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Section: EURO_PEAN

The Russian Crown of Montenegro

Author: Michael Medvedev / Publication date: 2006-08-16

The Russian Crown of MontenegroThe symbols of Montenegro, the Balkan nation that regained its independency on the first day of this summer, gained universal attention. The change of the eagle’s tincture was widely discussed. Unfortunately the change of the crown was nearly unnoticed – meanwhile for a Russian observer this detail is of a very special importance.

The earliest direct predecessor of the Montenegrin state was the Principality (created a Kingdom in 1077 by St.Gregory VII) of Doclea (Duklja), which obviously had no coat-of-arms. One of Doclea’s dependencies, Rascia (Rashka), gradually emerged as an independent and stronger power; its Serb rulers of the House of Nemanja created a powerful Kingdom. In 1160-ies, Stephen Nemanja conquered Doclea and effectively integrated this territory into the Serb state, expelling not only the heretics, but also Greeks and Western-subordinated clergy to avoid the dependence from the both Romes (however the nation for long remained half-Catholic, half-Orthodox). Most of Doclea was turned into the Principality of Zeta (called so after the river of the same name), which became an autonomous apanage of the Nemanjides, usually held by the heir to the Serb throne.

As a Sebastocrator (a Byzantine rank), King Stephen Nemanja was entitled to the garments adorned with double-headed eagles. This example was followed by his successors, and gradually resulted in the adoption of the double-headed eagle as properly heraldic symbols of the Serb rulers. The Nemanjides consolidated numerous territories and even claimed the Imperial dignity. However in the second half of the XIV century, after the death of King Stefan Dushan, their realm was weakened and divided, and Zeta became independent from Serbia. The local dynasty was founded by a chieftain Balsha. His posterity ruled the principality until 1421 when Zeta passed to the Serbian Prince Stephen of the house of Grebeljan, who descended from Nemanja through a female line and bore a double-headed eagle. However his family failed to obtain the effective rule in all Zetan lands and finally, in 1430-ies, the house of Crnojevich, the old rivals of the Balsha’s family, became the new princely dynasty of Montenegro. To stress their legitimate status and the glorious political heritage, the Crnojevichs also bore the double-headed eagle, which became the main national symbol. Under this eagle’s wings, the principality was one of the main centers of the resistance against the Ottomans.

In 1516, the last prince of the house of Crnojevich left for Venice, abdicating in favour of the Bishop (alias Vladika, this being a secondary title of a Bishop as a spiritual Lord) of Cetinje, who thus became the Prince-Bishop. Later this joint dignity became hereditary and passed usually from an uncle to his nephew. Thus the Petrovich-Njegosh family came to power. The eagle was retained.

In XVIII and XIX centuries, after certain weakening of the armorial practice in Montenegro, the eagle had to be “heraldised” ex novo. Probably it was Prince-Bishop Sabbas (Sava) in 1730-ies who provided the national eagle with new specific attributes: an Imperial crown, scepter and orb, and a lion passant. This latter element was originally placed below the eagle and could be inspired by the arms of the unquiet neighbour and longtime ally, Venice (according to other, less reliable, theories, the lion either was purely symbolic, or appeared as attributed arms of the ancient Doclea). The rest of additaments were likely of the Russian provenance, the political and religious links of the two nations being of major importance. One may suggest that the Imperial crown corresponded to the Imperial rank of the Nemanjides but the allusion to Russia was evident and, one may presume, decisive. It worth mentioning that the eagle of the Holy Roman Empire was represented either without regalia in claws or with a sword and a scepter; a scepter and an orb was characteristic for the heraldic eagle of Russia.

Obviously none of attributes denoted any kind of dependence from other states; this was a change of the state symbol “ex amore”.

In the course of XIX century, this composition (now with the lion overall) became the arms of the temporal principality; the unheraldic liberty in use of colours ended and the eagle became white (as was the eagle of Nemanjides).

It is striking that the arms of the principality contained no elements of canting Sable. There are charges Sable in the family arms of the Petrovichs, but these latter arms were not included into those of the state.

In 1850-ies the eagle sometimes grasped in his dexter talon both a sword and a scepter, which could be inspired either by the Austrian pattern, or just by the wartime circumstances.

In 1910 Prince Nicholas I restored the royal title formerly enjoyed by the rulers of Doclea and, according to some authors, of Zeta. A continental Royal crown replaced the old princely cap above the shield; the eagle remained Imperially crowned.


Montenegrin medal “For Bravery” temp. World War I.

The Russian crown as a symbol of a true alliance, assumed by the Montenegrin monarchs in an informal way, was not a matter of concession. No approval by a Russian emperor was ever recorded, and the office of arms in St.Petersburg was unaware of this delicate situation. So two Montenegrin princesses, Militsa and Anastasia, on marrying Russian Grand Dukes obtained coats-of-arms with distorted paternal part: not only the eagle’s dexter claw was grasping a sword alone, without scepter, but instead of being Imperially crowned the eagle appeared to be ensigned with a princely cap.


Full achievement of HIH Gd Duchess Anastasia Nikolayevna (as granted in 1909 by Emperor Nicolas II).

After the revolutions of 1917, Russia was unable to support Montenegro which was almost immediately annexed by Yougoslavia. The Montenegrin eagle was banned in favour of another white double-headed eagle – the Yougoslavian one, of Serbian provenance, based on the same tradition of the Nemanjides and Grebeljanides.

After all the troubles of the XX century, the modern Zetans prefer to differ their arms from the symbol of the Yougoslavia; so the tincture was changed. The inescutcheon obtained a border Or which is obviously a decorative liberty. And, understandably, the foreign provenance of the Imperial crown resulted in the adoption of the domestic, royal pattern.

Those who deplore the changes and treasure the traditions above all, may recall that the old Montenegrin arms are still existing and borne by the Head of the Royal House of Petrovich-Njegosh.


Montenegro-2006: Arms of the Principality (Kingdom) as painted by Michael Medvedev [dexter] and of the Republic [sinister; the official design attached to the Law].

* * *

P.S. As to the proper names: beware of the spelling/pronounciation problems! “C” should be pronounced as “Tz” and “j” corresponds to ”y”. I took the liberty to add “h”, instead of proper dyacritical marks, to those “c” and “s” which are to be pronounced accordingly.

© 2006 The.Heraldry.Ru / D.Ivanov, M. Medvedev