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Heraldic History


Brief Introduction

Present Georgia was known as Iberia in antiquity. The coast around the city of Phasis (later Fasco, today Poti) was called Colchis and this region figures in the story of Jason and the Argonauts searching the Golden Fleece in Colchis.

Iberia succeeded to remain independent in the Sassanid Era but a part was captured by the Arabs in the seventh century.

Iberia, called Georgia after the seventh century AD, was ruled from 574 by a dynasty tracing its descent from Guram (†600) who, after the death of the last king from the Khosrian dynasty  was made king by the byzantine emperor Justin II (565-578).

Guram was a jew but at the occasion of his accession to the throne he was baptised a christian. Before his accession he was granted the title of ‘Kurat palati’ (Kouropalates, a dignity wich, in the time of Justin II, occupied the third place in byzantine hierarchy after the Caesar and the Nobelissimos). As a king he continued to bear the title and many of his successors did the same. [1]

Guram or his successors considered themselves, probably because of their jewish descent, as the descendants of king David. Therefore King David was an inseparable part of their title. Marco Polo writes: “In Georgia there is a king who always bears the name of David Malik, that is to say King David. He is subject to the Tartars. In former times all the kings of this province were born with the sign of an eagle on their right shoulder. The Georgians are a handsome race of doughty warriors, good archers and good fighters on the battlefield. They are Christians and observe the rule of the Greek church.” [2]



Like many other empires the Georgian Empire was represented by different emblems symbolizing the empire, the state, the ruler and the territory. The state also knew the three ranges of authority being the administrative, religious and armed authority.

Of the emblems symbolising these political parts of the Georgian society of early times little has remained, probably because of the location of Georgia between powerful empires.


The oldest document on which the symbols of the empire, the ruler and the state were represented together is on the flag of Vakthang VI from te beginning of the 18th century. On it a sun is represented for the Empire (of Georgia), a moon for the state and a portrait of the ruler accompanied with the symbols of his several offices. The field is strewn with stars usually symbolizing the officials of the empire.

Personal flag of Vakhtang VI (*1675-†1737)

 However, it took a long time before this configuration was attained.

The Empire
An emblem symbolizing the empire is preserved on Svetiskhoveli Cathedral in Mtsketha (1010-’29). It consists of a chrysantemum-like figure, the petals charged at the end with little discs.

This figure can readily be associated with the Il-khanid Empire to which Georgia was a tributary vassal from 1243 until the reign of king George V (1314-’46).


Two sun-emblems on Svetiskhoveli Cathedral in Mtsketha, joined with a grapevine and a lion.


These sculptures are probably from the old church which was devastated several times by Timur Lenk and has been rebuild by Alexander I.

The Ruler
In the first place the Georgian ruler was represented by his name. This was usually written in Georgian script but a single example is known where the ruler was represented by a so-called tamgha, a royal cypher in eurasian nomadic script.




Square cross and tamgha of King George II (1072-’89)  [3] Tamgha of Queen Tamar as on coins
Royal Seal of  King Erekle II of Kartli-Kakheti (1745-1798) Royal Seal of King Teimuraz II of Kartli-Kakheti


The Georgian ruler is also represented by his imago which is a portrait of him in official dress of which a crown was an essential part. The official dress and crown was an indication of the rank of the ruler in the international and local administrative hierarchy. The official dress of the Georgian ruler was for some time of a Byzantine shape, the crown having the form of a tiara or a cap decorated with gold and precious stones. In the 16th and 17th century the fashion became more russian, that is to say more west-european. This can be seen on the portrait of king Vakhtang VI (1703-’22) showing a crown with three hoops to be classified as a ducal hat. When Georgia had become a russian vassal a royal crown was designed for the coronation of George XII of a thoroughly western shape.

Fresco from Gelati Monastery

Representing (from left to right): Queen Rusudan, Prince Bagrat, King George II (1072-’82) Queen Helen, King Bagrat III of Imereti (1008-’14) and Catholicos Evktime I (1049-’55) ?. On the right (not visible) king David III (1089-1125). The official dresses are of 11th-12th century Byzantine royal fashion.

Queen Tamar, crowned Regalia of King Wachtang VI Crown of king George XII, 1799.
Besides the official dress the ruler also bore a badge of military rank. As we can deduct from the quote of Marco Polo the badge of military rank of the Georgian rulers was an eagle. Later, probably after the several divisions of the kingdom (and the resulting lowering of the miliatry ranks of the Georgian princes), the badge of rank of the Georgian rulers seems to have been a lion. Such a lion we can see on the Svetiskhoveli Cathedral in Mtsketha. It was a badge of rank of the Byzantine as well as of the Persian military hierarchy.

Pair of golden eagles from the Georgian middle ages. [4]

Probably it remained at this the next few centuries of Il-khanid and Timurid rule. In that time the kingdom was almost nonexistent but (some of) the Georgians were represented by the cross of Armenia Maior which was a red cross between four balls or squarre crosses on a white background. This flag was readopted by the present republic of Georgia in 1990

Bagrat V 1360-1396
Under Bagrat V Georgia was several times invaded by Tamerlane (1370-1405) who made him and his queen his prisoners. After he had been forcibly conversed to islam he was sent back to Georgia. Here he recaptured Tblisi but was expelled from the city by Tamerlane for a second time.

The arms of Bagrat V are given by a manuscript now in the Royal National Library of Morocco. They show three red lions passant guardant on a yellow field. Below, in a cartouche, is the name of Bagrat in arab script: Bagra.

Arms of Bagrat V in a 14th century Moroccan manuscript [5]

 The son of Bagrat, George VII (1396-1407) refused to be conversed to islam and to pay homage to Tamerlane. For that reason the country was ravaged another two times.


Alexander I 1413-1424/†1442

When, after the death of Tamerlane, that era was over Georgia (and the church of Mtskheta) was restored by Alexander I (1413-†1442).

Probably Alexander I had his coat of arms displayed at the council of Konstanz and copied by Conrad Grüneberg in his “Wappenbuch”.

It is:

Arms: Or, three lions passant guardant Gules, langued and unguled Azure.

Crest: A lion sejant Gules, crowned Azure.

Legend: der könig von ybernia.


ï This, of course is far from sure in the first place because Conrad Grüneberg is often mistaken and in the second place because such arms are not documented for Alexander I at any other place.

On the other hand the arms are represented together with the arms of king Leo V Lusignan who was the last king of Armenia in 1374-’75-†1393) (mistakenly called King of Cyprus by Grüneberg) and a kind of ‘neighbour’ of Alexander I.

Also ybernia may stand for Iberia which is the ancient name for Georgia.

Last but not least, the arms a identical to the arms of his grandfather Bagrat V (who was a contemporary of Leo V).


In 1424 Alexander divided his kingdom between his three sons and retired in a monastery.

  • Vakhtang IV received the north with the name of Imeretia consisting of Imeretia, Djikethi, Swanethi, Odisc, Abkasia, Alania ands Guria.
  • Demetrius III rceived the central part with the name of Karthili (Georgia) consisting of Karthili, Circassia and Sa Atabago.
  • George VIII received Kakheti with Shirvan and Derbent.

The division may be the reason why the arms with the three lions have soon become obsolete.


Arms of ybernia

in Conrad Grünebergs ‘Wappenbuch’ 1483


Erekle II *1720-†1798

 King of Kakheti 1744-1798

King of Karthili 1762-1798

By Vakhtang V (1658-’75) the three parts were reunited but royal arms only appeared in 1783 when king Erekle II accepted Russian suzereinty.

Having gained de facto independence from Persia, Erekle II achieved a degree of stability in the country and established his political hegemony in eastern Transcaucasia.

At the treaty of Georgievsk of 24 of July 1783 he accepted russian suzereinty. The act is sealed with a seal showing the new achievement of Georgia surrounded by the arms of the ten Georgian districts. It is:

Treaty of Georgievsk, 24.07.1783

Golden seal-case containing the seal of Georgia.


Seal of King Erakle II of Georgia, 1783 Arms of King Erakle II of Georgia, 1783
 Arms: Quarterly: 1. Gules, an orb Or; 2. Azure, the harp of king David Or; 3. Azure, a sceptre and an sword in saltire Or; 4. Gules, the sling and stone of king David Or; on and escutcheon the coat of Jesus proper; and a chief Or, the Russian Imperial Eagle Sable.

Crown: A royal crown.

Order: The collar and jewel of the Order of St. Andrew.

Russia failed, however, to provide timely help when the Persian ruler Agha Muhammad Khan Qajar (1796-’97) attacked Tbilisi in 1795 trying to break the ties between Georgia and Russia.

Erekle II died in 1798, leaving the throne to his moribund heir, George XII.


The State
 Initially, the state was represented by a square cross supported by two angels. This implies that the state initially was represented by the christian administration only. The best known achievement is on the church of Jvari Monastery which is generally held to have been built between 590 and 605 by Erismtavari Stepanoz I[6]

Achievement of state of Georgia, 7th century (Jvari church)


The achievement is:

Emblem: A square cross encircled.

Supporters: Two angels


ï The emblem probably consists of a sun (symbol of the Empire) charged with a square cross. The angels symbolize heavenly mandate (= By the Grace of Heaven/God) and sovereignty.


In a later achievement the number of angels is augmented to four:

Achievement of Georgia. Beginning 13th century

Fresco on the ceiling of Vardzia Church

In this achievement, the square cross is encircled and on a red disc symbolizing with somewhat more certainty the emblem of empire.

The four supporters probably symbolize the protection of the patriarchate of Georgia (since 1010).

Vakhtang VI *1675-†1737

King of Karthili 1703-’11 / 1719-‘22

In 1703, Vakhtang VI succeeded in Karthili. Immediately after his succession he went to Persia to be recognized by the shah. Because he refused to adopt the muslim creed he was kept in Persia and in his place his brother Jesse was made king of Karthili in 1711. He adopted the muslim creed and changed his name into Ali Kuli-Khan and became the ancestor of the present Bagration dynasty. In the end Vakhtang VI had also to accept islam to receive the throne of Karthili from the shah. In 1719 he could return to Georgia as its king. In 1722 however he was deposed by the Persian shah who gave Karthili to Constantin of Kacheti. As a refugee Vakhtang VI then presented Karthili to the Ottoman sultan who occupied the country in 1724. Vakhtang VI himself took refuge to Russia and was welcomed there by Empress Catharina who granted him the Order of St. Andrew. In the mean time Jesse, who had changed creed from shiite to sunnite and had adopted the name of Ali Pasha, was reinstalled in Karthili by the ottoman sultan.

Vakhtang VI was a great scientist and literator. In one of his works his achievement is printed on the  front page. It is:

A page from the Liturgies printed in Tbilisi in 1713 under the auspices of Vakhtang VI of Kartli

One of the earliest coat of arms of the Bagrationi dynasty with a rhymed explanation of its symbols

Arms: The seamless coat of Jesus between the harp and sling of king David and the Holy Sepulchre in base.

Crown: A royal crown

Crest: a sword and a sceptre

Supporters: Four angels and a lion passant guardant in base.

According to the tradition of the Georgian Orthodox Church, the seamless robe of Jesus (chiton) was acquired by a Jewish Rabbi from Georgia named Elioz (Elias), who was present in Jerusalem at the time of the crucifixion and bought the robe from a soldier. He brought it with him when he returned to his native town of Mtskheta, Georgia, where it is preserved to this day beneath a crypt in the Patriarchal Svetitskhoveli Cathedral. (Wikipedia)


The legend of the robe coming to Georgia runs as follows:


This happened on June 24 of the year 324, which was a Saturday. King Mirian began to construct a church so that the priests arriving from Constantinople would have a place to serve. Seven columns to support the church were formed from the wood of a cypress tree that had grown in the king’s garden. Six of the columns were erected without a problem, but the seventh could not be moved from the place where it had been carved. St. Nino and her disciples prayed through the night, and at dawn they watched as a youth, encompassed by a brilliant light, descended from the heavens and raised the column. The miraculous column began to shine and stopped in mid-air at a height of twelve cubits.

Sweet-smelling myrrh began to flow from under the Holy Pillar’s foundations, and the entire population of Mtskheta flocked to that place to receive its blessing. Approaching the Life-giving Pillar, the sick were healed, the blind received sight, and the paralyzed began to walk.

By that time a certain Bishop John and his suite had arrived from Constantinople. St. Constantine the Great sent a cross, an icon of the Savior, a fragment from the Life-giving Cross of our Lord (from the place where His feet lay), and a nail from His Crucifixion as gifts to the newly enlightened King Mirian and his people.

At the confluence of the Mtkvari and Aragvi Rivers in Mtskheta, the king and queen, the royal court, and all the people of Kartli were baptized into the Christian Faith. After the glorious baptism, Bishop John and his retinue from Constantinople set off toward southern Georgia, for the village of Erusheti. There they built churches and presented the Christian community with the nail from our Lord’s Crucifixion. Soon after, they began to construct Manglisi Church and placed the fragment from the Life-giving Cross inside.

King Mirian wanted to keep some of the newly obtained sacred objects in the capital city, but St.Nino informed him that one of the holiest objects, the Robe of our Savior, was already located in Mtskheta. The king summoned the priest Abiatar and inquired about the Robe, then rejoiced greatly after Abiatar confirmed St. Nino’s words that the Robe of the Lord was held in the embrace of Sidonia, who was buried under the stump of the cypress tree which now served as the pedestal for the Life-giving Pillar. [7]


Icon depicting the placing of

 the miraculous pillar above St. Sidonia’s grave,

and the Sts. Mirian, Nana and Nino

The Holy Life-giving Pillar,

above St. Sidonia’s grave and Christ’s Holy Robe at Svetitskhoveli Cathedral, Mtskheta, Georgia


Seal of King Wakhtang VI (1703-’24)

Arms: The coat of Jesus within a bordure with the motto: Now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout.. in georgian *

Crown: A Royal Crown

Crest: A sceptre and a sword in saltire

Supporters: Two lions

Exterior ornaments: In dexter chief: The harp of king David; in sinister chief: The sling of king David; in dexter base: The globe crested with a square cross; in sinister base: A balance.

The achievement is surrounded by a legend in georgian and by the collar of the Order of St. Andrew (the cross of St. Andrew broken off) of which Wakhtang VI was a member. [8]


Erekle II *1720-†1798

 King of Kakheti 1744-1798

King of Karthili 1762-1798


Heraclius II, or Erekle II (ერეკლე II) also known as The Little Kakhetian (Georgian: პატარა კახი [patara kaxi]) (reigned as the king of Kakheti from 1744 to 1762, and of Kartli and Kakheti from 1762 until 1798. Erekle and his father Teimuraz were recognized at the same time as a christian king of Kakheti and of Karthili by the persian shah Nadir (1736-’47) and were both crowned in Svetitschoveli-cathedral in Mtscheta on 1 oktober 1745.

However, as Teimuraz had to pay 2 million rubles to Nadir shah, he and his son Erakle, together with the nobility and wealthy citizens of Tiflis fled to the mountains and prepared for war with Persia.

In 1760 Teimuraz was deposed by his son and took refuge to Russia where he died in 1762 in Astrachan, leaving Karthili to his son.

The achievement of Erekle II is inspired by the achievement of his predecessor Wachtang VI. On a portrait of Erakle II there is a painting in color of the achievement:



Arms: Azure, the coat of Jesus proper

Supporters: Two lions rampant proper

Mantle: Gules, lined ermine, fringed Or and grand-ducally crowned, in base a balance, a globe and the harp of king David, proper. [9]


The Protectorate 1783-1800

In about 1750 a royal achievement for Georgia (probably of king Teimuraz (1744-’62)) was given in the chronicle of Prince Vakhusth. [10] It is:

The achievement of Georgia in the work of Prince Vakhusth. [11]


Arms: Quarterly: 1. A globe; 2. the harp of king David; 3. the Sling of king David; 4. a sword and a sceptre in saltire; and a chief of the coat of Jesus.

Crown: A crown of three plates

Supporters: Two lions rampant


The reign of the penultimate king of the united kingdoms of Kakheti and Kartli in eastern Georgia, is regarded as the swan song of the Georgian monarchy. Aided by his personal abilities and the unrest in the Persian Empire, Erekle II established himself as a de facto independent ruler and attempted to modernize the government, economics, and military. Overwhelmed by the internal and external menaces to Georgia’s precarious independence and its temporary hegemony in eastern Transcaucasia, he placed his kingdom under the formal Russian protection in 1783.


George XII *1746-†1800



Seal of King George XII

After the death of Erekle II in 1798, his son and successor, King George XII, renewed a request for protection from Emperor Paul I of Russia, and urged him to intervene in the bitter dynastic feud among the numerous sons and grandsons of the late Erekle. Paul offered to incorporate the Kingdom of Kartli and Kakheti into the Russian Empire, while reserving to its native dynasty a degree of internal autonomy – essentially, mediatisation.


* The motto is from John 19-23 (about the cucifixion of Jesus) and reads in latin:. Erat autem tunica inconsutilis, desuper contexta per totum (Now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout..)


The Arms of Georgia

The grapevine

on the façade of Svetitskhoveli Cathedral


The Territory

An emblem probably representing the territory is also on the Svetiskhoveli Cathedral in Mtsketha. This consists of a grapevine thus representing Georgia as the “Land of the grapevine”.

This emblem, as it was apparently still used in the 15th century was replaced by St. George in the 17th century, thus representing Georgia as the “Land of St. George”.


St. George has been the patron of Georgia/Iberia at least from the time of king George I (1014-1027) and there have been twelve kings of Georgia of the name. Initially the saint was represented in the act of killing his boss, the emperor Diocletian (284-305).

Later, he was  represented killing the dragon in the usual way.


Icon of St. George, early 11th century [12]


In the Russian context  St George and the dragon appear in the 15th century and in 1672 a St. George and the dragon are ascribed to Georgia in the Russian ‘Titularnike’, St. George ensigned with a cross on his coat of arms. This armorial was compiled in the time when Vakhtang V was reuniting the Georgian principalities.




The arms of Georgia as in the “Titularnike”, 1672 The arms of Georgia as by Prince Vakhusth, 1760 ca.
Russian Rule 1800-1917

Negotiations of terms with George XII were still in progress, when Paul signed a manifesto on December 18, 1800, unilaterally declaring the annexation of Kartli-Kakheti to the Russian Empire. This proclamation was kept secret until the death of King George on December 28. His eldest son, the Tsarevich Davit, had been formally acknowledged as heir apparent by Emperor Paul on 18 April 1799, but his accession as king after his father’s death was not recognized.

On 16 December 1799 (Russian = 27.12.1799 Gregorian) Tsar Paul I signed a project for a new larger arms of the Russian Empire. In this project [13](which was kept secret for the time being) a coat of arms for Georgia was incorporated into the arms of the Russian Empire. It was:

Arms: Or, St. George on horseback, proper, his mantle Gules, his horse Sable, spearing a dragon on a base Vert.

Which had been the arms of Karthili since at least the 17th century.

On 12 September 1801, Emperor Alexander I of Russia formally re-affirmed Paul’s determination, deposing the Bagrationi dynasty from the Georgian throne. Although divided among themselves, some of the Bagrationi princes resisted Russian annexation, trying to instigate rebellion. Most of them were subsequently arrested and deported from Georgia. The reign of the House of Imereti came to an end less than a decade later. On April 25, 1804, the Imeretian king Solomon II, nominally an Ottoman vassal, was persuaded to conclude the Convention of Elaznauri with Russia, on terms similar to those of the Treaty of Georgievsk. Yet the Russian forces dethroned Solomon on February 20, 1810. Defeated during a subsequent rebellion to regain power, he died in exile in Trabzon, Ottoman Turkey, in 1815.

After the Bagration dynasty was deposed the annexation of Mingrela followed in 1803 and the annexation of Guria and Imeretia in 1804. In 1806 Ossetia was annexated and, last but not least Abchasia in 1810. Simultaneously some Kaukasian chanates were obtained by treaty from Persia: (Ganja in 1804; Karabagh and Shirvan in 1805; Baku, Kuban and Sheka in 1806; Talysh in 1813; Erewan and Nachitshewan in 1828).

In this territory the Gruzino-Imeretinskian Government was organized. A coat of arms for this Government was adopted in 1851.


Æ See:  Transcaucasia


In 1856 two governorates were set up in the former kingdom of Georgia: Kutais including Guria, Mingrelia, Imeretia, Abkhasia and Svanetia; and Tiflis including Kacheti and Karthalini.


Achievement of Kutais Government, 1856


Arms: Vert, a fleece Or, hanging from a ribbon Or, Sable and Argent.

Crown: The imperial crown of Russia

Garland: Branches of oak Or, tied with a blue ribon being the ribbon of the Order of St. Andrew

By resolution  08-12-1856


ï The Fleece refers to Colchis, situated on the shores of the Black Sea and the country of the Golden Fleece of the Argonauts.


Achievement of Tiflis Government 1878


Arms: Or, a cross Sable between four lions’ heads Gules langued Azure, charged with a russian cross bottony Or, kept by two arms and holding down a crescent reversed Argent.

Crown: The imperial crown of Russia

Garland: Branches of oak Or, tied with a blue ribon being the ribbon of the Order of St. Andrew

By resolution 05-07-1878


ïThe cross and the crescent symbolize the victory of the russians over the persians.


The arms of Georgia

together with the arms of Siberia and Finland

on the sinister wing of the russian eagle


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The Republic 1917-present



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© Hubert de Vries 2014-04-15



[1] Kouropalates: high-ranking dignity bestowed upon members of the imperial family and important generals.

[2] Polo, Marco: The Travels. Translated and with an introduction by Ronald Latham. Hammondsworth 1967, p. 49.

[3] National Museum Abchazia, Sukhum.

[4] From an unknown collection, probably of the Royal House of Georgia.

[5] These arms have longtime posed a problem and are usually ascribed to the Tsar of Bulgaria or the Khan of the Wolga Bulgars, the inscription being read as bulgar.

[6] Professor Cyril Toumanoff disagrees with this view, identifying these individuals as Stepanoz II, Demetre (brother of Stepanoz I), and Adarnase II (son of Stepanoz II), respectively who ruled half a century later.

[7] From: http://ocafs.oca.org/FeastSaintsViewer.asp?SID=4&ID=1&FSID=102831

[8] Retrieved from internet, no source or date given

[9] Retrieved from internet, no source or date given

[10] Prince Vaktusth was a bastard son of king Vakhtang VI (r. 1719-1722) and the author of ‘Description géographique de la Géorgie’ (on Google Books). See also:  Heraldic symbols of Georgia.

[11] The work of  Prince Vakhusth  has been published by Brosset, F. ed.: Description géographique de la Georgie. St. Petersburg 1842. A newer edition (in georgean) is edited by Lomouri, T. & N. Berdzenisvili and has been published in Tblisi, 1941. The arms are on an engraving in this work. (Vadbolski, 1975).

[12] From: Amiranashvili, Shalva & Karel Neubert: Georgian Metalwork.London 1971

[13] http://the.heraldry.ru/armorial/manifesm.html


Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti

The Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti (Georgian: ქართლ-კახეთის სამეფო) (1762–1801[1][2]) was created in 1762 by the unification of two eastern Georgian kingdoms of Kartli and Kakheti. From the early 16th century, according to the 1555 Peace

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