is the connecting component between the personality of the inhabitant and the urban community, and the stronger and more meaningful the symbol, the stronger the connection between a person and the city.

In addition, for us, Russians, the coat of arms of our hometown should not so much indicate its features as express the high patronage of the townspeople. In this regard, the alien god Neptune must leave the coat of arms of Veliky Ustyug, giving way to the blessed Procopius of Ustyug. It was this saint, according to legend, who saved the inhabitants of the city from a terrible natural disaster in 1290.

Maybe when the true patrons return to the coats of arms of Russian cities, their residents will stop looking for dubious patronage in Moscow …

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