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Iceland - Coat of Arms


Last modified: 2006-02-25 by rob raeside
Keywords: iceland | crown | coat of arms |
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[national Coat of Arms] image by Jan Oskar Engene, from Hermansson (1991)


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National Coat of Arms

The Icelandic coat of arms is a shield with a silvery cross in a sky-blue field with a fiery red cross in the middle of the silvery cross. The arms of the crosses shall extend entirely to the edges of the shield in all four directions. The width of the silvery cross shall be 2/9, and that of the red cross 1/9, of the width of the shield. The two upper blue rectangles shall be equilateral, but the lower ones shall be one third longer, and equally wide. The blue and the red colours are the same as in the national flag.
Courtesy of the Office of the Prime Minister of Iceland

The coat of arms appears on the flag of the president.

1919 Coat of Arms

[1919 national Coat of Arms] image by Jan Oskar Engene, from Hermansson (1991)

On 1 December 1918 Iceland became a sovereign and independent Kingdom in personal union with Denmark under a common king. The establishment of Iceland as an independent kingdom had consequences for the national symbols of the country: the coat of arms and the set of national flags. The first coat of arms (1919), illustrated by Hermansson (1991) contains a crown.
Jan Oskar Engene, 2 February 2002

First Coat of Arms

[first Coat of Arms] image by H.M.

Iceland's first coat of arms bore a falcon on a blue background.
H.M., 7 December 2002

Coat of arms during Danish rule

[Coat of Arms during Danish rule] image by H.M.

This is a symbol of Danish colonialism..
H.M., 7 December 2002

The Icelandic Crown

[1919 Icelandic crown] image by Jan Oskar Engene

As Iceland was made a separate kingdom, it got its own distinct heraldic crown, different from the Danish royal crown - as can be seen from the 1919 coat of arms. The crown of Iceland was decorated with blue and red stones, blue pearls, and a blue hat, and had an oval decorated with blue bands and a cross on top. This crown model was used not only on the coat of arms, but also on various special flags and ensigns.
Jan Oskar Engene, 2 February 2002

The crown was removed when Iceland became a fully independent republic in 1944. The white falcon on blue remained the arms of the King. In fact, the falcon was only removed from the Danish arms in 1948, when the Danes finally came to accept Iceland's independence. 

There are four supporters on the national arms: bull, eagle, dragon (or a griffin) and giant. The bull and giant are standing on a
basement of basalt representing Iceland. Above them are the eagle and dragon. The supporters refer to the guardians of Iceland that are mentioned in a passage in Heimskringla (Lives of the Kings) by Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241). The story from the Saga of Olav Tryggvason (chapter 33) goes like this: 

Then the King of Denmark had the intention to sail with his fleet to Iceland to avenge the insult which all the Icelanders had heaped on him. It had been put into the laws in Iceland that a lampooning verse about the Danish king be composed for every head in the land. The reason for this was that when a vessel owned by Icelanders was shipwrecked in Denmark, the Danes appropriated all the cargo, calling it goods drifted ashore. (...) King Harald bade a warlock to journey to Iceland and find out what he could tell him. He went in a whale's-shape. And when he came to Iceland he proceeded west and north around it. He saw that all the mountains and hills were full of land-wights, some big and some small. And when he came to the Vapnafjord he swam into the fjord, intending to go ashore there. Then a big dragon came down the valley, followed by many serpents, toads, and adders that blew poison at him. Then he swam away, heading west along the land, all the way to the Eyjafjord, and he entered into that fjord. Then there flew against him a bird so large that its wings touched the mountains on either side of the fjord, and a multitude of other birds besides, both large and small. Away he backed from there, swimming west around the land and then south to the Breithafjord and entered that fjord. Then came against him a big bull, wading out into the water and bellowing fearfully. A multitude of land-wrights followed him. Away he backed from there, swimming around Reykjaness, and intended to come ashore at Vikarsskeith. Then came against him a mountain giant with an iron bar in his hand, and his head was higher than the mountains, and many other giants were with him. (...) 

Thereupon the King of Denmark sailed his fleet south along the land, and then to Denmark. But Earl Hakon had all the land cultivated again and paid no more tribute to the king of Denmark afterwards. 

A clear warning, one could say, to the Danish masters that the Icelanders were ready to fight for their independence once again. The arms with the Icelandic flag colours that the (Danish) king was at first reluctant to accept are actually protected by the ancient guardians that scared the old Danish king of the saga from invading. 

Achen mentions a theory (he does not give a source) that the guardians are in fact references to the symbols of the four evangelists (ox: St. Luke; eagle: St. John; lion: St. Mark, giant: St. Matthew). 

Achen, Sven Tito: "The Coat of Arms of Iceland", American-Scandinavian Review, Vol. 50, No. 4, 1962, pp. 355-358 

Fran falttog till flaggfest: Nordiska flaggor, fanor och symboler, Uddevalla, 1993 

Munksgaard, Jan Henrik: "Militære rang- og kommandoflagg i Norden III. Island", Nordisk flagkontakt, No. 21, 1995, pp.

Sturluson, Snorri: Heimskringla: History of the Kings of Norway, translated by Lee M. Hollander, Austin TX, 1991 

Jan Oskar Engene, 24 June 1996