The heraldic shield

Heraldry was born during the twelfth century and was a language based on symbols. According to the dominant theory, the heraldry would have been born from the need to identify knights, who would not be able to recognize because the helmet would hide their faces.

This required proper support. At first, this would be the banner, as the first graphic evidence attests. Originally from France and England and dated in the first half of the twelfth century, they correspond to stamps depicting a gentleman riding in the right direction, so that the shield (which was carried in the left arm) was hidden. From 1140, in these figures would be made visible the shield (then already triangular and of smaller size and manageable) and its heraldic content. By losing the central metal part, the shield would offer an ideal smooth surface on which to represent the emblem of the individual.

In the mindset of Europeans of the twelfth century, personal identity depended on that of the group, whether it was the family, the social group or the whole Christian community. So the essential thing was not so much to see who was present in a battle, but which side he was on and to recognize or discard as a threat.

 

At the time when heraldry was born, the most powerful families were building their identity. It was a way of consolidating their dominant position. So they created an identity heritage from a few proper names, a surname, and a heraldic symbol. Sometimes there was a coincidence with the surname, as it happened with the arms of the Aragonese family of the Moon, whose main element was precisely a crescent moon.

By the middle of the twelfth century, the families of royalty and the high nobility of Europe were already beginning to adopt many of the heraldic symbols that were to characterize them. These became a place in the seals, which only the powerful could use. Moreover, when they were generally considered to be familial rather than individual, even priests and monks would adopt such symbols.

By 1250, heraldry had already spread to other social sectors and different entities. Councils, business people and trades corporations would come to have their own emblems.

In the hands of families and urban institutions, heraldic signs fulfilled more than one function. From the fourteenth century, this used to be represented in female emblems dividing the shield into two parts. The heraldry of the husband’s family was then on the left side and that of the parents on the right.

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