Last modified: 2013-01-20 by rob raeside
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image by Luca Secomandi, 25 September 2000
Coat of Arms adopted 5 May 1948
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
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 Schmöger, 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
"Il ramo di ulivo simboleggia la volontà di pace della
nazione, sia nel senso della concordia interna che della
fratellanza internazionale; la quercia incarna la forza e la
dignità 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