Previous history about civil heraldry gives us seals
with figures of patron saints – partly martyrdom scenes and partly
surrounded by walls – impressed on documents belonging to the great
medieval towns, heritage of the ancient Roman centres, which survived
the migration of the inhabitants, and which had organised autonomous administrations
for the town which were very closely correlated to the ecclesiastic organisation.
Likewise, ancient civil coats of arms are represented by seals which
depicted the attributes of the local patron – therefore suitable
for engraving on a shield – or the symbol of the Lord’s sovereignty,
alone or accompanied by a distinctive emblem, typical of the German imperial
These considerations lead us to understand the close link between the
choice of the figure shown in the arms and the bond between the town and
a superior authority, be it spiritual or secular.
As the seals are not identical to the coats of arms, they can also bear
ornaments outside of the shield: for example, Oxford, Prague and Hanover
enriched their coats of arms with helmets and crests; other town seals
are stamped, by concession, with dignity crowns, like Amsterdam –
Imperial crown – and Berlin (electoral beret and, later, royal crown),
however they were more often dominated – from the 19th century –
by mural crowns, similar to those which, from the beginning of the 18th
century, were used by the three most important German imperial towns to
stamp their shield on seals and coins (Nuremberg, Augustus and Frankfurt
Nowadays, the trend by each municipality to have its own coat of arms
– and not just municipalities which have the title of city –
has become a constant custom throughout Europe.
The expressive arms are rather antique with the bear, of Berlin or Berne,
the St. George’s Cross in London, put aside by St. Paul’s
sword; the castle in Prague, which has remained faithful to the Hussite
protomodels. In the Naples coat of arms we probably find portrayed figures
of medieval flags, like those of Zurich. The Vistola mermaid refers to
local sagas in the arms of Warsaw. While the coats of arms have been newly
created for capital towns of the previous colonies, created through the
English College of Arms competition in the Anglophobic world.