coat of arms is a heraldic design on a shield or
article of clothing. It is traditionally unique to
an individual person, family, or state. It may also
include a written motto. They have been in use since
the Middle Ages as a source of information for
public showing and tracing the membership of a noble
family, and therefore its genealogy across time.
Cities have traditionally had coats of arms as a
source of information about the city. It bears
noting that these coats of arms may change depending
on the whims of those who decide what to emphasize
about the city, what to get rid of
or, yes, what to invent. No one really pays much
attention to these things anymore, but here is the
current coat of arms for the city of Naples.
The coat of arms of the city of Naples consists of a
long shield (called a Samnite shield) divided
horizontally in half with the upper part in gold and
the lower half in red. The shield is stamped with a
turreted city crown.
The origins of the city's coat of arms is the
subject of several legends, most from the 17th
century. One widespread legend says the colors were
used to welcome Emperor Constantine I and his mother
Elena in 324, when the population converted to
Christianity by renouncing the ancient cult of the
sun and moon alluded to by the colors. Alternately,
the colors may have been symbols of the struggles at
the time of the independent Duchy (755-1027)
against the Longobard Principality of Benevento.
The first documented use of the coat of arms (shown)
is a seal on a document dated January 31, 1488. It
supports the claim that the coat of arms of Naples
comes from that of the Aragonese kings (the famous
bars of Aragon); the colors of the two symbols are
the same, and it was adopted after Alfonso V of
Aragon conquered the kingdom of Naples in 1442. The
problem with that one is that the symbol also shows
up on some documents before that event took place.
All you scan say is that colors and symbols of
royalty accrue over centuries —gold, red, the horse, the fleur-de-lis,
whatever. They then show up, perhaps not randomly
but at least haphazardly, in our present desire to
have a cohesive picture of the past. You can even
make a symbol of the past stand for a modern
feature. For example, red and gold represented
Angevin resistance to the Holy Roman Empire
centuries ago; fine, but you might also say it shows
the valor of Neapolitans in resisting German
presence in Naples in WWII. You can —and they have done this— superimpose other symbols on the coat of
arms, such as a Fascist symbol and then eliminate
them when times change.
In 2005, the city launched a competition for ideas
to innovate the graphic identity of the city while
keeping the coat of arms unaltered. They darkened a
color and changed a font. If you had a collection of
all of the coats-of-arms used for Naples in the last
500 years, that would be instructive and you could
have some fun and learn a lot of history. Would it
be compact and cohesive? No. As I say, maybe no one
really pays much attention to these things anymore.
That includes me.