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THE SAMOGITIAN COAT OF ARMS

The Samogitian Coat of Arms was resurrected by the Samogitian Cultural Society
The Lithuanian commission on heraldry approved the coat of arms in July 21 1994 (protocol # 121)
The Klaipeda artist Algis Klisevicius collected historical and iconographic material and created a small and large standard version of the coat of arms.

 The Samogitian Coat of ArmsThe history of the Samogitian coat of arms is not yet well-researched, so neither the time nor circumstances of its origin are known.

It is usually asserted that as early as the 14th c. the seal of a bear on all fours found in official documents of Grand Duke Vytautas is the Samogitian coat of arms.

W. Semkowicz was the first to criticize this view. He claimed that the seal on Vytautas' documents represented the Kievan lands. However, Semkowicz was wrong.

After the war A. Heymowski discovered half of a coat of arms in a Belgian collection. Next to the above-mentioned bear was the clear inscription: Smoleghne (Smolensk). Similar information was found on seals of the Grand Dukes Aleksandras, Zygimantas the Older, and Zygimantas Augustas the Great. The ribbons next to the bear seal announced that the seal belonged to Smolensk.

It is also clear that in the second half of the 16th c. the Samogitian flag depicted a black bear. And this bear apparently originated before it was mentioned in any of the sources we can access now.

From the 16th century on the Samogitian coat of arms is represented as a black bear with a white collar, standing on his hind legs against a red background. Later, this picture becomes officially associated with Samogitia.

The first record of the Samogitian bear among the official seals of the Grand Duchy dates to 1669. This was during the rule of Mykolas Kaributas Visnioveckis. The seal remained in use until the third partition of Poland-Lithuania in 1795.

The bear didn't appear in Samogitian sphragistics until the second half of the 18th c.

The origin of the Samogitian coat of arms is possibly related to the legendary theory of the Roman origin of Lithuanians. According to this story one of the Roman tribes that settled in Lithuania was named Ursinai (lat. ursus = bear). If this is true, then it is not clear if the Roman origin of Lithuanians is supported by the Samogitian use of the bear or if the Samogitians cleverly used the bear to develop the legend.

The Samogitian coat of arms was widely used in the prewar period. Today it has been rediscovered and appropriated by Samogitian cultural organizations, artist groups, athletes, and others.

Since there has been no one standard way of designing the coat of arms, many different versions of the Samogitian bear exist. Therefore, the Lithuanian heraldry commission accepted the Samogitian Cultural Society's suggestion to create an official version of the coat of arms. Relying on historical and iconographic sources, the artist Algis Klisevicius created large and small standard versions of the coat of arms in 1994.

Edmundas Rimsa


© Samogitian Cultural Association Editorial Board, 1998.
Page updated 2000.05.08.
Comments to: samogitia@mch.mii.lt

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