By Paul Wickenden of Thanet
There is a general understanding that heraldry (in the Western European sense) was not introduced to Russia until the time of Peter the Great, and thus is out of period. Furthermore, there has been a degree of skepticism about Eastern European equivalents (most notably the Polish tamga or the Russian znak). However, in a book I recently acquired by A. G. Silaev, entitled Istoki russkoi geraldiki [Sources of Russian Heraldry] (Moscow: Grand, 2002), the author makes some convincing arguments in favor of an earlier appearance of distinctly Western heraldic tradition than previously argued.
Naturally, the idea of tribal symbols and the use of identification marks in battle can be found quite early in Rus history, and Silaev begins with the personal "marks" (znaki) of the Riurikid Princes, some of which I have reproduced below.
Similar to the Polish tamga, these largely indigenous symbols would not be considered "heraldry" in the SCA's use of the term. But they were certainly used in similar ways to the English heraldry that informs SCA practice. In a 15th century icon from Novgorod, these symbols are clearly seen displayed on company banners of cavalry soldiers.
But the most interesting examples for are purposes are two seals from the sixteen century. Neither one would be registerable in
the SCA (for reasons of complexity and marshaling) and they reflect more Continental style than most SCA heraldry, but they are interesting in the way that each one reflects a hybrid of the traditional symbols with the Western European iconography of heraldry. The first coat of arms is of Grigorii Khodkevich and is dated to 1569. The second one is the arms of Konstantin Ostrozhskii and dated to 1578.