Heraldry for the Byzantine Persona

As Principal Herald for Calontir, one of the many things I am excited to do with that role is assisting with names and devices.  It is also one of the more frustrating things for early period personae or cultures that are not known for heraldry.  It’s a bit of a balancing act, between actuality and the more creative parts of the Society for Creative Anachronism.

Seriously.  Go purchase things from her.

Azure, a standing seraph argent, a bordure gyronny argent and sable. Art by Kythera of Anevern (http://www.anevern.com/)

In my persona’s period (6th century Constantinople, around the time of Justinian and after the death of Theodora), the only person who would use heraldry would be the Emperor, and it would often be displayed on a labarum (a specific type of vexillium), or a banner that hung vertically.  This labarum often featured a Chi Rho as part of the standard, while the vexillium would often be the Emperor’s heraldry.

As someone in the SCA, however, I am able to register and use heraldry.  While my persona may not have enjoyed the right to use heraldry, I do and enjoy having it marking things from my modern luggage (seriously!) to a beautiful stained glass piece I received as a gift.  When I first started working on my heraldry, I knew I wanted to key into my persona’s name (a cant, or heraldic joke), show a connection to Byzantine society, and of course, use colours that I actually liked.

So, a friend of mine taught a class on heraldry for non-heraldic cultures, based on The Viking Answer Lady’s article of the same name, which I took at one of my first few events.  While the class was certainly geared for Norse personae, the information was certainly valuable.  One of the points that was made was to get inspiration from the art of the area.  Luckily for me, angels and seraphs are used in Byzantine art from the earliest days of Constantine’s reign, evident in clothing decoration, iconography, frescoes, mosaics, and jewellery.  The seraph, while being a less than period charge, is accepted by the SCA College of Arms as being an acceptable charge for devices.  It was also a cant on Kaloethina, which derives from Kaloethes, or “of good character” in Greek.

I was partial to the blue, the white, and the black (or in heraldry: azure, argent, and sable), as those are all favourite colours of mine.  Blue is used quite a bit in Byzantine art, though not as much as red or gold, so this was an extra bonus.

For those who also portray Byzantine personae in the Society who want to register a device, consider looking at common motifs in Eastern Roman art, such as angels, chalices, the Chi Rho, or even animals like dolphins, lions, or eagles.  And in display, consider using those motifs in your clothing choices (I myself am working on embroidering roundels with seraphim on it for heraldic Byzantine), carrying a vexillium with your device on it, or painting a groundcloth with your device made to look like a mosaic floor.  And I’m interested in what you produce.  If you’ve created something heraldic and made it look appropriate for your persona, I’d like to see it.

6 thoughts on “Heraldry for the Byzantine Persona

  1. Dolphins!

    Also, the dolphin was the Hellenistic symbol used on Arethusa coinage from ancient Syracuse. I did not know this until after I had submitted my arms. Funny how things work out.


  2. Reblogged this on Anachronistic and Impulsive and commented:
    I’ve had some questions about heraldry lately. As I’m not a herald, but my dear friend Konstantia Kaloethina out in Calontir is, I figured I would just re-blog a post of hers to help. Feel free to ask questions in the comments section, and we’ll see what we can do to help.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My persona is Norse and my Heraldry is a combination of the devices of my favorite author Tamara Pierce’s two lady knights. (I used Alanna’s Lioness Rampant with Kel’s blue background, silver border, and silver owl. Owl plus lioness ended up being a winged cat, because I had to put a wing on it to clear a conflict.) I guess a silver lioness makes some sense for a Viking Shield Maiden, and adding wings makes it able to travel farther, since she’s a sailor. But that’s me justifying my device. 🙂


    • Yes, but the important thing – you like your device, right? (though, I’m also a fan of those books, too – however, I wanted to create my own legend by having the device I do. 🙂 I suppose it’s all a matter of perspective, huh?)


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