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Italy - Coat of Arms

Last modified: 2011-06-10 by marcus schmöger
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image by Luca Secomandi, 25 September 2000
Coat of Arms adopted 5 May 1948



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Coat of Arms

Italy's current arms date back to 1948 and would be better known as an emblem, considering the poor heraldic pattern. The main feature is a white, red bordered star. This comes from the previous kingdom's arms, even if it was upside down there, i.e. with a tip pointing downwards. That meant, and means, Italy as a united state. It was known, during the kingdom, as the "big star of Italy". Now it is superimposed on a gear, this last standing for work, the Italian constitution stating that Italy is a country based on [common] work. Supportes are an olive branch, symbol of peace, and an oak branch, symbol of strength. The red ribbon reports the official name of the state in white capital characters. Simple, but effective. A few years ago there was a national campaign to change the emblem and set up a more proper coat of arms: the projects were so poor that eventually the decision was to go on with the current symbol...
Pier Paolo Lugli, 4 December 1997

In the arms of Italy , olive stands for the south part of the countries, while an oak branch stands for the north part .
Antonio Martins, 24 June 2000

Here you can find some proposals of the first Republican Italian Coat of Arms/emblem with the project which was eventually chosen: <www.quirinale.it>.
On the latest series of Italian banknotes (before the arrival of the Euro), a roundel with the symbols of the "Quattro repubbliche marinare" ("Four Sea Republics") was shown, perhaps as an "unofficial Italian Coat of Arms". You can see it at <www.portalino.it>. The "unofficial Coat of Arms" is the roundel between the serial number and the lettering "BANCA D'ITALIA".
Paolo Montanelli, 23 June 2003

I wish to point out that the statement by Antonio Martins (24 June 2000) about the Italian Coat of Arms that "In the arms of Italy , olive stands for the south part of the countries, while an oak branch stands for the north part" is wrong. I don't know where Antonio Martins got this information from, however it is misleading. The Coat of Arms represents the whole country, as a sole entity. The meaning of the Coat of Arms components are reported above in my note from 4 December 1997. In 2004 they are still valid.
Pier Paolo Lugli, 8 March 2004

It seems that the combination of olive and oak branches is fairly common in Italian civic heraldry. It is my understanding that they symbolise the strenght and integrity (of the entity represented by the Coat of Arms) in peace (=olive) and war (=oak). This, however, may not so easily be proved by sources and it may just be my "feeling".
Željko Heimer, 8 March 2004

Both explanations (strength/peace and north/south) can be found in flag books. I just took out two of them, [hes92] and [heh90], where I found the north/south explanations and the strength/peace explanation. The books by Smith, [smi75b] and [smi80] do mention the strength/peace only. As is frequent for vexillological publications none of them actually cites the source for this, nor does Antonio Martins or Pier Paolo Lugli. So it is difficult to decide, which is right and which is wrong.
Marcus Schm÷ger, 9 March 2004

I would suspect that the south/north theory could be easily dismissed looking at Italian civic coats of arms - they seems to have the two spiecies branches both in south of Italy as well as in the north. Wouldn't one expect the cities in the south to have more olive and those in north more the oak (with occasional exception, but yet). However, I believe that in the whole of Italy the two always comes in pair.
Željko Heimer, 9 March 2004

In addition to the flag books cited previously by Marcus, several websites also offer the north/south explanation, including that of the Italian Cultural Institute of Washington, DC, USA <www.italcultusa.org>: "...supported on the left by an olive branch, a symbol of peace that also symbolizes the southern part of the country, and on the right by an oak branch, a symbol of strength that also symbolizes the northern part of the country."
Seems that the symbol of peace and symbol of strength explanation is the official one, but the north/south explanation is also often given, although unoffical.
Ned Smith, 10 March 2004

Above is a link leading to an analysis from an official source <www.quirinale.it>: "Il ramo di ulivo simboleggia la volontÓ di pace della nazione, sia nel senso della concordia interna che della fratellanza internazionale; la quercia incarna la forza e la dignitÓ del popolo italiano."
Olive branch = the nation's striving for peace, internal concord, international fraternity.
Oak branch = force and dignity of the Italian people.
Interestingly, the 'north & south' concept was illustrated in French president Mitterand's standard using the same plants.
Jan Mertens, 10 March 2004