To talk about heraldry, itís important to know the meaning of the different words which you could see in the description of this subject. Heraldic vocabulary is particularly rich and often includes strange words.

Fig 1 - At the beginnins badges on shields were useful to know the warriorís origin.

Fig 1 - At the beginnins badges on shields were useful to know the warriorís origin.

However, in this introduction, the most used words are: heraldic, blazon, weapon, badge and armorial. Weíll see together the usual meanings of these words.


Itís the discipline that teaches to create weapons. It explains how to build a badge. For its particular characteristic of creativity and fantasy, in the ancient times it was called heraldic art instead of heraldic science. For what concerns the origin of the word, it derives from araldo which means put that comes from the Germanic HARIOWALDUS. This word indicates the official of an army, or the person who knew all the gods of a lineage and the families to whom they belonged.


Itís the discipline that teaches to comprehend the meaning of the weapons and to describe them correctly in heraldic words. There are specific heraldic rules which you will certainly learn in this description.


Itís the sum of all the figures, emblems, colors and ornamentations that are useful to recognize a person, a family or an authority. In other words, weapon is a synonym of badge. For what concerns its most probable etymological origin, the word weapon derives from armour: the first badges were only painted on chevaliersí shields. The shields were part, with the armor, the helmet, the greaves, the armbands, of the ancient warriorsí armour.


Itís the modern word of weapon. Its most probable origin is the following: it could derive from the Greek word "stemmata", that would indicate the bay crowns with which the Greeks used to adorn their ancestorsí images.

 Fig 2 - Badge of the family Gherardesca di Pisa. The partitions of the shield make it a -partito semitroncato-

Fig 2 - Badge of the family Gherardesca di Pisa. The partitions of the shield make it a "partito semitroncato".

Armorial (Stemmario)

Itís a sum of reproductions of badges, contained in a manuscript, in a piece of work or in a print. This word derives from the word badge (stemma).


Itís a catalogue of badges: an often alphabetycal sum of heraldic descriptions of family badges. Heraldic scholars say that badges could derive, from the eleventh century, from the emblems reproducted on the flags of medieval armies, to recognize a certain liegeís soldiers.

This has a pratical motivation. At the time, warriors were covered by their armours and there was no way of recognize them in the middle of the battle; so there was the practical need of recognizing them with the reproduction of an heraldic emblem on the flag.

The heraldic emblem was usually the one of a specific liegeís territory. In this way military commands could immediately locate another territory during the battle and the single warriors could reunite with their chief and avoid the dispersal of the unities during the war.

Time went by and in the thirteenth century these heraldic emblems were painted no more on the flags, but on the warriors Ďarmours: in particular on the shields. When the liege died, his territory passed to his son, who used the fatherís territorial emblem. In other words, the ancient territorial emblem became with time the badge of the liegeís family who possessed that specific land. All the families who possessed lands, possessed a family badge as well.




When we talk about badges, or when we want to know the people who may deserve a badge, we have to remember an important thing: badges can be given to people or authorities.

Fig 3 - Savoia Royal badge

Fig 3 - Savoia Royal badge

For what concerns the people, badges can be referred to: individuals (personal badges), all the members of a specific family (family badges). For what concerns the authorities, badges can be referred to: territorial authorities (Regions, Province, Town, Cities), moral authorities (banks, foundations), military commands of the State.

There isnít a precise rule in heraldic that establishes which parts of a badge are essential and which parts are not essential. Heraldists have different opinions on the subject. Some of them say that the essential parts are three: shield, helmet and crown; others say that there are more essential parts.

We just need to know that this subject is debatable among the scholars, even if we personally think that the very essential part of a badge is the shield.

Weíll analyze all the different parts of a family badge and of a moral/territorial authority badge.


Itís the most important piece of the ancient chevaliersí armours. In heraldry, itís the most interesting part of the armour because like we already said on the shield the chevalier badge was reproduced.

When we read the description of a badge we have to remember an important heraldic rule. The chevalier had the shield on an arm and the left side of the shield, for the chevalier, corresponded to the right side of the weapon, for the person in front of him.

So when you hear something about the left side of the weapon, you have to refer to the right side of the shield in front of you; and viceversa.


Itís the part of the armour that protects the warriorís head. The chevalier, to defend himself from his enemiesí strokes, had to lift the shield below the elmet, without covering it, to have the essential visual. So the helmet is usually put on the superior part of the shield.


The crowns were made of burnished circles, with gems and pearls, or acanthus leaves. In heraldry, they are put on the superior side of the shield, or over the helmet. They indicated the chevalierís title and dignity.


Flourishes were made of pieces of fabric, of the color of the shield, that got down from the cup of the chevalierís helmet, probably to protect him from solar rays which could make red-hot the metal sheet.


Itís made of a piece of twisted fabric, of the color of the shield, put on the top of the helmet. It had probably the function to keep on the helmet the flourishes that covered it.


Pens were of ostrich or peacock; they were put on the helmet in odd number. They were purely aesthetic as an ornament of the helmet.


Put behind the shield, it had a decorative function. The mantle probabily derives from an enlargement and from an extension of the "lambrecchini" that adorned the helmet.


Itís a figure that usually represents one of the emblems contained in the shield. Itís put on the helmet and it probably had various functions: try to frighten the enemy, with his bizarre shape; the one that allowed the recognization of the soldiers during the scrums; shelter the helmet from the strokes.


They are short sayings, usually written in Roman capital letters, on forked and fluttering stripes, put under the head of the shield.

According to scholars, the probable origin of the mottos is curious: they would be fabric stripes that adorned, with witty sayings, chevaliersí banners exposed on the windows of the inns where they stayed during the tournaments.

War shout

Itís a transposition on the badge of the shout that soldiers used during assaults.


They are objects or figures of animals that were put on the outside and on the flank of the shield. They have the function to hold it.


They are human figures that were put on the outside and on the flank of the shield too. They have the function to support it.


They are heraldic friezes made of garlands and plants branches that adorned, by enclosing it, a female shield.

Distinctions of dignity

They are external ornaments of the shield; they have the specific function of identifying the possessorís charge or office.


In heraldry, the shield is the background on which the partitions, the figures and the different heraldic pieces are designed. The background is called "field".

Fig 4 - Shapes of the shield

Fig 4 - Shapes of the shield