Under the Eagle’s Shield
Golden seal from the times of Holy Despot Stefan is the oldest surviving heraldic trace of the coat of arms of the Serbian capital. The oldest complete image of the coat of arms is in the list of coat of arms from 1555. Under the Turkish occupation, Belgrade had no coats of arms. Austrians and Hungarians brought and took away their own. The first clear regulation on the coat of arms of Belgrade is from 1914, but it was implemented only in 1931. Today’s coats of arms of Belgrade are modified version of that solution

By: Vladimir Matevski

The first heraldic insignia of Belgrade are mentioned by the history at the time of Despot Stefan Lazarević, who received the city in 1403 from Sigismund of Luxemburg, king of Hungary. A testimony of the golden seal of the city was given by Constantine the Philosopher in his most famous work The Life of Despot Stefan Lazarević: ”... And he (Despot) gave them the golden seal, which had the image of the City, and for those who want to make any kind of purchase in any part, would provide the book with the seal proving he is a resident of that city, so would never have to pay customs or toll”.
If we take the phrase ”had the image of the City” literally – that it is the panoramic view of the City walls, we come to the reconstruction of the seal created by prof. Dr. Milos Ćirić, well-known Serbian graphic artist. We should not forget that Belgrade had previously been in the territory of Hungary, where the oats of arms of settlements appear during the 18th century, so it is not impossible that the city had previously had such insignia.
After the death of Despot Stefan in 1427, Belgrade was, under the contract, returned to the Hungarians.
The earliest known image of Belgrade coat of arms is in Fugger’s Mirror of Honor from 1555. In this work, which contains more than 30,000 coats of arms, and was named after the Fugger family, the famous family of merchants and bankers, and later a family of a prince, the coat of arms of Belgrade is presented with a tower between two Patriarchate (double) crosses and with two beams that symbolize two rivers, the Sava and the Danube. The earliest information about this coat of arms was presented by great Aleksa Ivić who says about it: ”This coat of arms is a heraldic combination of coat of arms of the old and new Hungarian states with a tower that represents the city of Belgrade.”
With minor changes, mainly in the form of a shield, this coat of arms survived until Belgrade fell into Turkish hands in 1521 (today it used by Stari Grad, as the oldest Belgrade municipality). It is well-known that for a long time the Ottomans did not recognize coats of arms as part of the national and state heritage, and with their arrival the heraldic history of Belgrade was interrupted for the next two centuries.


In the turbulent history of the Serbian capital, the year 1717 was a new milestone, when the Turks took over the city from the Austrians. The Austrian military government then introduced a new coat of arms, featuring three mosques with the imperial black double-headed eagle flying over its minarets. There is also the slogan: ”Sub umbra alarum tuarum” (”In the shadow of your wings”, Psalm of David, 17/8). In 1910, in the Vienna archive, Aleksa Ivić discovered the heraldic description of that coat of arms from 1721, and the appended stamp. The circular inscription on the seal was: ”Gross insigl. dor Statt Belgrad in Servien 1721.”
In 1724, the imperial governor in Belgrade Aleksandar Wuerttemberg filed to the Viennese court working council two proposals for the coat of arms. One was the already mentioned heraldic seal, and the other one was ”the ancient coat of arms of the town”. ”The ancient coat of arms of the town”, as interpreted by Đorđe Stratimirović, was actually is based on a coin depicting a Roman soldier holding hands on the hips of a bull and a horse. Above everything is the inscription Taurunum, i.e. Zemun. The second proposal was not approved, and the one with three mosques was accepted, with the removal of the slogan ”Sub umbra alarum tuarum” and replacement of the circular inscription on the stamp with the text: ”Alba Graeca Recuperata Anno MDCCHVII”.
In accordance with the Belgrade Peace Treaty from 1739, the Turks return to the city, and the issue of the coat of arms is sidelined again.
The beginning of the 19th century brings new winds to the Balkans. Serbia, first the one of Karađorđe, then the one of Miloš, adopted all European attributes of statehood, including, of course, and the state insignia. With the adoption of the constitution of Sretenje in 1835, Serbia finally received its coat of arms and flag. A coat of arms of Belgrade was not even contemplated then because the municipal authorities had considered themselves part of the state administration and used state symbols in their work. (A good example is the stamp of the Belgrade magistrate from 1807). That is why, in the coming decades, Belgrade, along with Athens, was one of the few European capitals that did not have its own coat of arms.
On the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the Turkish burning of the relics of Saint Sava in Belgrade, in 1895 Đorđe Stratimirović publicly proposed to include the first archbishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church on the coat of arms of the Serbian capital:
”The coat of arms, as we imagine it in heraldry, would consist of a simple shield with vertical image of St. Sava, according to the standards of painting from our ancient monasteries. The field of the shield is blue, the saint in gold attire, standing at the gold ambo; in the top corners of the shield there is inscription in old-fashioned gold lettering: Saint Sava; the top of the shield is the golden crown of the city.”
Although this idea did not meet with approval, it is significant in the heraldic history of Belgrade as the first proposal of a Serb for the image of the coat of arms of the Serbian capital. All previous ones were made by foreign invaders.


In the draft Law on Municipalities from 1914, in Article 111, for the first time we find a description of how a coat of arms of Belgrade should look like:
”The Belgrade Municipality has its own coat of arms. It consists of two sections: the lower covering 2/5 and the upper covering 3/5 of the entire coat of arms. The lower part ends in a spike. In the lower part of the walls of Roman castle of Singidunum, and at its foot of his a Roman ship on the river (trireme), with Roman sails. In the upper field, Nebojša Tower in the lower town, with its shape as it was in the Middle Ages, with two-headed white eagle without a crown, from which beams of light radiate on all sides.”
The beginning of the Great War prevented Belgrade from getting its coat of arms. The competition for the coat of arms was announced only in 1931. It was preceded by a public debate, which also included the Stratimirović’s proposal that coat of arms of Belgrade should feature Saint Sava. Great Serbian painter Uroš Predić objected:
”... And it was proposed for the coat of arms of Belgrade to display an image of Saint Sava. Brought up in the spirit of our wise and humble high priest and educator, I can almost hear how he himself protests against it, not to use his holy face and body, where it is not appropriate. He is not a patron of Belgrade, but patron of schools, education and the Serbian Orthodox Church. (...) And I say after all this: the glory to the Saint Sava! The glory to Belgrade!”
Milan Nešić, President of the Belgrade municipality, set up an Expert Committee for the coat of arms of the city, which was supposed to decide on the propositions of the competition. The committee members were Beta Vukanović, Uroš Predić, Ilija Šobajić, Dragi Stojanović, Bogdan Popović, Milan Nikolajević, Stanoje Stanojević, Aleksa Ivić, Đorđe Čarapić (who drew sketches during the debates at the Committee), Vladimir Ćorović and Nikola Vulić.
The committee members did not take into account the old coats of arms of Belgrade, foreign and made by the enemy, but they focused on Belgrade getting a brand new coat of arms. A great desire of Milan Nešić, the Mayor of Belgrade, was to depict the suffering of Belgrade on the coat of arms, as well as its major role in the creation of the new state, Yugoslavia. Upon the proposal of the Committee, and with the accompanied sketch of the coat of arms made by the Secretary of the Office of the Royal Medals Đorđe Čarapić, the Court of the city municipality of Belgrade has announced an art competition for the best artistic solution of the coat of arms with the following elements: 1) the national colors, 2) the rivers as symbols of the primordial power of Belgrade, 3) Roman ship, trireme, as a symbol of antiquity of Belgrade, 4) walls with the open gate: the lower part of the walls to represent the borough, the upper part to represent the town, and the open gate to represent free trade.
”Land in the wedge of the coat of arms, between the rivers, and under the walls, should be red as a symbol of blood, eternal suffering of Belgrade; the rivers should be white (according to the heraldic laws); the walls of the town and the city are white as a symbol of the White City; sky is blue as a symbol of hope, faith in a better future. The coat of arms must take the form of a shield, ending in a spike at the.”


The assessment committee comprised of Stanoje Stanojević, Bogdan Popović, Branko Popović, Uroš Predić, Beta Vukanović, Živojin Lukić and one member of the Tribunal of Belgrade City Municipality. The proposal of the Belgrade painter Đorđe Andrejević Kun won among the fifty-six received entries. The second prize went to Vera Bojničić-Zamola, and the work of Demetrius Mordvinov received special recognition.
The assessment committee also agreed to make the following changes to the winning proposal: 1) to add watch towers on the square stone in the same form as they are presented on the second Kun’s image; 2) to make a hole in the darkened area in the background of the gate to, so as to obtain an opening in the perspective; 3) to cut the horizontal line of the hill on which the city is standing starting from the edge of the walls, in order to better emphasize the position of the city.
The coat of arms with these changes was adopted by the Committee of the Belgrade municipality on 10 December 1931. It was confirmed five days later in the Decision of the Ministry of Interior.
After World War II, namely in 1945, new difficulties began with Belgrade coat of arms. Without any formal decision, a red star was put on the coat of arms. The shield remained unchanged, probably because of the merits of Đorđe Andrejević Kun, who was one of the creators of the emblem of communist Yugoslavia.
The statutes of Belgrade in the period from 1954 to 1964 mentioned the city emblem (instead of the word coat of arms) or do not make any references to the symbol of Belgrade. Only the Statute of 5 February 1960, which was in force for less than four months, informs that Belgrade has a coat of arms. A new version of the coat of arms of Belgrade appeared in 1960. It is not entirely clear who the author was. Some experts say that, the changes on the coat of arms were produced, under the instructions of Đorđe Andrejević, by Belgrade painter and graphic artist Ivko Milojević. Thus, a new version of the coat of arms appeared, without the old one being previously formally withdrawn from use.
In the early 1990’s there are new public debates on the coat of arms of Belgrade.
Miloš Ćirić makes two proposals for a coat of arms and proposal for the flag of Belgrade. The first proposal is a redesigned version from 1960, and the second one is a completely new solution. Ćirić also points to the need for Belgrade to get its large (complete) coat of arms. He proposed to include a rampart crown above the shield, branches on the sides (laurel, oak or both) in the form of semi-wreath with a sash and important years in the history of Belgrade, and in the lower part the four medals of Belgrade.


In 1991, the Assembly of Belgrade set up a working group to identify the situation in relation to the coat of arms of Belgrade. It consisted of Mira Kun, Branko Milјuš, Dragomir Acović and Tomislav Lakušić. In March 1991, it completed its work and presented its proposals. It was agreed to make changes on Kun’s coat of arms from 1931, but was decided not to develop medium and large coat of arms of the city, as well as the flag.
Changes with respect to the coat of arms from 1931:
Another row of oars was added, so the boat would be in accordance with the description of trireme. The comic book-like lines and shadows were removed from the sails. The head stone of the gate archivolt was moved. The watch towers were separated against the remaining part of the walls.
There was also the idea of changing the shape of the shield, but it was discarded.
The situation with the heraldic emblem of Belgrade is today clear and regulated.
The use of coat of arms and flag is governed by the decision adopted on 4 July 2003 by the Belgrade City Council.
The coat of arms is used on three levels: small, medium and large.
The small coat of arms is a term for the basic heraldic composition of the shield without paraphernalia.
The medium coat of arms is a shield with heraldic composition crowned by appropriate rampart crown. It may have floral composition, sash with a slogan or name of the titular, as well as medals. Belgrade, as the main city and historical capital, has golden rampart crown with five visible merlons and golden tiara with pearls.
The term large coat of arms means the shield se with rampart crown, holders, flags, plinth and other paraphernalia. The large coat of arms is silver double-headed eagle in flight, with the basic coat of arms of Belgrade resting on its chest. The eagle holds a sword and olive branch in his claws. Below the eagle are golden oak tree branches, over the crossing of which the first known coat of arms of the Belgrade was placed. Over the oak tree branches there are also four medals that Belgrade received.


The city of Belgrade received four medals. These are: French Order of the Grand Cross of the Knight of the Legion of Honor (1920), Czechoslovakian War Cross (1925), Order of the Star of Karađorđe with swords of the 4th degree (1939), Order of the National Hero (1974).


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