Coats of Arms of Macedonia

The only person to engage in the research of the Arms of Macedonia, especially regarding the Land Arms, was Aleksandar Matkovski. His research, which focuses on the appearance of the Macedonian Arms in the Illyrian armorials, was published in his book  Грбовите на Македонија, (прилог кон македонската хералдика): “Grbovite na Makedonija (prilog kon makedonskata heraldika) [Coats of Arms of Macedonia (Tribute to Macedonian Heraldry)], published 1970 in Skopje. Unfortunately, as is the case of other researchers of their State Arms, (Aleksandar Solovjev for Serbia, Hristo Dermenjiev and Ivan Ivanov for Bulgaria, Gjin Varfi for Albania), Matkovski is more concerned with cataloguing the Arms rather than with heraldic analysis.

This book popularized heraldry in Macedonia and, practically, laid its foundations.

Since the publication of the Matkovski book in 19701 there have been new discoveries in Illyrian Heraldry, as well as the appearance of the Macedonian Arms in the European non-Illyrian Armorials, which are totally unknown to the Macedonian public including the scientific circles.

Regarding the non-Illyrian Armorials, most frequently there is a Coat of Arms attributed to “The King of Macedonia”. This formulation was appropriate for the medieval idea that the land is an inherited property of the king, which is also found in  other countries.

A special group of the non-Illyrian arms are the attributed arms of Alexander the Great – The Macedonian, as a part of the Anglo-Saxon epos “The Nine Worthies”.2

Non-Illyrian Heraldry

The oldest heraldic representation connected with Macedonia surviving to the present time, or discovered so far, is the banner of Skopje, on the map of Angelino Dulcerto from 1339., with blazon: Or, doubleheaded eagle Gules. Above the name of the city “Scopi” is written “Servia”. It should be noted that this presentation is different from the traditional arms of Serbia with the blazon, Gules, doubleheaded eagle Argent.

A Macedonian Coat of Аrms described as belonging to the “King of Macedonia” is found in several sources. John A. Goodall3 mentions three armorials with the following blazons:

1. Azure 3 crowns Gold with caps Gules; Crest: out of a crown Gold a conical cap Argent tipped with a ball Silver; mantling: Azure.4

2. Gold, 4 bars embattled on both sides, and voided Gules.5

3. Gros vairy Gules and Silver, on a fess Azure 3 crescents Gold; Crest: out of a crown Gold on a wing Azure 3 crescents Gold.6

In the Roll of Arms of the Bavarian Library7 of 1530, two other arms are represented with the blazons:

1. Gules 3 bars embattled on both sides Argent, fimbriated Or. This is a similar design to the one found in Miltenberg.

2. Or, three crossbow bows Or in Pale. The charge here is not very clear; it could also be a yoke.

Pavlo Ritter Vitezovic, in the second part of his Stematographia mentions that Macedonia had two more Arms, one a great dog, and the other a baton between bulls horns.8 These motifs can be seen on Vincenzo Coronelli 1692. In both sources the colors are not mentioned.

Pater Franjo Miletic, the commentator of the Foynitsa Armorial9 states that the Arms of Macedonia [Gules a Lion Or crowned Or] could be found in Virgil Solis10 from where it enters the Illyrian Armorials.  I did not succeed in proving this through examination of the reproduction edition of 1882.

From what has already been said it can be seen that the representation of the Arms of the ”King of Macedonia”, apart from the one with embattled bars, is not consistent. This is probably because the authors of those Arms did not use any concrete images, but were creating presentations of their own; this is the case with the other Balkan states and more exotic lands. Without doubt further research will discover more of these Arms.

Arms of Alexander the Great – The Macedonian

An especially interesting subject is the Coat of Arms attributed to Alexander the Great – The Macedonian as a part of the “Nine Worthies”, which apart from the Rolls of Arms could be found applied on walls, reliefs, tapestries etc. The oldest representation, where Alexander is shown as a knight holding a shield, is from 1394. The shield has the blazon: Gules, a lion Or holding with both arms an axe Or.11 Although in other armorials the Arms of the worthies differ, or are interchanged, the most frequent representation is with the lion. According to François R. Velde,12 other representations are:

1. Azure a king in his majesty seated on a throne all Or.13In other representations, it is a lion sitting on the throne, as in the one of 1394.

2. Or a lion Gules armed and langued Azure14

3. Gules two lions Or confronting15

4. Sable a griffon Or16.

Arms with the same blazon Sable a griffon Or are found in the Armorial from Ausburg of 1530.

In the “Nine Worthies” part of the armorial of Anton Sorg of Ausburg from 1483 the arms of Alexander are Gules three crowns Or. In this armorial most of the Arms are misplaced. The Arms with three crowns is very consistent in other sources attributed to King Arthur. Further, the Arms with the Jerusalem cross almost always attributed to the King of Jerusalem, in the armorial is attributed to King Arthur

John Fern17 gives the Arms of Macedon, king of Emathia18: Sable, a wolf Argent.

Illyrian heraldry

“Illyrian heraldry” is the term given to the heraldry included in the Roll of Arms alleged to be created by Stanislav Rupcic, King of Arms of King Dusan, in 1340. We know about this armorial only by its copies which state that the original roll of arms was kept on Mt. Athos. Aleksandar Solovjev claims that this Roll of Arms could not exist,19 but that there was a proto-Illyrian Roll of Arms from the second half of 16 c, from which all other Illyrian Armorials were copied. According to Solovjev, this proto-Illyrian armorial is a forgery, done by order of don Pedro Ohmucevic, (died in 1599) in order to prove his descent form Relja the Winged, count of Kastoria and other territories in Macedonia, in the time of King Dusan. Analysis of the historic existence of this Roll of Stanislav Rupcic is a separate issue with which we will not engage in this paper.

Matkovski accepts this hypothesis and uses it in his entire work, but still, he leaves open the possibility that such an original Roll of Arms of Stanislav Rupcic might have existed.20New discoveries, especially artifacts, undoubtedly show similarity with the Arms of the Illyrian Armorials. This shows, that the artisian of the Korenic- Neoric had great knowledge of the heraldry and symbols of medieval nobility, or actually had in front of him a real Armorial.

Macedonian Coat of Arms in Illyrian Heraldry

According to John A. Goodall,21 there are two lines of recensions from the Rupcic’s original Roll. The London Roll is considered to be the oldest in the recension 1. Matkovski did not have access to this Roll. The Roll has not been dated precisely, but is prior to Korenic-Neoric, which is dated 1595. In the London Roll, Macedonian Arms are shown as: Gules, a lion (rampant), armed gules, with crown above the lion’s head, both Or. Over the shield is an ancient crown Or.

The crown in the shield is above the lion’s head but is following the line of the head, which indicates that the idea for this crown was to crown the lion, and not to be a separate charge. In this case the blazon would be: Gules a lion crowned Or armed Gules. Above the shield is an ancient crown Or. In this instance the lion is depicted with an attempt for three dimensional realism, with nails and fur, applying nuances and shades. The shield is of  a German type,22 and the crown is a 5 point ancient crown, charged with gems.

On the Coat of Arms of Stefan Nemanja,23 which is a marshalled Arms containing the Arms of all Illyrian states, the Macedonian arms are shown in the first quarter. Here due to the largely disproportional field, the lion is depicted bent with the rear legs on the same plane, heraldically representing statant and not rampant as in the Macedonian arms. In the Bulgarian quarter the lion’s rear legs are not in the same plane, thus being rampant. Here, as well, the crown is elevated above the lion’s head, similar to the Bulgarian arms, which is blazoned  Or a lion Gules crowned Argent. The change of the pose is an act of artistic representation, and not an actual change of the heraldic pose.

Korenic- Neoric Roll, from 1595, long considered the oldest copy.24  It is kept in the University Library in Zagreb, and is the second in line of the first recencion. It portrays Macedonian Arms, in the same style as in London Roll, but being armed Or. The crown here is, as well, separated from the head. On Stefan Nemanja’s Arms, the lion is drawn with three legs in the same plane, representing the heraldic posture Passant.

In the third of the same recension, the Althan’s or Bolognas’ Roll of 1614, the Macedonian Arms are found on their own. The crown is laying on the lions head, which is heraldically correct. The main distinction of this version is that the lion is queued forchée. The shield is gothic25, and the crown has strawberry leaves with three points, sometimes called ducal.

The Roll of Marko Skorojevic, (1636-1686), has the same representation of the arms. and there is a similar representation in the Belgrade II Roll of 1620, with the difference that the shield is of a Renaissance shape.26 In the Nemanja’s Arms, in both Rolls, the Macedonian lion is clearly depicted as rampant.

Representative of the second line of recencion is Foynitsa’s Roll which depicts the Macedonian Arms with lesser artistry, but by its attributes is identical with the one in the London Roll. In the Nemanja’s arms, the Macedonian lion is shown salient, with rear legs depicted thrown backwards.

A critical change is seen in Pavlo Ritter Vitezovic’s Roll (1694, printed 1701), which changes the blazon of the Macedonian Arms to: Or, a lion gules. It must be noted that the lion in this case is not crowned. The text below the arms, in Latin, says “the Turk has taken the crown”. Matkovski states that Vitezovic made this change unintentionally, out of lack of attention due to the similarity of the Macedonian and Bulgarian Arms.27This is absolutely out of the question, since Vitezovic himself, in the second part of his Stematographia gives an explanation of the Bulgarian arms stating: “Gules, a lion crowned Or, but some mistakenly consider this to be Arms of Macedonia”.28 Here it can be seen that Vitezovic himself, for his own reasons, intentionally and on purpose made changes to a previous Roll to which he had access. Maybe it was the representation of the Arms of Alexander the Great – The Macedonian from Jerom the Bara of 1581, with the very same blazon. This breaks the long lineage of presentation of Macedonian Arms with the blazon: Gules, lion crowned Or.

In 1741 Hristofer Zefarovic translated the Stemmatographia into Slavic with Serbian redaction. Its many print runs popularized heraldry, but unfortunately with this new representation of the Macedonian Coat of Arms, thus breaking the tradition of many centuries. The Bulgarian State with its Turnovo’s Constitution of 1879 accepted the Coat of Arms for Bulgaria as in Zefarovic’s Stemmatographia and thus validates the misconception introduced by Vitezovic.

Macedonian Land Arms can also be found outside of the Rolls, applied on flags, churches etc.

Coat of Arms of the Peoples’ Republic of Macedonia

At the creation of the Arms for the Peoples Republic of Macedonia, unlike most other Socialist states and republics, the historical Coat of Arms did not find a place in the new socialist emblem, the design of which followed the “Arms” of the USSR. Instead of the historical Arms, the emblem of the PR Macedonia embodied a purely landscape motif, and thus fell into line with Romania, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro. The authorship is attributed to Vasilie Popovic – Cico, who, probably is the author of the emblazon included in the Law, which was used until the end of that year. He knew for the Land Arms.29 There is an opinion that the author of the present Arms, from the constitution, is Gorge Andrejevic –Kun,  to whom the authorship of all other State Arms of the Federal Peoples Republic of Yugoslavia is attributed. He actully unified the styles of the Arms of all Republics.

The Coat of Arms of the People’s Republic of Macedonia was adopted by law by second special session of the People’s Assembly on July 26, 1946 in Skopje. Article 1 of this law gives the description of these Arms:

The Coat of Arms of the Peoples Republic of Macedonia is a field surrounded by stalks of wheat interwoven with fruits of opium poppy and tobacco leaves, which at the bottom are connected with a ribbon with folk design. The ribbon bears the text „P. R. Macedonia“. Between the top of the stalks of wheat there is a five- pointed star. In the center of the field a mountain is outlined, at the bottom of which a river is flowing. Behind the mountain there is a sunrise.30

In “Nova Makedonija”,31 two days later, a wider explanation is given:

The Coat of Arms of the Peoples Republic of Macedonia is symbol of freedom and brotherhood of the Macedonian people and the riches of the Macedonian land. The stalks of wheat, opium poppies and tobacco leaves represent the riches of Macedonia and the diversity of its economy. The five-pointed star is a symbol of the people’s liberation war by which the Macedonian people won its freedom. The folklore motif on the ribbon is representing the richness and beauty of the people’s essence. In the middle, there is Pirin mountain, the largest Macedonian mountain, which was the centre of people’s liberation wars in the past, and the river that flows, is the Vardar river, the most famous river in the Republic. Pirin and Vardar at the same time represent the unity of all parts of Macedonia and the ideal of the Macedonian people for national unification. The sun represent the freedom and the creative life of Macedonia.32

It is interesting to note that this design and the explanation are different from the one used later. In the first Constitution of the People’s Republic of Macedonia, in Article 3 the Coat of Arms is defined as follows:

The state Coat of Arms of the People’s Republic of Macedonia is  a field surrounded by stalks of wheat interwoven with fruits of opium poppy and tobacco leaves, which at the bottom are connected by a ribbon with folk design. Between the top of the stalk of wheat there is a five- pointed star. In the center of the field a mountain is outlined, at the bottom of which a river flows. Behind the mountain there is a sunrise.33

In this description as in the previous one, there is no mention of the colors. The only difference is that in the Constitution the description of the text on the ribbon is dropped. The stamp used bears the earlier design of the Arms, while the impression in wax of the sealing cords, applied later, bears the new design.

Article 4 of the Constitution states:

The State flag of the People’s Republic of Macedonia is red with a five-point star. The star is red with golden/yellow/edge and has a proper five-point star. The ratio between width and length is one to two.34

With the dissolution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugolavia, the question of the Coat of Arms for Macedonia arose. In 1992 the government set up a Commission for establishing the Coat of Arms and the Flag of the Republic of Macedonia, consisting  of Aneta Svetieva-ethnologist, Aleksandar Cvetkovski- artist, Kosta Balaban- art historian and Dimitar Kondovski- artist. Matkovski was also involved. A public competition was announced, and about 3000 designs were submitted.  Most of them were influenced by the Land Coat of Arms represented in the book of Matkovski. Unfortunately, he died not long before the Law on the Coat of Arms, flag and anthem of the Republic of Macedonia entered the Parliamentary procedure. At the session regarding this law, a message from Matkov­ski was read, in which Matkovski suggested that the historical Arms should be accepted. The Commission did not propose a single project to the Assembly. The issue became highly politicized.

Due to the lack of a majority, this law never entered the Parliamentary procedures, although by Constitutional Law, it should have been completed by the end of 1992. Macedonian passports were issued without any Coat of Arms on the cover, with the idea that once the Coat of Arms was decided upon, the image would be impressed later. This situation lasted until 2006, when new passports were issued bearing the old Coat of Arms of the Peoples Republic of Macedonia.

The law for the establishment of the flag of the Republic of Macedonia, was passed with ease on 11 July 1992, establishing the red flag with the Sun of Kutles (Star of Vergina) following the design of Todor Petrov.35

An attempt to solve the Arms problem was made in 1992, when there was a proposition to follow the design of the flag: red a golden Sun of Kutles (Star of Vergina)  altering it with stylized letter “M” and two wavy lines at the bottom. This proposition did not enter the Parliamentary procedures due to objection from Greece that the 16-point star is only Greek. Later, due to the immense Greek pressure in 1995, the Republic of Macedonia abandoned this flag and adopted a new one.36

Several more attempts followed. One was to use the same design of the emblem of  VMRO-DPMNE37, and the one of Miroslav Grcev, having the same blazon but much superior design. These proposals, coming from the right-wing nationalistic parties again never entered the Parliamentary procedures. The Social–democrats came with two suggestions: one, only to remove the five pointed star, and the other, the so called “Slovenian solution” to put the design of the field on a shield. These proposals, again, never entered the Parliamentary procedures.

The last proposal came in 2007. The Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski, proposed to remove the star, as an initial phase of finding a solution to the problem of the Coat of Arms. This idea, not having support, again did not enter Parliamentary procedure.

The main obstacles preventing the solution of the Coat of Arms problem is the immaturity of the political parties in Statehood and their total ignorance of heraldry. The Social –democrats did not accept the Land arms, considering it to be Bulgarian38 as well as the party symbol of VMRO- DPMNE.39 When VMRO-DPMNE was in power with a majority of the Parliament seats, it did not dare to impose a solution, considering that a Coat of Arms needed a wider consensus

With the Ohrid Framework Agreement of 2001 and the introduction of the so-called “Badinter majority”, approval of the Law for the Coat of Arms will require not only an overall Parliamentary majority, but also a majority of Albanian representatives in Parliament. This will almost certainly,prevent the acceptance of the Land arms as State Arms.

The Albanian parties represented in the Macedonian Parliament have never made a concrete proposal for a design, apart from the request that it should be neutral, insisting that the modern day Republic of Macedonia actually came into existence in 1991 or even in 2001 after the civil war and the Ohrid Framework Agreement. This sees Macedonia as a State of two large communities, and the symbols should not point to the historical continuity of the unitary State of the Macedonians.

In this constellation of politics and ideologies it is hard to achieve wider consensus, which is needed for any proposal to enter the Parliamentary procedure. Most likely a change of the current arms will not happen in the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, according to heraldry, the Land Arms is the best solution for the State Arms of the Republic of Macedonia, since it represents Macedonia in continuity for over 400 years.


1 The second edition is published in 1990.

2 The Nine Worthies appear in the 13 c. Anglo-Saxon epos. It is a representation on three triades, three good pagans, Hector, Julius Caeser, and Alexander the Great; three good Jews, Joshua, King David and Judas Maccabeus; and three good Christians, King Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of Bouillon, the King of Jerusalem.

3 Goodall, John A., “An Illyrian Armorial in the Society’s Collections“ u The Antiquaries Journal, volume 75, London, 1995, 275

4 High Almain Roll c. 1447-55, College of Arms MS 1st M 5,  fol 9; cit in: Goodall, John A., “An Illyrian Armorial in the Society’s Collections“ u The Antiquaries Journal, volume 75, London, 1995, 275

5 Randle Holm, cf CEMRA, 1448: cit in: Goodall, John A., „An Illyrian Armorial in the Society’s Collections“ u The Antiquaries Journal, volume 75, London, 1995, 275

6 L`armorial Miltenberg, un armorial de la fin du XV e siecle, Archives Heraldiques Suisses, 313; cit in: Goodall, John A., „An Illyrian Armorial in the Society’s Collections“ u The Antiquaries Journal, volume 75, London, 1995, 275

7 visited on 9-02-2009

8 Ritter, Pavlo, Stemmatographae Illyricanae, Zagreb, 1702, 63.

9 Fojnički grbovnik, obradio Fra Franjo Miletić, Rabic, Sarajevo, 2005, 58.

10 Solis, Virgil, Libellus scutorum vel signorum publicorum, Vergil Solis, Nurnberg, 1555.

11 Chavalier errant, B.N Paris, 1394, published in Ottfried Neubecker, Heraldry, sources, symbols and meaning, Black cat, London, 1998,172-173.

12 François R. Velde, “Nine Worthies” at Heraldica, посетена на 20 мај 2008.

13 Barthélémy de Chasseneuz: book, 1586, Frankfurt, quoted in во Heraldica,

14 Jerome de Bara, 1581, quoted in Heraldica.

15 Barthélémy de Chasseneuz: book, 1586, Frankfurt, quoted in Heraldica.

16 Hans Burgkmayr (1473-1531), a prominent engraver from Augsburg, who made a suite of Nine Worthies engravings in 1516, quoted in Heraldica,

17 Fearn, John, The Glory of Generosite, John Windest, London, 1586, 155.

18 Region around Thessalonica and Berea, regarded by some as the old name for Macedonia. More on this in the Macedonian Herald, “The Silver Wolf of Macedon”,  issue 1 of 2005,1.

19 Solovjev, Aleksandar, Istorija srpskog grba i drugi heralkdički radovi, Pravni fakultet univerziteta u Beogradu, Beograd, 2000, 120.

20 Матковски, Александар, Грбовите на Македонија, Прилог кон македонската хералдика, Мисла, Скопје “Grbovite na Make­donija (prilog kon makedonskata heraldika) [Coats of Arms of Macedonia (Tribute to Macedonian Heraldry)], Misla, Skopje 1990, 78

21 Goodall, John A., „An Illyrian Armorial in the Society’s Collec­tions“ u The Antiquaries Journal, volume 75, London, 1995, 265

22 For heraldry the type of the shield is not important and thus not blazoned. National classification of the shield is not viable as the shield types appear in almost all countries in different periods. Due to the need to define the shield’s shape, here we use the terminology from Matkovski’s book, given on page 22.

23 Matkovski makes a systematic error, naming this Arms as “the Common Arms” throughout his work.

24 The London Roll of Arms, is considered to have been created before Korenic- Neoric. After the long period of obscurity in the Library of the Society of Antiquaries of London due to an indexing error, it saw the light of the day in 1992 when displayed as a part of the Society’s collection.

25 After classification in Српски терминолошки речник хералдике, Српско друштво за хералдику, генеологију, вексилологију и фалеристику „Бело Орао“, Београд, год. 1 бр. 2, фев 2001, 2 (Srpski terminoloski recnik heraldike, Srpsko drustvo za heraldiku, geneologiju, veksilologiju i faleristiku „Belo Orao“, Beograd, god. 1 br. 2, fev. 2001, 2)

26 Ibid

27 Матковски, (Matkovski), 1990, 112

28 Ritter, Pavlo, Stemmatographae Illyricanae, Zagreb, 1702, 63

29 According to  Niko Tozi, who was involved in the process of establishing the Coat of Arms.

30 Президиум на народното собрание на Народна Република Македонија, Закон за грбот на Народна Република Македонија, бр 559, Скопје 27 Јули 1946. (Prezidium na narodnoto sobranie na Narodna Republika Makedonija, Zakon za grbot na Narodna Republika Makedonija, br 559, Skopje 27 Juli 1946)

31 The only daily newspaper of that time which was the gazette of the Peoples Front

32 „Нова Македонија“, бр 482, Скопје 28.7.1946, (Prezidium na narodnoto sobranie na Narodna Republika Makedonija, Zakon za grbot na Narodna Republika Makedonija, br 559, Skopje 27 Juli 1946)

33 Устав на Народна Република Македонија, Президиум на уставотворното собрание на Народна Република Македонија Скопје, 31.12.1946. (Ustav na Narodna Republika Makedonija, Prezidium na ustavotvornoto sobranie na Narodna Republika Makedonija Skopje, 31.12.1946.)

34 Ibid.

35 Службен весник на Република Македонија (Sluzben vesnik na Republika Makedonija), 50/92

36 Proposal for the flag made by Miroslav Grcev, but at the last moment a change was introduced. The original 10:16 was changed to a 1:2 ratio, and the rays were detached from the sun.

37 Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization – Democratic Party for Macedonian National Unity, the largest party in Macedonia.

38 The alleged reason is that during the Second World War Bulgaria occupied Macedonia under that symbol. Biggest promoter of this idea was the then President of the Republic of Macedonia.

39 All other parties that later came out of VMRO-DPMNE retained the prefix VMRO and the same graphical image of the Coat of Arms of VMRO-DPMNE but altering the texts on the ribbon above and below the Arms.

Special gratitude to BHVS for pointing and providing photos of Illyrian and non-Illyrian Armorials.