coat of arms

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A coat of arms is a shield-shaped symbol, based on the shield as a protective weapon of the Middle Ages. It can stand as a national emblem for a state, a country, a city or symbolically represent and legitimize the importance of a family or a person . Family crest, a Nobilitierung (survey in the needle prior documents), are mostly hereditary. Such symbols can also be found regularly at sports clubs . A coat of arms can also be a signet z. B. from corporations or student associations .

Coats of arms were originally designed in a stylized representation and mostly according to predetermined codification , based on the specifications of traditional heraldry . Today, national, state and city coats of arms are mostly designed by heraldists in a free and formally very reduced formal language .

The Mon of Japan are comparable to the European coats of arms .

Word origin

The word coat of arms ( mhd. Wâpen ) comes from Middle Dutch (mnl. Wâpen ) and was originally synonymous with Middle High German wâfen "weapon, armor". So it is etymologically equated with weapon . The transferred meaning "symbol on arms" originated in the 12th century.

It was not until the 16th century that the conceptual separation emerged: on the one hand, the weapon as combat equipment and shield as a protective weapon, on the other hand, the coat of arms in its current meaning.


Depiction of shield signs of a cavalry on the Bayeux Tapestry , second half of the 11th century.

The coat of arms was originally a badge on a shield . Coats of arms in their classic, medieval form were created in the first half of the 12th century, the time of the Crusades - among other things in connection with the appearance of large armies of knights.

With the advent of heavier and heavier armor (especially the pot helmet ), friend and foe were no longer recognizable in battle, so that the coat of arms served as an identification aid. As medieval representations show, this was precisely the case with cavalry. Shield and helmet were particularly suitable for attaching the coat of arms . They therefore became the symbolic elements of the coat of arms.

In the High Middle Ages and the time of living heraldry , tournaments also developed, in which the herald announced the individual participants using their coats of arms at the helmets show and before the fights (see the top illustration). Here, too, color and symbolic marking was used on the protective shields or flags , with high-contrast colors, so-called tinctures , being used to make the symbolism of the coat of arms clear and visible from afar. Heraldry essentially uses four so-called colors (red, black, blue, green) and two so-called metals (silver and gold). Certain rules apply to the combination of colors and metals in a coat of arms.

Shapes and colors


With historical state and personal coats of arms there are often several different, splendid forms of the coat of arms, which are called small (or simple ), medium and large coats of arms .

A simple full coat of arms consists of at least shield and upper arms ( helmet , crest and mantling , to take rank crowns ). These components are mandatory for a full coat of arms.

In addition, there can be added: shield holder including stand area (pedestal), coat of arms (or tent) and motto (motto). Such optional components, which complement the compulsory components of a coat of arms, are called gems .

Colors and stylization

The coloring of the coat of arms is called tinging . Mainly the four colors red, blue, green and black as well as the two metals gold (yellow) and silver (white) are used, on the contrast of which the long-distance effect of a coat of arms is based. Therefore, color should always come into contact with metal in the coat of arms - not color on color and metal on metal. Other colors are also used in certain cases, including purple , brown, and gray.

The sometimes considerable stylization of the figures also contributes to the recognizability at a distance . Historical coats of arms can be chronologically classified using these forms of representation.

Description of coat of arms

The technical description of the coat of arms is known as blazon . It should be noted that in the blazon "left" and "right" refer to the bearer of the coat of arms, not to the viewer.

The text of the blazon, for example, can not precisely describe the design of a common figure and thus the appearance of the coat of arms, so that a certain design leeway remains. Therefore, in the case of coats of arms that serve as national emblems, additional images or certain representation patterns are used to determine the appearance.

Usually there is a history of the origin of the individual coats of arms, which explains why a mythical creature , a heraldic animal , a symbol or a certain tinge was chosen. A speaking coat of arms or a speaking coat of arms is a coat of arms whose contents refer to the name of the wearer.

Coat of Arms Association

Two coats of arms can be combined through a union of coats of arms in order to represent a togetherness (see also alliance arms ). There are two variants:

  • Compiled coats of arms are shown related to one another, often leaning towards one another. Typically this happens on the occasion of the marriage of nobles wearing coats of arms (marriage coat of arms). Compiled coats of arms are also created when official coats of arms and family coats of arms are to be put together or when institutions want to symbolize their togetherness.
  • When the coats of arms are pushed together , symbols of different origins are combined within a single shield. This can arise on the occasion of a marriage if territorial rights are thereby preserved. The symbols and fields accumulated through inheritance, enfeoffment or other acquisition, until the typical multi-field coats of arms of great territorial rulers emerged.

Types of coat of arms

Classification according to carriers

Rough overview of the types of coats of arms that occur in the past and in the present.

Families and people

On the one hand, family coats of arms and personal coats of arms are distinguished:

  • As family crest coat of arms are commonly referred to, which are run by families and individuals (regardless of whether such a noble belong or are bourgeois). According to German customary law, family coats of arms are passed on to direct male and female descendants at their birth and can be used as long as the name of the founder of the coat of arms is retained. Family coats of arms are not "inherited", as is often falsely claimed, because inheritance would only be the case when the founder of the coat of arms died and could also include people outside the family.
  • A person's coat of arms is a coat of arms that is only used in this form by a specific person. Often it is an official coat of arms like that of a bishop. It can therefore not be passed on or transferred.

On the other hand, a distinction is made according to belonging to the nobility:

  • The noble coat of arms is a coat of arms that belongs to noble families. The family coat of arms is the family coat of arms, which is personalized with individual characters. A more recent tradition says that only the nobility are entitled to a bow helmet or spangenhelm . However, this is highly controversial and also refuted by older coats of arms.
  • Civil coats of arms are coats of arms of citizens without a title of nobility . The stinging helmet (equipped without a folding visor) , mostly with a helmet bulge , is preferred, although there are numerous counter-examples of bourgeois coats of arms with a helmet and even a helmet crown .

States, countries, territories

  • National coats of arms can contain anything imaginable, even two crowns at the same time. Almost every nation has a national coat of arms. Occasionally - a monarchical tradition - they document intellectual or factual claims to certain territories that do not or only partially belong to the state (" coat of arms "). A few (France, some former French colonies) do not use a coat of arms in the actual sense, but a state seal . In a few countries, e.g. B. the United States of America , government organizations use circular symbols ( badges ) instead of a coat of arms (e.g. eagle with crossed arrows).
  • The provincial coats of arms are similar, including the coats of arms of the federal states , the coats of arms of the districts and the coats of arms of the Swiss cantons . Many have sign holders; H. Figures holding the heraldic shield.
  • Territorial coat of arms

Municipalities and cities



Communities and groups

Ship coat of arms

Ship crest does not exist in the sense of heraldry. The coat of arms on ships corresponds to the coat of arms of the city after which the ship is named, or the coat of arms of the federal state that gave it its name. Examples of ships named after cities are the warships Nuremberg , SMS Stralsund , Emden and Karlsruhe .

Other types of coats of arms

The categorization of coats of arms can also be based on other criteria, such as the function of the coat of arms or the special circumstances of the person carrying the coat of arms. In addition to the above-mentioned types of coat of arms, the following designations can be found:

Alliance coat of arms , official crest, claim coat of arms , honor crest, inheritance crest, memory crest, gender crest, company emblem, grace crest, favor arms, house crest, Marriage crest, rule crest, Lehnswappen , protective coat of arms, weeping crest , dignity crest.

Regulations for the current use of coats of arms

The use of official coats of arms is regulated in public law . The criteria and conditions for using private coats of arms can be found in coat of arms law , a branch of heraldry.


Official coats of arms of the federal and state governments

The unauthorized use and use of arms and official flags of the Federation and the countries dealt with § 124 of the Code of Administrative Offenses . Who is entitled to use which coat of arms and which flag is regulated in various federal and state laws.

Section 124 Use of coats of arms and official flags
(1) An administrative offense is committed by anyone who is unauthorized
1. the coat of arms of the federal government or a state or the federal eagle or the corresponding part of a state coat of arms or
2. a federal or state official flag is used.
(2) The coats of arms, parts of coats of arms and flags mentioned in paragraph 1 are equivalent to those that are confusingly similar.
(3) The regulatory offense can be punished with a fine.

Coats of arms of other corporations under public law

Municipal coat of arms of the city of Wörth an der Donau (Bavaria) on the town hall

The coats of arms actually used by corporations under public law that are not states of the Federal Republic of Germany (e.g. cities, districts, municipalities and universities) are protected accordingly by the naming rights of § 12 BGB, this also applies to the use of similar ones that can be confused with the original coat of arms Coat of arms. In the past, the use of a city coat of arms was considered permissible if the origin of a product was merely advertised in this way. For the rest, however, the use of the coat of arms also in a modified form requires the approval of the corporation under public law, although this will have to approve the use of the coat of arms in individual cases at its reasonable discretion, taking into account the principle of equal treatment, if other people use the coat of arms in the past approved.

The case law has not yet decided on cases in which a historical coat of arms, not even in a modified form, is used, as can be the case with incorporations .

According to Section 5 (1) of the Copyright Act (Germany) , official works such as coats of arms are in the public domain.

Private coat of arms law

Example: Coat of arms of the Counts of Montfort

The coat of arms law is a common law institute of private law, which everyone is entitled to. According to jurisprudence and prevailing literary opinion, due to its proximity to naming rights and its quality as an absolute right, it enjoys the protection of § 12 BGB (quasi-governmental injunction). According to another opinion, the right of arms as a historical fossil does not enjoy protection under Section 12 of the German Civil Code. There is no special protection for the arms of noble families in Germany; these are equated with the coats of arms of bourgeois families through the abolition of the privileges of the nobility in Article 109, Paragraph 3 of the Weimar Imperial Constitution. According to the traditional view of heraldry, coats of arms are to be distinguished from names, so that earlier bearers of the same name had different coats of arms, for example to indicate their family branch. The coat of arms law is therefore not part of the naming law, but a separate legal institute. In order for the coat of arms to benefit from the protection of Section 12 of the German Civil Code, the coat of arms must have an individualizing and distinctive character and thus appear suitable for identification by name, or it must have a special public profile. In order to be able to prove unequivocally the right to the respective coat of arms, it can make sense to document the foundation and to have it entered in a coat of arms roll for reasons of publicity . However, this is by no means absolutely necessary. It can therefore also be found for research. In the German-speaking countries, however, there was never a central roll of coats of arms in which all coats of arms were or are listed.

Some Hessian noble coats of arms from
Siebmacher's coat of arms book from 1605

The largest coherent work on coats of arms of the German-speaking area is the so-called Siebmacher , in the continuation of which the German coat of arms is carried out. But these works do not claim to be complete either.

The coats of arms of legal entities under public law also enjoy protection under private law. In addition, these are legally protected (among other things by § 124 OWiG). Trademark law offers certain signs a certain level of protection, since the similarity or correspondence of trademark applications with inter-national coats of arms and other symbols is an absolute barrier to registration (Section 8 (2) No. 6 Trademark Act). However, this legal source is not linked to a ban on leadership, i.e. real protection.

The artistic design of a coat of arms is generally protected by copyright .

However, there is no clear current case law on the transfer of the right to use a coat of arms in Germany. If one assumes that the principles of naming law, with which the respective family coat of arms is connected, apply, the following principles can be assumed: The family coat of arms can then use descendants of the respective name bearer who bear his name. However, an often alleged passing on of the coat of arms solely through the male descendants does not result from legal regulations nor is it compatible with constitutional provisions. According to § 1355 BGB , spouses should determine a marriage or family name at the time of marriage. According to this regulation, you also have the right to keep the respective maiden name or to use a double name. With regard to children, Section 1617 of the German Civil Code (BGB) regulates the case that a married name has not been determined that the family court may choose which spouse determines the child's surname. Insofar as rules deviating from the law have been set up in family statutes (house laws), these are only effective if they comply with the provisions of the Basic Law .

"A heraldic imitation is present if, despite the modification of the coat of arms, mark, emblem etc., the mark has the character of 'representation of a coat of arms, mark, emblem etc.' and is perceived as such by traffic. "


For the actual use of the state symbols by the citizen there are no binding laws or recommendations in the sense of a “flag etiquette”, but principles can be derived from the constitution and the coat of arms law.

Carrying or using the coat of arms

The use of coats of arms (as well as seals and official flags) is only permitted by those authorized to do so according to the Coat of Arms Act. They may therefore only be used in a public law function. However, the "use" of the images of national emblems of the Republic of Austria is generally permitted:

"The use of images of the federal coat of arms, images of the flag of the Republic of Austria and the flag itself is permitted, provided that it is not suitable to simulate public authorization or to impair the reputation of the Republic of Austria."

- § 7 Coat of Arms Act

With this so-called “liberal core” one wants to express that there are no administrative restrictions for the use of coats of arms and flags and the national flag itself.

A state award from the Federal Minister of Economics gives around 1,400 companies and training companies the right to use the federal eagle in business dealings.

Abuse of the coat of arms

The criminal provisions of the Coat of Arms Act (§ 9) relate to the unauthorized use of the federal coat of arms, seals and official flags. The damage to the reputation of the Republic of Austria through the use of images of the coat of arms is threatened with high administrative penalties, as is the pretense of public authorization with the help of a coat of arms.

Prohibition of family crests

In Austria , the use of the nobility or family coats of arms has been prohibited since the Nobility Repeal Act of 1919. According to § 2 of the execution instruction for the Nobility Repeal Act, the right to use family coats of arms applies to all Austrian citizens, in particular also the coats of arms referred to as “civil”. Although this is not taken into account in practice, it means that family coats of arms do not enjoy any legal protection with regard to their use.


The federal law for the protection of public coats of arms and other public symbols regulates the use of domestic and foreign coats of arms in Switzerland.

See also

Portal: Wappen  - Overview of Wikipedia content on the subject of coats of arms


  • Stillfried-Alcantara, R. Graf von / Hildebrandt, O .: Des Conrad Grünenberg , knight and citizen of Constenz, Wappenbuch - done on the ninth day of the Abrellen, do one ten dozen four hundred and eighty years . reissued in color, Görlitz 1875, CLXVII, with colored title page, two colored frontispieces and 331 colored heraldic panels with 2000 coats of arms; Newly published as a facsimile Fines Mundi Verlag, Saarbrücken 2009.
  • JGL Dorst : General register of coats of arms containing the coats of arms of all princes, counts, barons, nobles, cities, donors and patricians. A manual and sample book, etc. 2 volumes. Görlitz, G. Heinze / Ottomar Vierling, 1843/1846.
  • Ottfried Neubecker : Large coat of arms-picture lexicon of the bourgeois families of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Regenstauf: Battenberg-Verlag 2008, ISBN 978-3-86646-038-6 .
  • Václav Vok Filip: Introduction to Heraldry . Steiner, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 3-515-07559-3 .
  • Adolf Matthias Hildebrandt (greeting), Ludwig Biewer (editing): Wappenfibel: Handbuch der Heraldik . ed. vom Herold, Association for Heraldry, Genealogy and Related Sciences., 19., verb. and exp. Ed., Edit. on behalf of the Herolds Committee of the German Heraldic Roll by Ludwig Biewer, Degener, Neustadt an der Aisch 1998, ISBN 3-7686-7014-7 .
  • Birgit Laitenberger, Maria Bassier: Coats of arms and flags of the Federal Republic of Germany and its countries: general introduction to the state symbolism including hymns, holidays and memorial days . Heymann, Cologne [a. a.] 2000, ISBN 3-452-24262-5 .
  • Gert Oswald : Lexicon of Heraldry . Bibliographisches Institut, Mannheim 1984, ISBN 3-411-02149-7 .
  • Walter Seitter : The coat of arms as a second body and body symbol . In: D. Kamper, C. Wulf (Ed.), The return of the body . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 1982, ISBN 3-518-11132-9
  • Walter Seitter : Concepts of people. Studies in epistemology . Boer, Munich 1985, ISBN 3-924963-00-2 . Second edition with a foreword by the author and an essay by Friedrich Balke: Velbrück, Weilerswist 2012, ISBN 978-3-942393-29-4
  • Johann Siebmacher (greeting), Horst Appuhn (ed.): Johann Siebmacher's coat of arms from 1605 . Orbis-Ed., Munich 1999, ISBN 3-572-10050-X .
  • Konrad Gappa: coat of arms - technology - economy. Mining and metallurgy, mineral and energy extraction and their product utilization in emblems of public coats of arms .
    • Volume 1: Germany . German Mining Museum, Bochum 1999. ISBN 3-921533-65-1 . (Almost 1000 places with over 1000 coats of arms and the associated local history description. ~ 500 pages.)
    • Volume 2: Austria, South Tyrol (Italy) . ISBN 3-937203-32-X , ISBN 978-3-937203-32-4 . (387 coats of arms of Austria and 18 of South Tyrol with a description of the place. ~ 300 pages.)
  • Dieter Müller-Bruns: Considerations on the basics of the so-called coat of arms law , in: HEROLD studies Volume 9: Coat of arms today - future of heraldry? A historical auxiliary science between art and science , pp. 33–46, Limburg a. d. Lahn 2014 (Contributions from the joint conference of the HEROLD's section on historical auxiliary sciences and the HEROLD's committee for the German coat of arms on April 24, 2009 in the archive of the Max Planck Society, edited by Lorenz Friedrich Beck, Regina Rousavy and Bernhard Jähnig, 2014 ).
  • Karlheinz Blaschke , Gerhard Kehrer , Heinz Machatscheck : Lexicon of cities and coats of arms of the GDR , VEB Verlag Enzyklopädie, Leipzig 1979.
  • Gisbert Hoffmann: Wappenbuch Bodenseekreis , Heimat -zeichen, Volume 2, ed. from the support group Heimatkunde Tettnang , printing and publishing house Lorenz Senn GmbH & Co. KG, Tettnang, ISBN 3-88812-162-0 .
  • Gabriele Wüst, Wappen , in: Südwestdeutsche Archivalienkunde, as of August 7, 2017.

Web links

Wiktionary: coat of arms  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Coat of Arms  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Commons : Siebmachers Wappenbuch  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ BGH , judgment of 23 September 1992, I ZR 251/90 = BGHZ 119 p. 237 (p. 245), BGH , judgment of 28 March 2002, I ZR 235/99 ; Reichsgericht , judgment of May 27, 1909, Rep. IV 557/08 = RGZ 71, p. 262 (264 ff.)
  2. ^ Reichsgericht , judgment of May 27, 1909, Rep. IV 557/08 = RGZ 71, p. 262
  3. a b Staudinger / Norbert Habermann (2004), § 12 BGB Rn. 109
  4. Staudinger / Norbert Habermann (2004), § 12 BGB Rn. 108 ff .; Bayreuther in Munich Commentary on the German Civil Code, 5th edition, Munich 2006, Rdz. 50 on § 12 BGB with reference to BGH , judgment of March 28, 2002, I ZR 235/99
  5. BGB-AK / Kohl Rn 36
  6. Staudinger / Norbert Habermann (2004), § 12 BGB Rn. 108
  7. BGH, GRUR 2002, 917, 919 (Düsseldorf city arms)
  8. BGH, GRUR 2002, 917, 919
  9. BGH, GRUR 2002, 917 (Düsseldorf city arms)
  10. Hohenzollern decision of the Federal Constitutional Court of March 22, 2004, 1 BvR 2248/01
  11. ^ Beck's commentary on trademark law , Karl-Heinz Fezer, Munich 1999, Art. 6ter PVÜ, Rn. 4 (Source: OHIM, February 18, 2002 ( Memento of November 9, 2005 in the Internet Archive ))
  12. a b c Entry on flags and flags in the Austria forum
  13. SR 232.21