The Moor in European Heraldry
If you have ever done an online search on the Black history of Europe, chances are you have seen those two-dimensional cartoon silhouettes that preface this article at some point or another.
Our previous study on the reconquest of Spain and Portugal from Moorish control was an introduction to the African Moor in European heraldry. In this article, we will explore that topic further.
We will cover the history behind the heraldry, the artists who were involved, the historians who contributed to our understanding of these works, and the meaning of these images.
What is this thing we refer to as heraldry, anyways?
In what he referred to as his "textbook of heraldry," the German historian Otto Titan von Hefner (1827-1870) outlined the prevailing definitions, long established by scholars before his time.
He started with the description given by Johann Christoph Gatterer (1727-1799) in his 1744 Demolition of heraldry or heraldry.
Coats of arms are signs of persons and countries granted by the highest ruler of a state.
Next in line is an excerpt from Martin Schmeitzel's (1679-1747) Introduction to Heraldry.
A coat of arms of the present condition is a mark consisting of shield and helmet, in which and on which all kinds of figures of different kinds and colors can be seen and inherited by the authority of the one who, through valiant deeds or even righteous services made merit to the audience.
German heraldist Christian Samuel Theodor Bernd (1775-1854) follows with his version, as published in Principal items of Heraldry (1841).
Coats of arms are certain signs and images to identify and distinguish, both individuals and families as well as entire countries and cities from each other.
Hefner did not mince words as he related his disappointment in his predecessors.
These three definitions of three of the first heraldic authors are pretty much indicative of the direction of the whole school, but I can not help but assert that none of these three definitions suffice...
For Hefner, they were neither clear, nor detailed enough. They were also revealed a 'lack' of 'scholarship.' "They seem to wrap themselves," he says.
Now it's Hefner's turn.
I say the pot is calling the kettle black, to borrow an old saying. Hefner used a heck of a lot more words to say a heck of a lot less. How the irony of his own claims was lost on the writer or his editors is beyond me. (You didn't actually waste your time reading all of that fluff now, did you?)
But fear not, dear reader!
With all of these definitions in mind, German scholar of heraldry Daniel Erpelding submits one of his own. "What is heraldry?" he asks.
Well, it's about coats of arms, graphic marks that should be unique to any (natural or legal) person and that are designed and run according to certain rules, and for which I have not yet found a better definition.
Now we're speaking my language!
I can get with that one. How about you?
Thankfully, where Mr. Hefner failed as a presenter, he surely compensated as a researcher. For his purposes, Hefner compiled quotations from all relevant publications he could get his hands on. But he didn't stop there. He traveled to monuments 'in various parts of Germany and beyond' to study the context in which the symbols he studied were used.
A variation of the arms is displayed inside the church.
Photos by Wikipedia Users Tilman2007 and DALIBRI
This painting on one of the walls appears to depict a group of Black Moors.
Some people swear that the Moors were not Black people. They maintain that the Moors did not have dark skin and they were not Africans. We can see for ourselves how the typical Moor was supposed to look.
In his 1893 Handbook of Heraldry, British antiquarian John Edwin Cussans (1837-1899) wrote that the image of a 'Blackamoor' was synonymous with that of the Moor and the Saracen, and was always identified by its peculiar 'tincture' or color.
Whenever we see a Moor, we can expect that the color of their skin is the first thing that distinguishes the Moor from other human figures. Their skin is dark. They are so dark, in fact, that they are referred to as "Black." Like the Saracens we read about in the Song of Roland, these Moors with 'broad' noses, 'flat' ears, and skin blacker than 'ink' came to Europe from the 'cursed land' down below. Those 'heretics' were from a place known to the early Christians of Europe as 'Ethiopia.'
Thus, the Moor in the world of heraldry is a Black African man or a Black African woman. 'Nuff said. Moving on...
The "Mohrenbrunnen" is a fountain in Eisenberg, a town of the Saale-Holzland district in the German state of Thuringia. It is THE official landmark of Eisenberg.
As you might already suspect, there is more to this Moor than meets the eye.
The Eisenberg coat of arms consists of a tiled golden city wall with a rigid gate tower and a closed gate. Behind the wall on either side of the main tower are two side towers with red bell-shaped roofs. Between the "Mohrenrumpf" and the shield is a golden helmet enveloped by a blue ribbon. The head of the Moor is wearing a white bandage over his eyes and faces left.
The significance of the Moor is contained in a local legend passed down through generations.
As the story goes, at some point in the 16th century, a Moor was brought to the city by a crusader. He was presented to the duke's wife and he became her personal servant.
One day, the duke's wife lost her chain and its pendant containing a precious jewel. The Moor was accused of stealing it and he was sentenced to decapitation. Shortly before his execution, the countess found the alleged stolen property in her Bible and sent a messenger to the place of execution just in time, so that the innocent man was spared. In order to restore his honor, from that time forward, his head, with the blindfolded eyes, decorated the town's coat of arms.
The blindfold was worn on the occasion of his punishment. Thus, in heraldry, the Moor, when blindfolded, is a pitiful creature, condemned to die. By Christian mores, his own sinful nature is enough to make him guilty, like any man.
But he was not just any man. He was a Black man. His own skin was scarcely tolerable when held to the color of the law. The fate of the Black man awaited him.
This rhetorical suggestion is tucked deep inside "The Good Book"...in Jeremiah 13:23 (And as I imagine, her majesty's treasure marked the very page where she was least likely to find it.):
Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil?
Soon after mounting the scaffold, the Moor's vision is his first connection to the physical world to go. He can lust no more. Greed and covetousness flee from his heart. But he can sense all the more that death is at the door. The priest issues the last rites. He whispers something of a world to come. Right then, the doubts begin to settle in. There is very little left for that poor soul to do in those final moments, but to have faith. The substance of things hoped for, the evidence that no one in this society can see (Hebrews 11:1). Surely, there must be some evidence forthcoming, which can prove his innocence. Surely, there must be a God. The matter was settled in every fiber of his being when at last, he was at peace.
We return to the arms of Eisenberg. The wall, the gate and the three towers on the "Stadtwappen" (the city's coat of arms) stand for unity and strength. The head is a reminder of the freedom, which was granted to the Moor as reparation for the government's false accusation against him. As a symbol of the city, the Moor extends that promise of mercy to all people who are honest in the eyes of God and of the law.
The message is that everyone - even the Moor - deserves a second chance.
Here is a similar coat of arms representing the county of Castelmoron-sur-Lot in Southwest France. Again, we see the head of a Moor surmounting a castle.
This seal was reproduced by a French archivist using Microsoft Paint.
Here is his rendition of the seal of the French island of Corsica and its communes (or counties).
Notice that the bandanna is now lifted from the eyes and rests on the forehead as a headband. At last, the countess is standing there at the base of the scaffold, struggling to catch her breath. The blade stops short of that dusky neck. The blindfold is removed. The grateful Moor can see once more. His eyes come to rest upon the open Bible. It is a book he has seen many times before. But this time, as he gazes inside, with the eyes of Paul after the Damascus Road experience (Acts 9:1-22), the sinner sees the treasure of God's salvation. The sight that welcomes him is an affirmation of his faith. He is now a true believer. Freedom is within reach.
Some Moors were depicted without the bandanna altogether. These were Christian converts. The life they once led was no more.
In Christianity, baptism is not simply a death, burial, and resurrection of the same person to pick up where they left off. It is meant to be a rebirth. This, I believe, is the reason we see a close association with the Moor and water as with the fountain at Eisenberg. No doubt about it: if he was not yet "clean," that Moor was sure to make it official the very same day.
When he rose from the watery grave, his skin was as Black as the day God made it, but the tattered trappings of his sins were washed away.
At the old market fountain of Obergünzburg in Germany's largest state, Bavaria, is a site dubbed the "Mohrenbuale." A group of locals started to compile research on the statue's history. They concluded that the original statue was supposed to represent The Virgin Mary, but at some point in 1811, when the Bavarian government undertook to renew their official seal after a design from 1513, that model was "misinterpreted" as a Moor.
The reason was obvious: the emblem they had chosen featured a human head with a dark complexion.
Since 1951, the municipality has been using the coat of arms in its historically (or politically) correct form.
No doubt, she has plenty of secrets to tell. At one point in time, the beautiful market square had been the site of a penitentiary.
Vectorized By Wikipedia User Gliwi
Here is the coat of Obergünzburg, the municipality where the statue is located. (As seen on their official website)
Obergünzburg has been a market since 1407.
The arms were granted in the year 1541.
The House of Bavarian History explains further...
The shield is split, the front half is divided by red and blue, and in the back half is the portrait of Hildegard, the second wife of Charlemagne, over three wave beams. She is the founder of the Kempten Abbey.
The wavebeams indicate Obergünzburg's location at the fork of the Günz river.
Coat of arms of the imperial abbey of Kempten
Vectorized By Wikipedia User Demidow
According to German archivist Klemens Stadler of the Institute for East Bavarian Homeland Research, St. Hildegard is the patron saint of the Abbey and the town. In the new 1813 coat of arms, the halo was supposedly mistaken for hair, the woman's cleavage disappeared, and the head of a Moor stood alone in the shield over three waves. At that time, the colors were red and silver.
In 1950, the 1561 coat of arms was rediscovered, containing "a clear imprint" of the seal of Obergünzburg, as it had been documented since 1541.
The most recent (2007) restoration of the statue, made of solid bronze, and painted with with medium-brown skin, is undoubtedly the figure of a Black African child.
Here we see the original coat of arms from a scrapbook of heraldric images published by the German coffee company Kaffee Hag in the 1920s.
He published two editions under the title "Die Deutschen Ortswappen" (The German Coats of Arms).
The first one was published between 1913 and 1918. Over 700 pictures representing the Kingdoms of Bavaria, Preussen, and Prussia were organized with 9 coats of arms on every page.
The second edition was published between 1927 and 1938.
In total, 2811 out of 3010 known arms were represented. (Each series was interrupted by the outbreaks of the First and Second World Wars.)
By the time of his death, Hupp was responsible for some 10,000 works of art. 60% of them were heraldric figures for labeling postage stamps, bank notes, posters, plaques, bottles, and ceramics.
Here are some other examples of Hupp's designs...
This is a bookplate.
It was used to label the front of a book with the name of the owner.
These pages are from The heraldic books of the Arlberg, an encyclopedia of German heraldry Hupp published in 1937. The book is based on a Medieval manuscript from Austria, which is kept in the National Archives.
Here are some wine labels:
This sketch was made for a vineyard in the German town of Oppenheim:
Oppenheim is still a well-known center of winemaking.
Today, it is home to the German Winegrowing Museum.
This stamp represents the municipality of Cornol in Switzerland. More research is needed to uncover the significance of the design.
The ruling Tockler family of Strullendorf village in Bamberg, Germany also used three Moors' heads for their arms. The arms of the Spanish governor Christofore de Mandragon (1504-1596) featured three Moors' heads wearing red turbans in one corner and dueling dragons in another. Dutch mariner Jacob Le Maire (1585-1616) had two sets of crowned Moors' heads on his crest as did the Dutch mayor of Nijmegen, Pieter Moorrees (1546-1614). Moorrees' Moors were similar to those shown above. Again, the significance is unclear. It is common to see items of heraldry grouped in threes (for example: bishops, trees, horns, castles, stars, hearts, shells, etc).
Portrait of Jacob le Maire holding a map of the "Maire Strait," which he discovered
(Source: National Maritime Museum of the Netherlands)
One of Hupp's Moors is wearing shining armor and holding a banner. Both the breastplate and the banner are emblazoned with a red cross.
The halo identifies the knight as a saint. The shield with the white phoenix is reminiscent of the double-headed eagle of the Holy Roman Empire, which the White kings and knights of Europe were also known to wield. The red cross is that of Saint George. All signs point to the Moor's identity as Saint Maurice, the patron saint of the Holy Roman Empire. His association with the Mühlhofen district in Germany is due to the fact that the Kingdom of Germany was the largest territory of the empire and for most of its existence, the ruler held the titles of Holy Roman Emperor and King of Germany.
Here's some more images from the German Kaffee Hag albums and from the Wapen-Sammlung collection, which was published in Thuringia, Germany...
Another family, the Testards, used the image of a Moor as their trademark. This 1845 insignia was derived from the original banner they made to represent the village they ruled in modern-day Belgium from the 9th century until the 14th century.
There is no information available on the meaning behind this one apart from the fact that it is identified with a location in the Swiss city of Solothurn.
Likewise, there is no information provided for this coat, except that it represents a municipality in Switzerland.
These Moors remind me of another coat which belonged to the Pucci family of Italy.
Facebook post by the travelling historian Runoko Rashidi
The profile of a ring in the V & A museum bears a striking resemblance to this style with a 16th century "sardonyx cameo carved in the form of two superimposed African figures." That cameo is part of a wider genre of art jewelry, which boasts as its classic exemplar the Drake Jewel.
The Drake Jewel was a courtesy from the Queen of England, Elizabeth I (1533-1603) to the sea captain and slave trader Sir Francis Drake (c. 1540-1596) for his gift of another jewel composed of ebony wood, Mexican gold, and African diamonds - all of which he gathered during his 1577-1580 expedition around the Earth.
The front of the Drake Jewel features a portrait of the queen. On the back is a sardonyx cameo of an African king superimposed upon the image of a European emperor. Taken on a whole, the Drake Jewel was the glorification of a blooming alliance between White people and Black people against the domineering presence of the Spanish in Africa and in the Americas.
For African monarchs, their working relationship with England was mostly along the lines of diplomacy. There was also the prospect of liberation in their struggle against a common enemy. For English monarchs, it meant that they were partners in conquest. For English capitalists like Sir Drake and his African counterparts, they were partners in business.
In theory, the Black man had a place of honor on the front lines of this "revolution." He is prominently displayed at the forefront of Drake's jewel - a token. It is only natural for us to interpret this relic as exceptional in the context of its time.
Among the most impressionable of contenders for the highlight reel of art history, Drake's dime piece masquerades before our Black intelligentsia as a shining spectacle of racial equality. The bulk of our articles on the subject of this jewel and other artifacts decorated with Moorish men, Moorish women, Moorish boys, and Moorish girls, reads like a lost catalog of love letters from a serial stalker. "Look at these powerful portrayals of the Black people who ruled Europe. O how they loved us!" Are these images representations of Black people? Yes. But the question we ought to ask ourselves is this: Were they intended as positive affirmations of Blackness?
Knowing it has as many faces as it has lies, I am still tempted to ask every now and then whether there are two histories of White supremacy or just the one. The old fool pops out that same jack-in-the-box every single year. Each time, without fail, the same tune plays when we crank the box. Each time the music stops, we see the same clown we were always expecting. Are we actually praying for a Black one next time? As for me, I have faith in the irony that at some point, the fool becomes the clown. This is a textbook example of Stockholm Syndrome. That clown was not your friend in medieval times or in the time of slavery.
400 years later, we should know better!
In theory, the literal plunder of a people is not carved into the jewel's surface. So sure, in theory, we could choose to take Drake's jewel at face value.
But in practice, that pendant was a medal for a monster, a toast to tyranny, and now, bait for a buffoon. That snugly scene we see depicted there was not a bromance, but a tragedy in the usual Shakespearean sense. There was no happy ending to this story - no Romeo and Juliet, no Othello and Desdemona. You can call it fate. You can call it whatever you'd like. Neither Romeo, nor Othello were in control of their situation. All along, it was the will of Lord Capulet. It was the strategy of Iago. It was just another opportunity for the man behind the scenes.
These arms represent a town called Avenches in Switzerland.
Curiously, the crude caricature of the Moor appears in one variation with an earring and with a pearl necklace.
The arms as they appeared on a Dutch trading card (c. 1910)
Like many other coats, this Moor started out as a White man.
The description offers a plausible explanation for this change:
Only on the seal of 1564, the head was changed into a Moor, probably based on some legends regarding Saracens in the region. The arms have not changed since.
Although African communities are known to have existed at significant proportions in places like London, Lisbon, and Amsterdam, a Black man would have a hard time sneaking around the more sparsely populated regions of Western Europe, where it seems that any news of a Moor made the headlines.
In 1526, "a well-known saracen" was brought to Mariëngaard, a Frisian monastery on the Dutch coast. The priests heralded his arrival as "a miracle." The real miracle was that somehow, his image found its way onto the arms of an island village 35 miles away.
Let's Review...Shall We?
So far, we have learned that the earliest coats of arms were created by various clans and passed on to the cities and states under their control.
We also learned that the artists were inspired by sightings of actual Moors. Could it be that some of these Moors were members of the ruling families or at least living under the same roof?
The items they wear may have been gifts from the families with whom they were associated.
The Testards, Puccis, and Medicis held power at a time when hundreds of thousands of Moors occupied Southern Europe. Moorish dynasties ruled Spain and Portugal. In addition to these countries, 'large groups' of Moors occupied sections of France, Switzerland, and Italy. All throughout the 10th century, the entire island of Sicily was dominated by the Moors.*
Just how much of Europe did they conquer? Professor of Oriental Studies Ursula Spuler-Stegemann, buries the hatchet in her native Germany.
Against this background, it should come as no surprise that we see ruling families with Moors on their seals.
Moors fleeing their war-torn territories in Southern lands may have sought refuge in lands to the North.
It is likely that, as with the Eisenberg Moor, some arrived as prisoners and were sold as slaves. British scholars attest to their presence in England and in Ireland as early as the 9th century - the result of a perilous passage by way of Viking excursions along the coasts of Spain and North Africa.
The precious items bestowed upon them, as seen in heraldic art and in early portraits, suggest that they were adopted into wealthy households and communities.
This Moor was borrowed from the arms of the German counts of Wolfskeel, who, along with the monks, 'owned substantial parts of the district.'
She wears nothing but a skirt of leaves to hide "the shame" of her nakedness. Despite this evidence of a free conscience, the earring signifies a sense of belonging. The position of the left arm suggests an attitude of entitlement. The right arm, extending the bouquet of flowers, further emphasizes a sense of endearment towards her adopted clan.
UK historian Michael Ohajuru explains that the gold and silver earrings hint at some level towards servitude. In many portraits from this period, we find Black men, women, and children posed as domestic servants. However, the service of conquered Moors did not stop at physical labor.
Historian of the African diaspora, Mario de Valdes y Cocom, points to the Bible for further context. Passages associating the piercing of the ears with slavery are found in Exodus 21:6 and Deuteronomy 15:17, which state that if a slave chooses to stay with his master after the term of his service, "his master shall bore his ear through with an aul; and he [the slave] shall serve him for ever." In a religious sense, the earring was a symbol of loyalty to God and to the church of Rome.
Ultimately, it was the conversion of the Moorish communities from Islam to Christianity, which facilitated their integration into White European society. The motif of the Moor in European heraldry was based on a European perspective of the Moors. The headbands they wore symbolized the vestiges of their past life, wandering endlessly in a state of darkness or confusion.
All their life, they had been slaves to sin. As adherents to a "false" religion, they had been subjected to a "lower" plane of existence. Their new master was the God of Christian Europe. Jesus would be their guide.
As they were exposed to "the truth," the veil was lifted from their eyes. For a time, it remained upon their brow as a testament to the trials they would endure on the path to full-fledged enlightenment. The headband was their crown of thorns. It was used as a symbol of God's mercy for the undeserving, but repentant thief on the cross, Saint Dismas, during the final moments of his crucifixion.
As it were, the Moor with the headband is suspended in a sort of purgatory, a testing phase in the process of his transition to a better place.
The clashing of swords was over, but he was still in a struggle on a psychological front - a jihad, a spiritual crusade. That headband was a helmet of salvation (Ephesians 6:17) to guard the mind against the suggestions of Satan - former imaginations and temptations.
Any impurities were sure to soil a white cloth black.
When the new Moor was ready, he would trade in that filthy rag for a robe of righteousness and a crown of glory. This crown was a badge of honor and a token of thanks for his continued service to the empire.
This Moor was the symbol of Möhringen, a city in what is now the German state of Baden-Württemberg in the district of Tuttlingen. The city itself was established in the late 13th century. Dr. Stadler states that the arms were authorized in 1470 by then Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III (1415-1493). Almost immediately, the symbol of the Moor was used to brand everything.
The crowned head of a Moor was the symbol of Bayern. In 1819, the head was replaced by a shield with the traditional colors of the city.
Stadler explains that this Moor was the symbol of Freising's bishophood from the time of the 7th century saint Corbinianus. Freising was a state ruled by a bishops and it was one of these bishops who first established the arms in 1407.
This head is in the same chapter of Hupp's series (the Bayern chapter). The design follows a similar pattern but with more feminine contours and added pearls of gold. Stadler records that when it first appeared in the 13th century, the figure was that of a White man with a beard. The man was stripped of his beard in the 14th century and he was made Black around the same time the pearls showed up (circa 1560).
As profiled in my previous article on this subject, the Freising Moor is most famously incorporated into the arms of Joseph Ratzinger (a.k.a. Pope Benedict XVI). A native of Germany, Ratzinger served as the archbishop of Freising before he became the head of the Roman Catholic Church.
The arms of a village in Austria reinterpreted the streaks of blood under the stump of the neck as a red collar and a red shirt (as seen below). We can also see the keys of Heaven and Earth - a Catholic tradition which establishes Saint Peter as the first pope.
Sankt Peter am Kammersberg
The arms for the Balkan states of Europe are grim in comparison. For the arms of Livno, a city in Bosnia-Herzegovina (formerly Yugoslavia), the handles of the keys appear to be the heads of Moorish kings. The Moor representing the Serbian village of Berkasovo, appears poised to stab a bishop.
Oberwölz Stadt, another municipality of Austria, displayed the Freising Moor as the legitimate ruler of a large castle. This is much different from the coats that show a younger Moor as a subject of the court. The Bishop of Freising ruled over the Murau district, which included both Sankt Peter am Kammersberg and Oberwölz Stadt, until 1803.
The counts of the German town of Kirchberg featured a Black queen holding the mitre (headdress) of a bishop on their arms.
The Freising Moor originated in Germany.
That same Moor is on quite a few coats from Slovenia and Austria. The crowned head is usually seen floating above a castle or suspended inside the gate.
The Freising Moor also appears on the oldest surviving original of a roll of arms, which is currently housed at the National Museum of Switzerland.
Panoramic view of the Zurich Roll of Arms
Thanks to the work of Swiss historians Heinrich Runge (1817-1883), Walther Merz (1868-1938), and Friedrich Hegi (1878-1930) with the Antiquarian Society in Zurich, nearly all of the arms on the roll have been identified.
The Moor of Mandach is derived from the arms of 'the medieval lords' who ruled that Swiss municipality. Sometimes he was naked and sometimes, the Mandachian Moor wore a pearl necklace.
I couldn't help but notice that Hupp's version is eerily reminiscent of the blackface caricatures of the American South. (I mean...if that wasn't the look they were going for, did they even try?)
Here's more from the roll...
These artists scarcely paid much attention to detail when it came to the image of the Moor. As the Moor was the historical enemy of Christian Europe, the Blackamoor was a thing to hate and to fear.
An ugly Moor left nothing to desire. When he first laid eyes on the Moorish multitude, legend has it that even Roland, the commander of the French army, began to tremble, for he saw only death in their faces.
It has been a running joke in several European countries since the Middle Ages that a Moor was a scary sight. The Moorish minions of Sinterklaas still chase Dutch children away every Christmas.
(I can't lie. The art here is convincing. If I saw some of these weirdos coming for me, I would run, too!)
According to an encyclopedia on German cities and their arms, the three towers of Zwickau first appeared in the 13th century, then the swans in the 14th century. The final design was made in 1560.
Like the coat we saw at the beginning of the article, the Pappenheim arms show the head of a Moor resting on top of a helmet.
The original symbol from first half of the 14th century was that of a White European but it was replaced by a Moor in 1340. In the 1700s, the helmet was removed.
The traditional emblem of the counts of Pappenheim was a female Moor. They ruled the city from 1438 to 1621.
Here are the arms of both Pappenheim and Coburg as they appear in the German Coat of Arms Museum. These designs were carved from wood and painted by hand as close to the originals as possible.
The Moor as a Weapon
Even as we acknowledge the Swiss, German, and Dutch archivists for preserving these materials of our shared heritage, we cannot afford to forget the efforts of the Jamaican historian Joel Augustus Rogers (1880-1966) in this field.
It was his research which exposed the Black image in European heraldry to the Black masses like never before. J. A. Rogers opened the floodgates for Black researchers to investigate further. Many who have opened his Nature Knows No Color Line: Research into the Negro Ancestry in the White Race, first published in 1952, discovered a world of mysteries. Rogers helped us, as a people, to recognize that there was more to our history than we would ever learn from mainstream academia. Within even the White record of European history were scattered imprints of a Black element.
Rogers stressed that there was a time prior to World War II when Blackness had a different connotation than it does now. As Nazism swept across Europe, it left in its wake entire communities divided along ethnic lines.
Entire families still bore the names of Moreau, Morel, Schwartz, Schwarzmann, Saraz, Sarrasin, Noir, and Negre, which identified them with a more tolerant era. J. A. Rogers discovered that many individuals with these surnames had Moors in their family crests. In a 1987 study published in the journal Arabica, Dutch professor of Islamic and Arabic studies Kees Versteegh confirmed that these names are most concentrated in areas where the Moors once occupied and appear less frequently outside of those places. This is particularly true of Switzerland.
Rogers' book contains some of the same heads featured here in this article. A diligent researcher, Rogers must have seen the blood and the gore, but he chose to highlight the fact that many of these Moors were also dignified with the costumes of kings, angels, or bishops.
He drew a connection between these families and the Moors themselves, claiming in no uncertain terms that these families were 'of Negro ancestry.'
Some Negroes who were not only favorites of royalty but bore the family name of their kingly patrons, became founders of noble families.
The most famous examples of Moorish royalty in Europe are of Sophia Charlotte (1744-1818), who served as queen of England and Ireland, and Alessandro de' Medici (1510-1537), who served as the first duke of Florence.
Queen Charlotte was descended from the de Sousa family line of Portugal, which is purported to have had Black blood. This bloodline was the result of an affair (a tryst as told by Valdes) between the 13th-century ruler Alfonso III and his Moorish mistress Madragana. It was the 16th century Portuguese royal chronicler Duarte Nunes de Leão (c. 1530-1608) who first recorded Madragana's African ancestry.
Alessandro was born to a Black servant woman named Simonetta da Collavechio and either 17-year-old Lorenzo di Piero de' Medici (1492-1519), who later ruled Florence, or Italian cardinal Giulio de Medici (1478-1534), who later became Pope Clement VII.
Indeed, the Moors took the name of their The descendants of those which claimed the Moors as part of their own family were proud of their heritage.
Adolf Hitler and his Third Reich (Empire) ventured into every aspect of German society. Promising to purge Germany of corruption, Hitler corrupted Germany. Even these images of Black people, which represented German districts and German dynasties for hundreds of years, were deemed unnatural, inharmonious, and alien to German culture. In pursuit of an Aryan construct, iconoclasm, and thus, historical revisionism, was the rule of the day. Thus, if we take the definition of a holocaust to mean "destruction on a massive scale," it is fair to say that Germany and its territories experienced not only a holocaust of the present, but a holocaust of the past.
In Mein Kamf, Hitler referred to Black people in the worst of terms. Rogers wrote that Hitler's Negro was a "half-ape."
This, however, is far from being the opinion of pre-Hitler Germany if one is to judge by the various monuments and pictures of Negroes in German museums and other public places.
From the Wappen-Sammlung collection (1900)
City Hall of Coburg
Photos by Wikipedia Users Storfix and Buonasera
Racists like Hitler denied any evidence they encountered which affirmed Black influence and affluence in world civilizations.
Hitler understood Germany to be a center of influence in Europe beginning with the time of Otto the Great, who aspired to unify the German tribes into one kingdom and became the first German king to rule the Holy Roman Empire. For Hitler, the golden age of German influence was during the imperial rule of the Hapsburg dynasty - a period of over 400 years. He boasted that in medieval times, 'all genuine artistic inspiration came from the German section of the population.' By contrast, all that "Negroes" had ever inspired in Germany was 'artistic trash.' If everything we have reviewed so far constitutes this heap of trash Hitler was referring to, then all of Germany is a garbage dump!
Sights around the city of Coburg
J. A. Rogers tells us:
In almost every German art gallery are pictures by great artists of “The Adoration of Magi,” one of who is invariably depicted as a Negro.
In order to maintain his credibility, Hitler would need to remove as much of these proofs as possible from the view of the German public. To accomplish his purpose would require full access to the seats of state and municipal governments, the halls of architectural planning, and the lecterns of the cathedrals, the libraries, and the publishing houses. As the autarch (absolute monarch) of his own empire, Hitler had all of these institutions at his disposal. Yet, not a meager few of these proofs persist, but hundreds and, perhaps thousands remain in Germany alone. (I have seen no Moors in the Coffee Hag albums for the British Isles, Mainland France, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Poland, or Czechoslovakia.)
For using the swastika as his own symbol, Hitler was none the wiser. This emblem, which he personally commissioned as one of the most organic symbols of German identity, was not in any sense unique to Germany. 80 years later, it is most widely recognized for its association with the ideology of a people who carried it on their flags and on their persons as they murdered millions in cold blood.
Hitler's swastika sketch of 1920 with the remark: 'The holy signs of the Teutons. One of these signs should be raised again by us.'
Scanned from Black Sun: Unleashing and misuse of the myths in National Socialism and Right Esotericism (1999)
The original is in the archive of the Bavarian State Ministry of Finance in Munich, Germany.
(Source: Wikipedia Commons)
When we ponder the nature of humanity, its givings and misgivings, can we continue to take from the canvas of history and to make the same mistakes? Can we afford another Hitler? Those who choose to ignore this critical chapter of their education only do a disservice to themselves. Can we expect to gain a full understanding of our world if we are partial to its history? Can we truly appreciate a culture unless we study that culture and its relevance (how it relates to what we hold to be familiar)?
Today, we would refer to Hefner and Hupp as graphic artists. In this day and age, their designs would qualify as potential logos for major corporations.
This last coat of arms offers to provide more context for some of the Moor's head imagery we have already seen. It comes closest to that "mistaken" sign on the market fountain in Obergünzburg. There is a decapitated trophy head with blood streaming from the edges (as opposed to a star). The halo around the head suggests that this person was a martyred saint - someone who gave their life as a sacrifice for the cause of Christ. In many cases, it has been suggested that the Blackamoor in European heraldry is a representation of Christ himself (as with the Dutch village of Marken).
The official version, compared to Hupp's, is less controversial. We see a "bishop" between two towers, which are 'flanked by two small escutcheons,' each with a head on it. The pattern on the shields represents the Archdiocese of Magdeburg, Germany. From this information, we can deduce that the man who stands in the gate of the city must be the archbishop.
The Moor is Saint Maurice, who was recognized as the patron saint of Magdeburg.** Since the year 1389, the city of Aken was part of the State of Magdeburg. This is how the Moor of Magdeburg made it into the arms of the city. According to legend, Maurice laid down his life for God. For refusing to worship anyone but the Christian God, he was beheaded.
Maurice suffered a terrible fate, but the memory of his sacrifice lives on. The Moor of Magdeburg is not blind to the light of truth. The eyes are wide open. There is even a slight smile. This Moor was no slave. In this case, the decapitated Moor represented an undying loyalty to the Christian faith.
Again, all of this makes sense when we consider the history of the Crusades against the Moors. Some Moors had a chance to "make it right" with God while others died in their "sins."
According to legend, the Lord of Berthout from Flanders (Northern Belgium) was awarded a crest (the Van Berchem family crest) for his victories against the Moors. On that crest, the torso of a Moor sat on top of a helmet, just as we have seen in several other coats of arms.
In the collection of the Bavarian National Museum is a golden goblet in the shape of a Moor's head. This artifact from the late 16th century follows a tradition in which human skulls representing relics of the saints were used as drinking vessels. The head and its designs were taken directly from the arms of the Florentine Pucci and Strozzi families. In certain African cultures, objects such as these were made from the skulls of conquered enemies.
The arms of Sardinia and Corsica in alliance.
From Insularum Sardinæ et Corsicæ by Frederik de Wit (1721-’78)
(Credit: Hubert de Vries/The Red Lion)
Dutch researcher Ralf Hartemink, who compiled the Heraldry of the World archive, seems to think that in the case of the French island of Corsica and the Italian island of Sardinia, the heads were not meant to be taken literally.
The legend of the Moor's head derives from the practice of cutting off the head of a defeated chieftain. This the Genoans did to [Corsican soldier Sampiero Corso (1498-1567)]. Pope Boniface VIII, in 1297, who was the lord of the island, gave Corse and Sardinia to Jaime II, King of Aragón. He then placed three Moor's heads with bandages over their eyes in his Corsican arms. Sardinia bore four. They were shown sable for heraldic reasons and were not meant to represent Negroes heads.
Massimo Ghirardi, a founding member of the Heraldic Cooperative, a group of researchers dedicated to the documentation of Italian civic heraldry, explains that a story in a collection of folktales, Legends of the Corsican country by the local historian Jacques-Antoine Giustiniani (1867-1937), identifies the Moor of the islands as 'an ancient Saracen character named Mansour Ben Ismaïl.'
As the story goes, a young girl from the city of Aléria off the Eastern coast of France, was kidnapped by pirates and sold as slave to the King of Grenada in Spain. She was freed by her boyfriend Paolo and together, they sailed to Corsica.
Full of anger, the king ordered his lieutenant Mohamed Mansour to bring his prisoner alive or dead. A flotilla then sailed for Cyrnos. Mansour and his men landed at Piana, crossed the Vico region, sacking and killing everyone in their path, and finally managed to get to Aleria.
It is alleged that when the George Washington of Corsica, Pasquale Paoli (1725-1807), assumed power, it was he who moved the bandanna above the eyes 'to symbolize the liberation of the people's hearts.'
...having a strip of cloth coiled around the forehead would represent "the free man", who earns himself bread with the sweat of his forehead.
Some historians dismiss these theories altogether. They believe instead that the blinded Moors came to the islands from Spain since they first appear on a seal of King James' father, Peter III (c. 1239-1285) in 1281. (For more on how the image of the Moor was used throughout the history of the islands, I highly recommend this article by Dutch researcher Hubert de Vries.)
In any case, the history of the Crusades was one of great violence. Christians and Muslims fought to the death over land and they marked their territories as they saw fit. The victories of the Christian armies against the Moors were a cause for centuries of celebration. The coating of their heroes' armor was immortalized as a reminder of their valiance in defense of their people.
The terms "armorials" and "weapons" are used interchangeably with "coats of arms." The English Classical scholar George Long (1800-1879) explains that from the time of Homer, shields used in regular combat bore 'the first traces of the armorial bearings of more modern times.'
Shields were used to document memorable events and to distinguish one army from another. The 'exquisite workmanship' of a shield also served another important purpose: psychological warfare.
In Greek Mythology, after Perseus traveled to Libya and severed the head of Medusa with her hair of snaking curls, he wielded the head as a lethal weapon. Perseus traveled first to Ethiopia, then he used it in battles all over North Africa in what is now Algeria, Morocco. and Tunisia. Medusa was so hideous that one look at her face was enough to end your life. Later on, Athena, the goddess of war, used the head as her breastplate and shield.
Does this story about an ugly head sound familiar?
The quest of Perseus is analogous to the crusades against the Moors. As they rallied to war with the Arabs and their North African allies, the armies of Europe branded their equipment with severed heads to foreshadow the ultimate defeat of the Moors. Thus, these symbols were deeply offensive. Like the trademark skull and crossbones that pirates used for their flags, the Moors heads served as a warning of certain doom.
Those who survived the battlefield were baptized into the Christian faith. By default, the Moriscos, as converts from Islam were called, became formidable allies against the threat to Christian Europe. The ensigns of the shields once used for defense still bear the impress of Europe's greatest defenders.
The Moor in the Age of Revolution
A literary party at Sir Joshua Reynolds'
D. George Thompson
(Source: The Hyde Collection via Wikipedia)
An image map of this painting is available here.
The ideals of the Corsican independence struggle against the tyranny of the Genoese were the same Enlightenment ideals of democracy that inspired the Sons of Liberty and the leaders of the American Revolution.
Paoli is seated in the fourth seat from the right side of the table.
Just outside the circle of luminaries on the far left, sits Paoli's biographer, James Boswell (1740-1795). Boswell recorded these words in the introduction to his 1769 Account of Corsica:
Liberty is so natural and so dear to mankind, whether as individuals or as members of society, that it is indispensably necessary to our happiness. Everything great and worthy ariseth from it. Liberty gives health to the mind, and enables us to enjoy the full exercise of our faculties.
For Boswell, freedom was the natural state of man and any inclination towards slavery was an 'artificial sentiment.' This freedom was an inalienable right, which was 'implanted by God and Nature.'
Boswell's philosophy is similar in all respects to that of Thomas Jefferson, which would be espoused in his Declaration of Independence 7 years later.
There was no justification in the 'confinement and subjection' of the masses under 'the arbitrary will of a few.'
Such doctrine as this could never have gained any ground, had it been addressed to calm reason alone.
The people of Europe and America were accustomed to the system of monarchy for so long that it was widely accepted as the natural order. But thanks to the Stamp Act of 1765, which levied taxes on the Thirteen Colonies, coupled with the rise of the bourgeoisie in France and the Ascendancy in Ireland, there was a growing sense of disillusionment on both sides of the Atlantic. When Boswell visited Corsica, he saw in that island 'a resolute nation' and 'a most distinguished example' that the spirit of liberty was alive and well in his time.
These valiant islanders were for a long time looked upon as an inconsiderable band of malcontents, as a disorderly troop of rebels, who would speedily be compelled to resume those chains which they had forwardly shaken off.
The Corsican revolution was essentially the first great revolution at a time in history referred to by British historian Eric Hobsbawm (1917-2012) as the "Age of Revolutions."
Boswell called the Corsicans 'a heroic race of patriots.'
They were brave indeed. For after they succeeded in their efforts to oust the Genoese in 1755, the Corsican people faced the imperial army of France in 1768.
Eventually, with the odds stacked against them, Corsica was crushed the following year.
Boswell relates that Corsica was 'the property' of the Phoenicians, the Etruscans, the Carthaginians, the Romans, the Goths, and the Moors, in that order, before the island nation fell to France.
When the power of the Saracens rose to that height, of which we read with amazement, they drove the Goths from Corsica, and maintained the dominion there for a considerable time.
After the Moors lost control of Corsica, they continued to occupy certain parts of the island. The natives, who longed for complete independence, allied themselves with a nobleman sent by the pope and together, they drove out the last of the Moors. The Moors left for Africa in a rage and as they went, they burned everything they built for the people of Corsica - 'their ancient monuments and public archives.'
For a period of nearly 800 years, Moorish Europe was a beacon of Enlightenment. 250 years later, the Moor returned as a symbol of rebellion.
Apart from the short-lived Republic of Corsica, the Republic of Haiti remains the only group of islanders to successfully liberate themselves from foreign rule. They did so in a shorter period of time and with less resources at their disposal. Furthermore, the Haitians prevailed against the same empire that brought Corsica under submission. If the Corsican Revolution was glorious, the Haitian Revolution was divine.
The Moor of Corsica foreshadowed the birth of the first free Black-led republic. The army of Napoleon, himself a native of Corsica, raised in the cult of the Corsican resistance movement, was no match for the Moor of Haiti.
The Meaning of the Moor in Our Time
As we examine all of these symbols rooted in a time of war and division, they compel us as a people to re-examine our own standing in society. How does the Western world view Black people today? How do they picture these strangers from a faraway land?
And what about us?
How do WE picture the districts, cities, towns, and clans that these symbols represented, and in some cases, continue to represent?
There was a time when our brothers and our sisters were hanged on their trees and stomped in their streets.
Are we still blindfolded by white illusions or are our eyes open to the state of our social and political affairs?
Are we wearing the crowns of our own making or are we the figurehead of another castle?
Who are we shining for? Are we the winners or are we the trophies and ornaments?
Are we guiding our own destiny or is the system riding our saddle?
Are we masters of mobility or are we mascots of minstrelsy?
Are we champions of change or are we cheerleaders in our own oppression?
I don't know about you, but like the Christian minister and human rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968), and in the words of that old Moorish spiritual, I long for the day when all of God's children will be able to join hands and sing:
"Free at Last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
*post emended to reflect the full extent of the Moorish occupation of Europe.
Special Thanks to BRC member De'Shone Lamb for lighting the spark for further research on the presence of the Moors in the Southern regions of France, Switzerland, Italy, and all of Sicily.
**post updated on 12/01/2019 with the meaning behind the Moor on the Aken coat of arms.
Scientific Researcher, Independent Historian, and Co-Founder of Black Research Central
Manual Theoretical and practical heraldry with constant reference to the other historical auxiliary sciences (1861) by Otto Titan von Hefner
Heraldic original pattern book for artists, builders, seal engravers, heraldic painters, sculptors, stonemasons... (1862) by Otto Titan von Hefner
Beer Stein Library - The Artistic Contribution of Otto Hupp to the Manufacture of Stoneware in Mettlach
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City of Eisenberg - Mohrensage
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Heraldry of the World - Kaffee Hag: Baden
Heraldry of the World - Corsica
Araldicacivica - Corsica
Heraldry Wiki - Heraldic books of St. Christoph on the Arlberg
Mayor of Eisenberg - Recast of the Main statute of the city Eisenberg / Thuringia
Bavarian State Ministry for Science and Art - Market Obergünzburg
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Omohundro Institute - Uncommon Sense, Spring 2004, no. 118
The Black Magus an Introduction by Michael Ohajuru
PBS - Sigillum Secretum (Secret Seal): On the image of the Blackamoor in European Heraldry
The Guardian - Was this Britain's first black queen?
Reviews in History (review no. 619) - Black Africans in Renaissance Europe (2005)
ChickenBones: A Journal for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes - Hitler and the Negro by J. A. Rogers
Nature Knows No Color-Line: Research into the Negro Ancestry in the White Race (1952) by J. A. Rogers
Arabica, T. 37, Fasc. 3 (Nov., 1990), pages 359-388
Spiegel Online - How Islam Came to Germany
The Penny Cyclopaedia of the Society for the Diffussion of Useful Knowledge, Volume 21 (1841) by Charles Knight
Ancient History Encyclopedia - Medusa
An account of Corsica, the journal of a tour to that island, and memoirs of Pascal Paoli (1769) by James Boswell
Black Research Central
In-Depth Info on History and Science from another perspective.