Then And Now: The Beginnings Of Heraldry And Where It Is Today

 By: Mark White
People continue to study heraldry because its history is so fascinating. It is an ancient form of identification that has been around for thousands of years and it still continues to be popular with people today. Because there are so many variations in colors, shapes and patterns heraldry is rightly known as an art form as well as a science.

There has been a huge evolution in heraldry from early days to its height during the medieval period. It has been used not only as a method of identification on the battlefield but as a way of showing a family's deeds and accomplishments as well.

The earliest days of heraldry

People who are searching for the origin of heraldry often find it difficult to do so. This is because there were many different cultures that used simple heraldic devices as a way to identify individuals socially as well as on the battlefield. For example, the ancient Egyptians used a form of heraldry as a way to identify military units and their allegiances, who owned particular trade goods and even who was influencing a particular part of society.

In early Egypt, the heraldic symbols took the form of animals. There were times that this was a literal connection: animals were often skinned and their hides were attached to a standard or a staff. Some symbols were made up of an entire animal that was stuffed and then placed on standards or staves. A picture of an animal on top of a box that was decorated with a striped or cross-hatched pattern was used to indicate a palace or an entire city.

Heraldry during the medieval period

It was during the medieval period that heraldry underwent a huge change. When warriors began to wear armor and helmets into battle it became necessary to find a way to tell who was fighting who. Because the warriors bore shields in battle it was only natural that these would be used as a basis for a heraldic device.

Warriors began to decorate their shields with a variety of images and symbols. Some were animals and others were inanimate objects. Animals were often said to have certain characteristics and individuals who wanted to be known for the same qualities often put those animals on their shields. They were specific to a particular soldier and were not passed down from generation to generation.

Heraldry soon became very formal and was highly regulated. Only certain people were allowed to carry coats of arms. They moved off of the battle shield and into other areas of life. Signet rings that bore an individual's coat of arms were even used to sign documents and make them legal.

Heraldry in the modern world

Heraldry has remained popular even though it is no longer used to identify an individual in battle. Many people want to feel connected to their family's roots and are therefore researching the coats of arms that their ancestors may have carried. Now they are displaying them on plaques, embroidered on their clothing and as a device on signet rings.
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Article Tags: family heraldry, heraldry

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