Middle-earth heraldry

Partly adapted from Forodrim article by Måns Björkman.

The Elves had formulated rules or principles for the shaping of heraldic devices, which can be summarized in the following way:

Origins and History


Heraldry of Middle-earth has nothing in common with the later medieval system of coat of arms. In medieval Europe, heraldry was connected with warfare: the knights needed a way to be easily recognizable on the battle-field, even in full armour. The heraldic devices thus had to be recognizable from a fair distance, invoking the necessity of stylized symbols and strict use of colours. Elvish heraldry, on the other hand, was not originally intended for warfare. Also, because the Elves had extremely good eyesight, there was no need to simplify or stylize their devices.

The Elvish rules of heraldry were followed by both the Noldor and the Sindar, and were adopted by the three houses of Men that became people of Númenor. The rules themselves were likely invented by the Noldor and perfected during the Wars of Beleriand. Many of the devices were possibly constructed posthumously. An exception was the hidden realm of Gondolin, where Turgon's followers developed unique heraldic customs of their own: Their emblazonry consisted of symbols set against a single-coloured background, and the shields they were applied to were "long and tapering". In Gondolin this heraldry was not used for personal devices, but applied to the devices of the "Twelve Houses".

A large number of Elvish heraldic devices are known from the preserved and published illustrations from Pictures By J.R.R. Tolkien (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1979).

Samples of Eldarin heraldry


Finwë. Finwe's heraldic device shows a "winged sun", opposing Elwë's device of a winged moon. Though Finwë actually died before the first rising of the sun, he was the king of the Noldor that reached the light of Aman and saw the Two Trees. Sixteen "points" reach the edges of the sign, signifying Finwe's position as one of the oldest of the Quendi and the High King of the Noldor. His bright yellow and red colours seem to be echoed in the devices of his heirs Fëanor, Fingolfin, and Finarfin.

There was also a similar device for Finwë's house, identical except for being tipped forty-five degrees to form a square. This was the device of the High Kings of the Noldor and descended from Finwë to his son Fingolfin and then on to Fingon and Turgon.

Elwë (Elu Thingol) had a similar decive, a "winged moon" on sable surrounded by stars. But Elwë got only eight "points" signifying kingship, instead of Finwë's sixteen.

Melian. The Queen of Doriath is given a complex device, very unlike any other male or female device. Within it both stars and flower-like shapes are found, reflecting both the devices of Elwë (her husband) and Lúthien (her daughter). It might also recall her seal, which was "a single flower of Telpërion". Within the circle that marks her as female is seen a lozenge, which is usually the escutcheon of male devices.

Fëanor. Fëanor's device shares the fiery colours of his father's device, and carries the connotation of fire further by having wavy flames that go from the centre outwards. These may be associated with Fëanor's name, but these flames are also found in Fingolfin's device. In the centre is the heraldic image of Silmaril, the greatest of Fëanor's creations. It is surrounded by a number of coloured fields, possibly representing the art of creating crystals, which he invented.

The Star of Fëanor. As seen on the west gate of Moria, the Star of Fëanor was apparently an emblem for all the followers of Fëanor. It was properly silver-coloured, and had eight rays and eight "spikes" which were arranged much in the same way as in Fëanor's heraldic device.

Fingolfin had a device distinctly related with his brothers, with the natural exception of the Silmaril. It had orange flames on yellow disc, with silver stars on dark blue background. Silver stars on blue were also used in Fingolfin's banners, as mentioned in the Silmarillion. Eight "points" reached the edges, as is the case with all the devices for the sons of Finwë.

Finarfin. Though sharing the "fiery" appearance of the devices of his father and brothers, the fire-rays in Finarfin's device are calmer, giving the device a more balanced appearance. Being distinctly set apart from the devices of his brothers, an inclination is perhaps made to the fact that he, at the rebellion of the Noldor, stayed in Aman, while his brothers proceeded to Middle-earth. This device was also used by Finarfin's heirs, and apparently especially Finrod Felagund.

Finrod Felagund was also given another device, drawn by the Men of the people of Bëor. It is distinctively nonsymmetrical like mannish devices tend to be: A silver harp and a torch on green background. Finrod also used a badge that depicted a crown of golden flowers. The motive of the badge was probably related to the device of Finarfin.

Lúthien. Lúthien Tinúviel is the only person known to have had two distinct heraldic devices; both are based on patterns with flowers. The first one, shows the white niphredil that grew at her birth (it has been described as similar to a delicate snowdrop). The second device of Lúthien, depicted on the left, probably holds an elanor in the centre. The stars in this device echo those found in her father device. At a first glance it is hard to tell if there are any "points" that reach the rim, but it seems like they would be no more than four in both devices. In the first device they point in the compass directions northeast, northwest, southeast and southwest. In the second, the only thing similar to "points" are the white flowers that each symbolizes one point. This would give her the correct status as a princess of Doriath.
Idril. The device of Idril Celebrindal reveals a cornflower-like pattern. Apparently Idril was especially associated with this flower, possibly through the golden corn that echoed her golden hair. An inscription found together with the device reads Menelluin Írildeo Ondolindello ("Cornflower of Idril from Gondolin"; Írilde is a Quenyaization of Idril's name). It is possible Menelluin was the name, or designation, of the device. In it, twelve points reach the edge of the circle, suggesting the status fitting for the daughter of a High King.

The device of Idril was preserved and brought from Gondolin to Númenor, where it became the inspiration of many similar Númenorean designs. It was then brought to Gondor by Elendil.

Gil-galad. His name means "Radiant star", and remembering also the words from The Fall of Gil-galad: "The countless stars of heaven's field / were mirrored in his silver shield", it is only natural that Gil-galad's device shows a star-covered sky. It is hard to tell how many "points" meet the edge, but his status should allow at least four.
The Silmarils. There is only one known device that is designated for objects instead of a person. Why the Silmarilli should have their own heraldic device is unclear. Perhaps the device was used as a banner by the Noldor in the wars with Morgoth, to mark their intentions. The tree in the background is probably Laurelin, the Golden Tree, from which the Silmarils got part of their light. The Silmarils are also used as emblems in the devices of Fëanor, Eärendil, and Beren.


Heraldry of Edain


When the Edain entered Beleriand, they seem to have adopted the Noldorin rules and concept of heraldry almost immediately. A forerunner of this was doubtless Bëor, whose close friendship with Finrod gave him the oldest of the known Human devices. The first of these tended to use more warm and earth-like colours than their Elvish counterparts, and the designs were usually only symmetrical around the vertical axis, distinguishing them from the entirely symmetrical devices of the Elves. Because men were not immortal as Elves, they adopted the male lozenge as the symbol of their houses, not just for individual beings.

The House of Bëor. Bëor, founder of the House that ruled over the eldest of the Three Houses of Men, had his device created according to the Elvish rules of heraldry. It is in many ways the most elf-like of the Human devices, being entirely symmetrical. Still it lacks the splendour of the Elvish devices, and seems more earth-bound with its warm and natural colours. It was used by the descendants of Bëor the Old, until the War of Wrath. Those Bëorians who followed Bereg and returned southway to Eriador ceased to use Elvish heraldic devices, but simplified versions of this device were used by the men who were buried in the barrows of Tyrn Gorthad.

The House of Hador. The reason for the design of Hador's device is not clear. Hador was a great friend of Fingolfin, and one might perhaps discern the "fiery" colours of Finwë and his heirs in this device. The symmetry is vertical, even in the "spearhead" designs, the one at the bottom being more pointed than the one at the top. The device was carried to Westernesse and inherited by Elros Tar-Minyatur, the first king of Númenor.
The House of Haleth. The device of the Haladin shows a tree of an unspecified order, a pair of white flowers, and a number of orange dots that might be stylized nuts or leafs. The tree seems to be entwined with a trailer. The Haladin in general were fond of solitude and forests, which might be indicated in this device.
Beren. In the centre of Beren Erchamion's device is the Silmaril that Beren and Lúthien took from Morgoth. Above it looms the Thangorodrim, the three peaks of Angband. Below the Silmaril is a bloody hand, seemingly stretched out to grab the stone, symbolizing the hand that Beren lost to Carcharoth. The device shows the vertical symmetry common for Men, broken only by the naturally assymetric hand.
Eärendil. The focus in Eärendil's device lies in the Silmaril depicted in the centre, radiating six light beams towards the edges. In the dark corners the moon in its phases is shown. The presence of the moon might reflect Eärendil's destiny to become a star, but it is also the only thing that prevents this device from being entirely symmetrical. This perhaps distinguishes him as being Half-elven. The six light rays are accompanied by six others, that seem to go in the opposite direction. Thus forming twelve "points", a clear relatedness with Idril's device is seen (Idril being Earendil's mother), which is reinforced by the shared blue background of the two devices.


Heraldry of Númenor


Eldarin heraldry was further developed in Númenor. The custom of placing devices for families and houses within a male lozenge was formalized. Númenorean heraldry became increasingly elaborate and complex. The party of King's Men (Ârûwanâi) invented the tradition of including armorial mottoes in tengwarin (later atanwarin) script in their devices. Eldarin symbols and devices were plagiarized by the Faithful (Nimruzîri) to assert their allegiance to the legacy of Eärendil. The third party, plutocratic Dâiruzîri stuck in floral symbolism already prevalent in Númenorean society.

Númenor. The Great Seal and Device of Númenor bears resemblance to the device of Idril Celebrindal. In the center of the device is a cross and twelve-pointed floral motif signifying high kingship. The ubiquitous floral pattern was used everywhere in Númenorean tapestry, heraldry and ornaments, including column capitals.


Heraldry in the Third Age

See also Flags of Gondor, Flags of Umbar, All flags

In the Third Age, when the civilization of the Dúnedain had advanced in technology as well as in level of sophistication, their heraldry had diverged from the Eldarin customs, maturing into a more stylized tradition. They often applied a single charge to a coloured background, approaching the heraldic customs of the medieval age. The established forms of Eldarin devices, a circle, a lozenge, and a square, could all be combined into one device: Lozenge on square would form eight "points", signifying a kingdom (in Eldarin sense of the word). Eldarin hierarchy of ranks in shape of points was retained Dúnadan heraldry in highly stylized way, often applied in form of many-pointed stars.

Númenorean successor states often went their own way, developing the concept of heraldry even further. Umbar and especially Bellakar was influenced by Haradan culture and calligraphy. Former Númenorean colony of Ciryatandor (Anbalukkhôr) refined the artistic values of the Ârûwanâi until all Eldarin traditions were discarded and devices were formed entirely by applying the inceasingly ceremonial and unintelligible Atanwar script on coloured (often black or red) square or tailed background.


Gondor. Device of Gondor. The White Tree represents any of the descendants of Nimloth that grew in Minas Ithil and, later, Minas Anor. To this device the Kings of the line of Elendil added the Seven Stars and Silver Crown, which was the chief mark of royalty.

Gondor (alternate). Stewardial, silver-faced version. The emblem of Elendil and his heirs was seven five-pointed stars, each representing one of the palantíri that Elendil brought from Númenor. They were applied on top of the White Tree.

Dor-en-Ernil (later Dol Amroth). Silver swanship on azure background. Eight points pretend on par status with the heirs of Elendil.

Arthedain. The device of Arnor was simple five-pointed star on sable square. In the successor kingdom of Arthedain a more stylized version of Gil-galad's personal device was adopted: Twelve eight-pointed stars on blue background, claiming High Kingship of the Dúnedain.

Cardolan. Ram's head on green background. One eight-pointed star (the Star of Elendil) was applied by rulers that were of line of Elendil. It was omitted during the Regency.

Rhudaur. Kingdom of Rhudaur discarded Eldarin symmetry altogether and favoured native ornaments.

State of Umbar. Asapthubêths of Old Umbar retained the traditional symbol of the haven: gold tengwarin U-tehta on sable background.

Principality of Umbar. After Umbar was incorporated into kingdom of Gondor, it gained the eight points of kingship in its device. After the Kin-strife, retreating traditionalist confederacy continued using this device until 1810 T.A.

Angamaitë. The last and greatest of the corsair lords adopted this device during his rule: Black eagle on red background. Eight points signify his descent from Castamir the Usurper, king of Gondor.

Enedwaith. The device of lords of Lond Angren is entirely non-Dúnadan in its appearance, portraying local traditions on a round shield.

Eothraim. Galloping white horse on black and green was adopted as the official symbol of the client kingdom of Rhovanion. Four corners or "points" of the square are evocative of princely status in Eldarin system of heraldry.

Saralainn. Rulers of the dunlending realm of Saralainn never became accustomed to Dúnadan culture, keeping instead into their elaborate "knotted" patterns.

Pezarsan. Most haradrim devices are tribal charges on simple coloured background.

Korb Taskral. Black serpent on red field has been traditional symbol of authority in Near Harad.

Khand. Khaganate of Khand has a heraldic system of its own, greatly influenced by Sauron.

Anbalukkhôr. Flag of the principal Black Númenorean realm is edged with elaborate golden thread calligraphy in the script of Annatar. Motto of the realm in placed In center: Aglar Yôzâyan, Aglar Anbalukkhôr.

Tumakveh Bellakar. Device of the half-Adûnai, half-Haradan Tumakveh dynasty is a distinct blend of Haruze and Ârûwânai influences. Symbols of Númenorean authority were replaced with double crescent moons, symbolizing the Haradan goddesses Ladnoca and Ishtra.

Mordor. Although Sauron is believed to have fallen, his legacy lives on in the devices and woven tapestries of the central Middle-earth. Ornamental versions of the Lidless Eye are especially popular among the Wainriders and the inhabitants of the barren deserts of Mordor.







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