The oldest heraldic design
in Iceland is the picture of a raven on a shield, used as a seal or a signet
by Hrafn Sveinbjarnarson, a chieftain of the family of Seldælir in
the Vest fjords. He was killed in 1213.
Later, when the country came under the control
of the king of Norway after 1262, Icelandic nobles were granted coats of
arms . In 1258 the king granted arms to Gissur Þorvaldsson of the
family of Haukdælir, and made him an earl. Gissur was the leading
figure in making Iceland a part of Norway, but it had been a republic since
In 1280 foreign sources claim that the arms of
Iceland are a red lion on a three-coloured shield, holding an axe (see
fig. 1, run the pointer over the figures to see their numbers).
Around the year 1300 a falcon
is used in the arms of Haukur Erlendsson, knight, and it is probably the
oldest known family coats of arms in Iceland.
Around 1400 Loftur the rich Guttormsson was knighted.
He chose as his coat of arms Azure, a Falcon Argent, and his descendants
used those arms in their seals.
From the 15th century, there exist today three
letters of a granting of knighthood and a coat of arms, that of Torfi Arason
from 1450 (Azure, a Bear Argent, with a Demi-bear Argent on the crest),
of Björn Þorleifsson from 1457 (Azure a Bear Argent, with
a Bear Argent on the crest), and also that of Eggert Eggertsson from
1488, which actually was Norwegian, but whose descendants moved to Iceland
and became its governors for a while (Azure, a Demi-unicorn Argent,
with a Demi-unicorn Argent on the crest. See fig. 2).
For many centuries a fish
represents Iceland on its arms. This fish is either a flattened or an unflattened
cod, and it becomes a part of the Danish royal arms.
It is first seen in a book in 1360, and later
in several different designs.
In 1592 a special envoy was sent to the Danish
court to get an official seal for Iceland, and came back with a seal which
was a headless, unflattened cod with a crown above it, 1593 besides it
and in a curve around it was written Sigillum Insulae Islandiae.
In the 17th century, another design is used as
the arms of Iceland,
Gules, a headless flattened cod (or stockfish)
Argent crowned with an open crown Or, (see fig. 3). This is incorporated
into the arms of the Danish state, early in the 17th century, in the rule
of Christian IV (d. 1648).
In the latter half of the
19th century, people started considering these arms as not so good for
the country, and a little bit insulting even. Thus the old falcon reappears,
and the artist Sigurður Guðmundsson makes a coat of arms that become
very popular, Azure, a Falcon Displayed Argent.
When Iceland gained home rule in 1904, the king
of Denmark declared that the arms of Iceland should be Azure, a Falcon
Argent, (see fig. 4) and thus the old cod-fish finally went away (it
lived on though in the arms of the king of Greece, which was of the Danish
ruling house, see fig. 5, bottom left corner).
Some people were dissatisfied
that the falcon did not have his wings displayed, as on the original arms
designed by Sigurður Guðmundsson. That is now the symbol of Iceland's
largest political party, the Independence party, which is a conservative
Christian Democratic party, (see fig. 6).
In 1918 Iceland became more
or less independent, although the Danish king was still the head of state
and Denmark took care of its foreign relations. The country adopted a new
coat of arms. Now it was a shield with the new flag of Iceland, held up
be four creatures, the so-called "landvættir" from Heimskringla,
an ancient Icelandic scripture. These creatures are a dragon, a vulture,
an ox and a giant. On top of this was the Danish crown (see fig. 7). In
1944, Iceland became a fully independent republic, so by a declaration
of the president, the Danish crown was removed from the coat of arms (see
fig. 8) and it remains the same today.
The heraldic tradition has
never been strong in Iceland. Nobility was abolished in 1660, and no-one
in Iceland has officially any rightful ancient coats of arms. Since Iceland
is a republic, heraldry is not regulated at all, and any means of registering
arms or symbols is through the trade-mark authorities, and then only one
design, not coats of arms as such.
The municipalities all have their own arms, some
of which do not respect any heraldic rules. They are usually designed by
some advertising agencies, and in some cases the outcome is less than beautiful,
(see figs. 9, 10 and 11).
Other municipalities, especially
the older ones, do have some tolerable arms, and some are even quite nice,
Here are the arms of Siglufjörður (fig. 12), Akureyri (fig. 13),
Hafnarfjörður (fig.14), Seyðisfjörður (fig. 15),
Borgarnes (fig. 16) and Reykjavík (fig 17).
Suggestions or comments? Feel free to send email
Laxness, Einar, Íslandssaga A-Ö, Bókaútgáfa
Menningarsjóðs og Þjóðvinafélagssins,
Júlíusson, Árni Daníel, Jón
Ólafur Ísberg, Helgi Skúli Kjartansson (ed.), Íslenskur
söguatlas, Almenna bókafélagið, Reykjavík
Kannik, Preben, Alverdens Flag i Farver, Politikens
Forlag, Köbenhavn, 1956