The Moor's Head And Why It Is Found In Heraldry And Other Demonstrative Uses

The following discussion is offered to help explain the the use of Moor's Heads on many of the Morin family Coats of Arms and the Mauran Coat of Arms. The Moran family of Ballina, Ireland's Coat of Arms is described with "a demi Saracen" above it and so some of it may explain that device as well.

The research shown below was collected from the sources shown

Heraldry: The Moor's Head (from Victoria and Albert's Museum).

Medallion, 1500-1600. Museum no. C.101-1934 (click image for larger version)

The objects featured here all include the head of a moor, or black African, in profile. The use of the 'moor's head' as a heraldic device dates from the 13th century. The emblem has connections to the Crusades, reflecting associating individual families with victories over the moors. Heraldic devices and emblems were included on objects like those featured here to indicate ownership.

The device may also have connections with the Hohenstaufan dynasty, which ruled the Holy Roman Empire from 1138 to 1254. The Emperor Henry VI (1165-1197) kept black African retainers. His son Frederick II (1194-1250), who was also King of Sicily, took a keen interest in the black Muslim population that had remained in Sicily after the island's return to Christian rule in 1061. He established an enclave for these Muslims near his palace in Lucera in southern Italy, and recruited his musicians and elite bodyguard from the community.

Frederick's use of black Africans can be explained by his desire to present himself as a 'world ruler'. Their presence symbolised the extent of his power. Other families may have adopted the moor's head on their arms to associate themselves with the Hohenstaufan dynasty.

By 1400 a moor - as a crowned head in profile, or occasionally as a full figure - was relatively common in German heraldry. In time, its usage spread to almost every European country.

For examples of this please see this link to a PDF files in Slovenian/German from the website of Peter Hawlina showing the shields of many European cities, those with blanks shields he has yet to obtain the graphic or the city does not have one > The website is at www.krajnik.si/zamorc

The work of Stefan Schwoon is also reflected and referenced herein.


Bookbinding (detail), about 1520. Museum no. AL.287-1883 (click image for larger version)
By the 16th century, when the stained glass medallion above was made, the moor's head had become a conventional motif. The medallion features the arms of the Tucher, a large prosperous German family from Nuremberg. They had acquired wealth and power through trade with Italy in the early 14th century, later expanding their operations to France and the Low Countries.

The moor's head device was also used in Italian heraldry, especially by families in the north and centre of the peninsula. The earliest known example appears in the 11th century. Its use by families such as the Saraceni of Siena, the Morandi of Genoa, the Morese of Bologna, the Negri of Vicenza and the Pagani of Saluzzo suggests that the device was intended as a pun on surnames similar to the Italian words for moor, negro and saracen. However, the Pucci family also used it. The moor in Italian art was usually depicted wearing a white band tied above the eyes, instead of the German imperial crown, to represent victory over the moors during the Crusades. These families may have originally acquired their surnames from crusader ancestors.

The binding shown above, on a book of Seneca's Tragedies, was made for a member of the Pucci family of Florence. Their adoption of the moor's head was probably influenced by their claim to be descended from Jacopo Saracino, a Florentine nobleman.


Plate (detail), about 1540-44. Museum no. 1693-1855 (click image for larger version)


Originally, the white band worn by the Pucci moor was decorated with three hammers, perhaps symbolising an ancestor's membership of the carpenter's guild. The hammers were later reduced to the form of three letter 'Ts' and the Latin motto 'Tempore tempora tempera', meaning 'Time is a great healer', was added.

An older Pucci motto, 'Candida praecordia' ('White at heart'), probably reflects the meaning of the Italian proverbs 'Viso nero, cuore candido' ('Black face, white heart') and 'Il bruno il bel non toglie' ('Dark skin does not beauty remove'). Variations of these proverbs appear in the mottoes of other Italian families with moor's heads in their arms. They reflect an ancient belief, later adopted and expanded by Christian theologians, that the blackness of Africans was only skin-deep and could conceal the whitest of souls.


Plate (detail), about 1500. Museum no. C2059-1910 (click image for larger version)


In the upper left section of the plate above, Cardinal Antonio Pucci's (1483-1544) shield is displayed. Antonio was created Cardinal in 1531 and adopted by Pope Clement VII (Giulio de' Medici) at the urging of his uncle, Cardinal Lorenzo Pucci. This explains why the shield contains the Medici balls on the left and the Moor's head device of the Pucci family on the right, surmounted by the cardinal's hat.

The plate to the right has a shield with a Moor's head as its centrepiece. Set against a yellow background, the dark colour of his skin contrasts with the white headband and kerchief he wears around his neck. As any number of families used the device, perhaps as a pun on their surnames, it is unclear who may have commissioned the plate.

The moor's head motif is still in use today. The coat of arms of the current pope, Benedict XVI, features the profile of a black man wearing a crown and gold earring.

..Pope Benedict XVI Coat Of Arms Diocese of Freising ancient emblem

In the dexter corner (to the left of the person looking at it) is a Moor's head in natural colour [caput Aethiopum] (brown) with red lips, crown and collar. This is the ancient emblem of the Diocese of Freising, founded in the eighth century, which became a Metropolitan Archdiocese with the name of München und Freising in 1818, subsequent to the Concordat between Pius VII and King Maximilian Joseph of Bavaria (5 June 1817). In an autobiographical work published in 1977, the present pope explained the meaning of these charges for him. The Moor's head represents the universality of the Church, accepting all without distinction of race or class.

Corisican flag ............two examples of the Sardinian Arms

The Moor's head is not rare in European heraldry. It still appears today in the arms of Sardinia and Corsica, as well as in the blazons of various noble families. Italian heraldry, however, usually depicts the Moor wearing a white band around his head instead of a crown, indicating a slave who has been freed; whereas in German heraldry the Moor is shown wearing a crown. The Moor's head is common in the Bavarian tradition and is known as the caput Ethiopicum or the Moor of Freising.

Further Discussion on the Moor's Head from a forum:


The moor's head in the coat-of-arms represents St Corbinianus, the patron saint of the Diocese of Freising; the bishopric of Freising was integrated into Bavaria in 1803. The bishopric had wide-spread possessions in Bavaria as well as in modern-day Austria, Italy and Slovenia where the moor's head has entered local heraldry; by chance I found this website (in Slovenian and German) which traces some of its occurrences.
Stefan Schwoon, 21 Sep 2001


Actually rather odd, since Corbinian was not in fact a Moor. I do not remember the explanation of how he came to be depicted as one.
Joseph McMillan, 21 Sep 2001

There seem to be many legends and theories how the Blackmoor got to represent Freising, and I believe that many are mentioned on the website pointed out by Stefan Schwoon, which deals with an exhibition made in Skofja Loka (Slovenia) that was one of the cities ruled by Freising bishops, as some other cities in that position inherited the Blackmoor in their coats-of-arms. I am far from remembering it clearly, but I think that it is not Corbinianus represented but one of his servants.
Željko Heimer, 21 Sep 2001

Actually we do not know, we can only speculate; and there are many speculations on that topic, for sure! The first seal depicting a crowned head dates from 1286: it shows the whole person of the bishop of Freising, Emicho, and in a small escutcheon at the bottom of the seal, a crowned head. This is the first pictorial evidence of the bishopric coat-of-arms; however, there is no indication, that this crowned head shows a moor. Also later seals include a crowned head, but not a moor.

The first image definitely showing a moor is an illumination from 1316 in the so-called Prädialbuch. So sometime between 1286 and 1316 the crowned head became a crowned moor's head. Since then the crowned moor's head is considered the arms of the bishop of Freising and of his territory, the Hochstift. The Hochstift contained widespread territories in Bavaria (e.g. Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Wörth), but also in Slovenia (Skofja Loka) and South Tyrol (Innichen). Many of the cities and municipalities formerly belonging to the Hochstift contain the moor's head in their coat-of-arms. See for instance my pages about the Wörth arms and its historical sources.

The attempts for an interpretation include:
- One of the three Magi (one of them is shown as a moor);
- St. Mauritius (his name is derived from Latin maurus, moor);
- St. Zeno (frequently shown as a moor);
- St. Sigismund (mixed up with St. Mauritius);
- St. Corbinian, the first bishop of Freising, pictures of whom (e.g. on coins) might have become darker over the time and so ended up resembling a moor;
- several other explanations.

The more important thing in the early times of this coat-of-arms seems to be the crown, and not what the head signified. The crown should probably show, that the territory of the bishop of Freising was autonomous, only subject to the Emperor, and not to the Bavarian duke.

Another explanation for the moor might be that bishop Emicho had thick lips and therefore perhaps was nicknamed moor. Some other possible explanations are proposed by Ziegler. In the end, we do not know, though.

Sources: Adolf Wilhelm Ziegler, Der Freisinger Mohr: Eine heimatgeschichtliche Untersuchung zum Freisinger Bischofswappen, Franz X. Seitz & Val. Höfling, Munich 1976; M.F. Schlamp, Der Mohrenkopf im Wapen der Bischöfe von Freising, Frigisinga 7, No. 9-19 (several parts), 1930.
Marcus Schmöger, 7 Oct 2001

From Wikipedia -

In heraldry, a blackamoor may be listed in the blazon, the description of a coat of arms. The isolated head of a moor is called a Maure.

The reasons for the inclusion of a blackamoor head vary. The Moor's head on the crest that appears on the Arms of Lord Kirkcudbright, and in consequence the modern crest badge used by Clan MacLellan is supposed to derive from the killing of a moorish bandit known as Black Morrow.[1] The blazon is a naked arm supporting on the point of a sword, a moor's head.[2] In other cases they appear to depict captives; the flag of Sardinia once depicted four Moors blindfolded, but in recent versions the blindfolds have been raised to become headbands.

From Commonweal Article (July 15, 2005) by Mathew N. Schmalz

But the Moor's head, as encyclopedias of heraldic emblems tell us, is generally a sign of law, authority, and power. Indeed, taking the head of a Muslim "moor" was a particularly potent symbol of triumph in the days when Islam and Christianity battled in Europe and the Holy Land. Some contributors to a very earnest discussion on the American Heraldry Society's Web site suggested that the Moor's head is a potentially explosive image. In response, others observed that even though the features of the Moor were "stereotyped" to the point of resembling a "cartoon," the image itself was most certainly a bust with a red collar, not a severed head.

From africanfront.com

The term Maure derives from the Phoenician term Mahurin (Westerners). From Mahurin the ancient Greeks derive Mauro meaning black, and later Greeks derive Maurikios after them, the Latin derive Mauri meaning Black African. From the same root we derive: Maur, Maurus, Marra, Moro, Morisco, Mohr, Moritz, Moor, Moru, Maru, Morelo, Maureta, Mauretania, Mauritius, Maureen, Maroon, Morocco, Moore, Maurice, Meuric, Meurig, Morien, Morin, Moryan, Moreto, and such. At one time the whole of the western arm of Africa (what is now West Africa, from Libya to Nigeria and around the Atlantic coast), was called Mauretania. The word Mauretania was interchangeable with all the names of what is now Africa: 'Ethiopia', 'Kemet', 'Netdjer', 'Sudan', 'Libya', 'Cush', 'Guinea' and the now defunct 'Negroland'.


Since the 11th century, the heraldic term Maure refers to the symbol of an African head, or more specifically any blackened image of an African, or a part of an African, or an item associated with or representing Africans.

In the 18th century English usage of the term Moor began to refer specifically to African Muslims, but especially to any person who speaks one of the Hassaniya dialects. This language, in its purest form, draws heavily from the original Yemeni Arabic spoken by the Bani Hassan tribe, which invaded northwest Africa during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Corsica's ancient Coat-of-Arms bearing distinctly female Maure
The Maure was used in Corsica beginning in 1281, and later during the struggle for independence, by both sides, beginning in 1736. The Corsican Maure was female.

General Paoli ordered the chain removed from the Maure in 1760, and a few years later had the blindfold on the coat-of-arms morphed into a headband because 'Corsicans want to see things in a clear way...'. However, the blindfold remained on the Corsican currency.

The current Corsican flag, called the "Bandera testa Mora" has a regular knot at the back of the head. The "Mora" is used out of respect for Corsica's most popular historic figure, General Pascuale Paoli, who led the struggle for independence [1755 to 1769], and who wrote the egalitarian Constitution which insipired Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Jefferson.

From 1281 to 1387 the Maure was used on the seals of the kings of Aragon. The white ground Maure (sans Adinkra) was also the original flag of the Africans during the successful slave revolt in Haiti (San Domingo) in 1799 AD.

'St.Erasm and St.Maurice' by Matthias Grunewald (b. 1470/80, d. 1528)
In medieval Europe the Maure imagery represented the Sudanese command of the German armies of the Holy Roman Empire in the 12th century. These African officers defended Swedes during the Scandinavian rebellion against Germany. Several settlements in Europe - including St. Moritz - are named after these Africans. The white flag with the black profile became the flag of several separate Orders named for of St. Maurice, that sprung up all over Europe in the 12th century. However, the name Maurice was generic and refers to many different and unrelated black soldiers in medieval European history.

In Roman times the Theban Legion was led by yet another Maurice, the warrior saint, and Primicerius (commander) of Roman troops from Thebes in Egypt. The Theban Legion was sent to suppress a revolt of the Bagandae in Agaunum in Gaul (St-Maurice en Valais) in the 3rd century. That Maurice ordered his soldiers not to participate in pagan rites. They were punished by the Emperor Maximian Herculeus first by decimation and finally by the wholesale massacre of the Theban Legion. Maurice and his fellow officers were executed in A.D. 287. Some depictions of that St. Maurice rightly portray him as black and show red flags, sometimes with a black stripe.

In heraldic tradition that has grown out of this rich past, the Moor's Head refers to "a black's head, generally in profile, and frequently banded". There are various kinds of medieval descriptions of the Maure that include "Argent, three moor's heads couped at the shoulders proper filleted or and gules (1732-35), or, in referance to a Blackmore blazon, "on a fesse between three Moor's heads erased sable as many crescents argent"; "...a blackamoor's head couped sable"; "a cross gules between four blackamoor's heads affrontee, couped at the shoulders proper, wreathed about the temples gold (1633); "Per fesse argent and sable, a pale counterchanged three negro's heads proper".

Even long before the Crusades, on April 30 in 711, at the invitation of the sons of the late Visigoth King Wittiza, the Umayyad General Tarikh ibn Ziyad (el Moro) led 7000 troops into what was to became Spain and Portugal. His troops consisted of 300 Arabs and 6,700 native Africans. Ibn Husayn (ca. 950) recorded that these troops were "Sudanese", the Arabic word for Black people. The banner of the Maure, the negro head blindfolded on a white background became associated with Tarik's African armies.

Tarik's flag was the white flag of the Umayyad Dynasty (661-750). The Umayyads took white as their symbolic color as a reminder of the Prophet's first battle at Badr, and to distinguish themselves from the Abbasids, by using white, rather than black, as their color of mourning. The Visigoth usurper, Roderic, was defeated by the Africans on 19th July 711 at the battle of Guadalete, near Medina Sidonia. Roderic's fall ended Visigoth rule over what the Africans then called Spania (from the Amazigh word for Rabbits), or Al Andalus, and began 800 years of African and Arab control over much of southern and western Europe, but especially over Grenada in Southern Spain.

Al Hambra, Granada's citadel in the Sierra Nevada, Andalucia - Spain
After the fall of the Umayyads in Damascas, the Africans in Spain, known as the Moro were cut off and came under threat from successive invasions. However, the Moro retained the white flag and it came to be associated with negro troops specifically, whereas the Saracen Arab invaders who followed them into Spain used the red flag of the Khawarij Republican followers of Caliph Uthman III. As pressure from the Reyes Católicos (the Christian Reconquistadors) increased over the centuries, African states in Spain mutated and fell and rose many times. The most stable and longest lived African state in Spain was Grenada, with the magnificent Nasridin dynasty citadel of Al Hambra as its capitol. Al Hambra surrendered to the Reyes Católicos at dawn on January 2, 1492. Spain and Portugal followed this action with the conquest of parts of Africa, the destruction of African communities in Europe and the invasion of the Americas. Lisbon's black population, that out-numbered Europeans in 1550, was devasted by the plagues of the times. The last free blacks in Spain were expelled on April 6, 1609.

The last African flag of Grenada consisted of heraldic "Argent, a pomegranate gules leafed vert" (ie., an all-white flag, with a centred red pomegranate flower with green petals). It is unclear what the symbolic significance of the pomegranate bloom was to blacks in Spain. What is notable, however, is that the Pomegranate gave its name to Granada, as well as to the Hand Grenade which came into use in the 15th century. Moreover, the bloom has the colors Green, Yellow, Red, which coincidentally are the Pan-African colors. Perhaps most cryptic of all is the ancient saying "There is nothing in the world like the pain of being blind in Granada," probably less a reference to the blindfolded Maure and more about the beauty of perhaps the most beautiful place in Europe. Al Hambra is still only second to the Vatican in tourist visitors.

The escutcheons (coat of arms) of the blackamoor proliferated in both private and civic European Orders throughout the 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th and 15th centuries. Heraldic descriptions such as "Argent, three blackamoors' heads couped sable, capped or, fretty gules" on coats of arms became common shortly after 1096.

Even today, Sardinia's coat of arms bears four African heads each displayed in one of the four quarters created by the cross on the white shield. The traditional explanation is they represent four Moorish emirs of 11th century Spain. (N.B. Africans settled Sardinia and founded settlements around the gulf of Cagliari as early as 6000 BC, and founded the Nuragic civilization which bares a remarkable similarity to ancient Zimbabwe).

Other sources of inspiration for the AUF Maure include celebrated Africans in ancient world history & mythology, including the Magi, the Arthurian knights Pallamedes (who wore two swords on account of his being ambidextrous), and Moren (whose skin is described as being remarkably black and who taught chivalry to the other knights). Others include Ogham, the black war leader of the Celts, and Prester John, the Christian King of Ethiopia (Africa), and Cepheus the father of Andromeda. In Nubian Twilight Alex Keating shows that popular European stories including Hans and Gretel, and Cinderella were taught to Europeans by Sudanese soldiers serving in Germany around the time of the Crusades. Cinderella especially means black skin...and may have originally simply referred to a real black girl (or several of them in similar situations). The representations of Africans among the ancient African culture, and in cultures of the world, is the inspiration for the AUF emblem.

The fall of the Kushites, the Phoenicians, the conquest of Egypt, the Rise of the Romans, the advent of Asian slave trade in African persons, and consolidation of Reconquistador attitudes in 17th century Europe, all heralded a nasty turn in the treatment of Africans in world culture. Shakespeare's insightful Aaron in Titus Andronicus, and the ill-fated Othello reflect the crises and despondency that gripped human society as African civilization succumbed under the persistent attack by Europe and Asia.

Another Medieval Maurice: 1250 AD European Statue of African Knight
As late as the 19th century major European states were still using Black heads on their armorials. The French added the Maure to the fleur-de-lis but removed the blindfold. At first, the French government gave to the new department of Corsica, arms where the Moor's Head was side by side with the fleur-de-lis and with a motto: The Law, the King. But from 1792, this motto disappeared although the Moor's Head and the fleur-de-lis still remained. When Paoli formed the Anglo-Corsican kingdom, the Moor's head which was associated to the arms of the king of England, became again, from 1794 to 1796, the official emblem of Corsica."

U Moru has powerful saddening symbolism as well. It encapsulates in a single image the suffering of Africans. The number of interpretations in this regard are endless. Like the Clenched-Black-Fist, or the Chained-Black-Hand, both important African Empowerment emblems, U Moru's blinded and bound face tells eloquently the story of African survival in the face of overwhelming historic aggression and oppression. The bound face of an African is also symbolic of our oppression, or the African Holocausts perpetated against us on account of our Africanness and our appearance, and we must not forget that millions of our people continue to die and to suffer in bondage at the hands of proxy neocolonial governments and at the hands of racist anti-African regimes. It is important to bear in mind that some African-Profile armorials of Europe in the middle ages bore chains in addition to the blindfold. This was especially true of the maps of the time. Although there are no references that point to the existence of official standards with a gagfold covering the mouth rather than the eyes, they do appear from time to time and signify African silence, or more specifically the suppression of African expression.

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Origin of the Moor's head
The Aragonese hypothesis
The origin of the Moor's head has been the subject of several legends and speculations. In February 1995, Jerôme Potentini gave a lecture at the Corsican Academy (Accademia Corsa), entitled Quelques idées sur l'origine du drapeau corse (Some ideas on the origin of the Corsican flag). The text of the lecture (in French) is available on the website of the Corsican Academy.

To my knowledge, this text is the best available report on the Moor's head. The author quotes his sources and makes a clear distinction between evidence, interpretation and legend. I am summarizing below the most relevant parts of the lecture. I have rearranged some parts of the lecture, for the sake of clarity.

Heraldical meaning of the Moor's head

The Moor's head is often used as a canting coat of arms by families whose name is based on the roots Maure or More. This is the case not only in Corsica, but also in continental France, Flanders, Augsburg, and Switzerland. According to Gheusi, the Moor's head used on such arms is mostly shown in profile and looking towards dexter (that is towards viewer's left). Its blazoning is the following:

tête de nègre de sable, naturellement animée et tortillée d'argent

In this description, animée (animated) means that the eyes are white and clearly visible. The heraldist Paillot gave a similar blazoning, which he illustrated with eight blasons showing the Moor's head. In all of Paillot's blasons, the head belongs to a black man (nègre, but without any pejorative connotation) with thick lips, a flat nose and freezy hair. This description fits the traditional description of Moorish slaves captured and traded by Christians, or of Moors who occupied for a long time Spain, the south of Portugal, parts of the Mediterranean shore of France and several Corsican villages. In the latter cases, the so-called Moors were not black Africans but Arabs or Islamized natives from Maghreb.

Meaning of the headband

Berthelot and Ceccaldi, quoting the historian Carpacino, believe the headband was a royal symbol. Therefore, the Moor would be a defeated Moorish chief. However, Antonetti points out that Carpacino mentioned the headband as a royal symbol in the Hellenic world only. The heraldist Paillot mentioned a tortil, that is a twisted ribbon, and not a headband. The tortil is tied behind the neck where it constitutes two small pieces. The tortil is placed either on the eyes or the forehead.

Pearls and ear pendants

In the arms dated XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries, the Moor's head is consistently shown with pearl necklaces and ear pendants. Therefore this Moor was indeed a Moorish woman, most probably a slave. These female representations might have been inspired by the trade of Moorish slaves, which was ruled during the Renaissance by Genoa, then ruler in Corsica.

Legends (among others)

A Corsican cut the head of a Sarracen chief he had identified by its white headband. In order to preserve the head as a trophy, he wrapped it into a piece of white fabric. Since he could not preserve the head too long, he decided to draw it on a white piece of fabric. This legend was reported by Nimou in his book Choses de Corse (1936).
Corsairs abducted the fiancée of a young Corsican from Aleria (a city located on the eastern coastal plain) and sold her to the King of Aragon. The Corsican set free his fiancée and killed the lieutenant sent after him by the king. He exhibited the lieutenant's head as a trophy all over the island.


Origin of the Moor's head

In 1297, pope Boniface VIII (1235-1303) vested the king of Aragon with powers on the kingdoms of Sardinia and Corsica. The Moor's head was reported on the Aragonese arms (four Moor's heads around a red cross) for the first time in 1281. These arms were used until 1387, when king Jaume I restored the former arms of Aragon. The kings of Aragon were not really interested in Corsica, and there is no evidence they imported their arms to Corsica. They occupied Sardinia, however, which explains the Moor's head in the arms of Cagliari, the capital city of Sardinia, as proved by parchments kept in the municipal archives of Cagliari. It is often said, without solid evidence, that the king of Aragon adopted the Moor's head after the battle of Alcoras or Alarcos (1046) during which king Peter I had defeated four Moorish kings. The only solid conclusion which can be drawn is that the Moor's head is not of Corsican origin but was probably imported by the kings of Aragon, although it is not attested before the beginnning ot the XIVth century.

The Moor's head in Corsica from XIIIth to XVIth century

In 1376, Giovanni della Grossa wrote that Arrigo della Rocca, the leader of the Corsican pro-Aragonese party, had placed on his banner a griffin surmonted with the arms of Aragon. However, Grossa did not describe explicitely these arms. Vincentello d'Istria, another pro-Aragonese leader, who became in 1418 the first native vice-roy of Corsica, was also said to bear the arms of Aragon, again not described explicitely. Sampiero, Colonel of the Corsican regiment in the service of the king of France (1547), was reported to have used a black flag with a white cross and a Moor's head in the center. The Moor's head was allegedly added to the regiment flag to distinguish it from the flag used by Piemontese bands. The military historian Poli, however, believes that the report was erroneous and that the Moor's head had been added by modern authors. He said that France would have not tolerated mercenaries using an Aragonese symbol. Corsico-Sardinian mercenaries, however, might have used banners with the Moor's head. Such banners are shown on several paintings and frescos, carried by Corsican and Sardinian regiments or mercenaries in the service of the pope or Italian republics. A painting, dated before 1466, by Piero della Francesca (1416-1492) in the St. Francis' church in Arezzo, is the best example of these representations. Corsicans and Sardinians served indistinctively in the same regiments, which might have used the arms of Cagliari on their banner. The conclusion for the XIII-XVIth century period is that Corsican chiefs might have used the Moor's head as their banner, although this was not the official emblem of Corsica.

The Moor's head in Corsica from XVIth to XVIIIth century

In 1573, the Italian geographer Mainaldo Galerati "reestablished" the Moor's head as the emblem of Corsica in his atlas showing the possessions of king Philip II of Spain and their respective arms. The atlas published in 1662 by the Dutch Johan Blaeu popularized the Moor's head. Blaeu's atlas was translated in Latin as Atlas major between 1662 and 1665. Corsica was represented there by a golden shiled with a tortil-wearing Moor's head and a Triton armed with a trident.

Using Blaeu's atlas, Seutter published in 1731 in Augsburg a map of Corsica decorated with a Moor's head. On 12 March 1736, the adventurer Theodor von Neuhoff (1694-1756) landed in Aleria, where he was proclaimed king of Corsica. He used a white flag with a Moor's head with a headband on the eyes. Neuhoff might have seen Seutter's map in Augsburg where he had been stationed. A coin minted at that time in Corsica shows a head, which was interpreted either as the Moor's head or Neuhoff's head. Neuhoff left Corsica after six months, but his story was widely popularized in Europa. This might be the reason why the Moor's head has been considered as the official symbol of Corsica since then.

Pascuale Paoli and the Moor's head

In a letter dated 23 June 1760 from Rivarola, Pascuale Paoli (1725-1807) proposed a flag for Corsica. The reverse should have been charged with a picture of St. Dévote and the obverse should have been charged with the Moor's head as represented on the maps at that time. During the Consulta of Vescovato, on 24 May 1761, it was decided to mint coins with the arms of the kingdom of Corsica. A Moor's head with a tortil on the forehead was placed on a shield, surmonted with a royal crown with fleur-de-lys, itself surmonted with a globe and a cross. The shield was flanked by two marine deities. These arms were placed, with some variation, on the Corsican flags. Paoli created a Corsican navy, whose ensign was a Moor's head on a white field without any secondary attribute. As said above, the tortil was placed on the Moor's forehead instead of eyes. Paoli was reported to have said: "The Corsicans want to see well, liberty shall follow the torch of philosophy and we shall not be scared by the light." According to Ambrogia Rossi, Paoli also said: "Now the placement of the royal headband shall indicate our dignity and no longer our shame as our enemies would prefer to see it." However, Genoese archives prove that flags with the headband on the Moor's forehead already existed in 1731. Paoli seems to have indeed officialized the placement of the headband on the Moor's forehead. After the battle of Ponte-Novu (1769) and Paoli's exile to England, France kept the Moor's head but suppressed the headband and added fleurs-de-lys. The French Revolution kept the Moor's head, but suppressed the fleurs-de-lys. Between 1794 and 1796, Paoli attempted to create an Anglo-Corsican kingdom. Its official emblem associated the Moor's head and the Royal arms of England.

Ivan Sache, 4 August 2002

Another historical hypothesis related to Aragon was reported by the Corsica Guide. It says that the Moor's head appeared on the Corsican flag in the XVIth century, following the drawing of a map of the possessions of Philip II, King of Spain, by an Italian geographer. Corsica had then no official emblem, and the geographer used the Moor's head because of the proximity to Sardinia, whose flag bears four Moor's heads.

Ivan Sache, 31 March 2000


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St. Maurice as the Moor
The Jesuit trained Mario de Valdes y Cocom wrote an essay about St. Maurice and the imagery of the Moor's head in a special article for PBS' Frontline. The essay is entitled: Sigillum Secretum (Secret Seal) - On the image of the Blackamoor in European Heraldry (a preliminary proposal for an iconographical study).

The parts relevant to the Moor's head on flags say:

The four Moor's head shown on the flag of Sardinia are traditionally associated to the four Moorish emirs which were defeated by a king of Aragon in the XIth century. As a corollary, the Black figure became a symbol of evil.

Modern heraldits suspect that the Moor's head is, however, the very opposite of a negative symbol. The Moor's head could have referred to St. Maurice, the black patron saint of the Holy Roman Empire from the beginning of the Xth century. Maurice has been portrayed as black since the XIIth century.

Valdes writes: 'The insignia of the black head, in a great many instances, was probably meant to represent this soldier saint since a majority of the arms awarded were knightly or military. With 6,666 of his African compatriots, St. Maurice had chosen martyrdom rather than deny his allegiance to his Lord and Saviour, thereby creating for the Christian world an image of the Church Militant that was as impressive numerically as it was colourwise. Here, no doubt, is a major reason why St. Maurice would become the champion of the old Roman church and an opposition symbol to the growing influence of Luther and Calvin. The fact that he was of the same race as the Ethiopian baptized by St. Philip in Acts of the Apostles was undoubtedly an important element to his significance as well. Since this figure from the New Testament was read as a personification of the Gentile world in its entirety, the complexion of St. Maurice and his Theban Legion (the number of which signified an infinite contingent) was also understood as a representation of the Church's universality - a dogmatic ideal no longer tolerated by the Reformation's nationalism.
Furthermore, it cannot be coincidental that the most powerful of the German princes to remain within the Catholic fold, the archbishop Albrecht von Brandenburg, not only dedicated practically all the major institutions under his jurisdiction to St. Maurice but in what is today one of the most important paintings of the Renaissance, had himself portrayed in Sacred Conversation with him.
Even more blatant was the action taken by Emanual Philibert, Duke of Savoy. In 1572 he organized the order of St. Maurice. The papal promulgation published at its institution declared quite unequivocally that the sole purpose for this knighthood was to combat of the Reformation. The order still exists although it has now combined with the Order of St. Lazarus. The white trefoiled cross of the combined order belongs to the former. The particular symbol of St. Maurice's blackness that must have most antagonized the Protestant faction, however, was the one regarding the mystery of papal authority. Scholars have been able to show, for example, that in the theological debates of this period, even the abstract adjectives, black and white, were defiantly acknowledged by apologists of both stripes to represent the Church and the Reformers respectively."

Ivan Sache, 18 Febuary 2001


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