Carantanian Heraldry

From Monochrome to Polychrome ...

by Dr. Josef Šavli, FAS


Carantanian coats of arms are in the grouping with the oldest roots in Europe. Their symbols reflect the state traditions of Carantania (Slovenia), which later passed to Inner Austria. According to confirmed dates,

Carantanian official heraldry began in the period after 1150 A.D. The symbols and images upon which it is based, however, are much older. The predecessors of coats of arms were battle signs, usually in the form of aggressive or cunning animals. They symbolized power, bravery and skill in the strategy of battle. Even today, such pre-heraldic battle signs can be recognized of some provinces, among them is also the Black Panther of Carantania.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the well-known Styrian heraldist A. Anthony von Siegenfeld, published detailed resarch concerning the panther. He determined that its origin was preheraldic. However, because his sympathies lay with the pan-Germanic movement in Europe, he extrapolated parts of this preheraldic history, assigning it to Bavaria. His opinions were considered authoritative for many years in the study of Austrian heraldry.

It is still the case that Austrian heraldry, like its historiography, does not recognise Carantania as a predecessor state to Austria and also to today Slovenia. It follows, therefore, that Carantanian heraldry has received little scholarly attention.

For the above reason the question of the pre-heraldic and Carantanian origin of the Black Panther put on a silver shield has not been adequately explained. The figure has always been known as the 'Styrian' panther.[see left: i) STYRIA] The only logical reason for this, at least in recent times, is the fact that studies of Carantanian statehood have not been pursued.

Proof of the existence of panther battle sign is shown on the insignia of 1195 pertaining to Herrald von Wildon, Marshall of the Carantanian March (later Styria). It shows the panther on a pole [see left: e) WILDON].

The apparance of battle signs on the shields of rulers marks the beginning of the heraldic period. The first record of the figure of a panther on a shield appears on an insignia in 1160. This demonstrates that Carantania was among the first European nations to have their own coat of arms and also its own flag. The figure of the panther first appeared on a gonfalon in 1205. The panthers's colors were described for the first time by Wolfram von Eschenbach in »Parzival« around the year 1210, where he mentions the »sable (black) panther on an ermine shield« which is later a black panther on a silver (white) shield.

These Carantanian colours - black-white - were used in the coats of arms of families that occupied positions of prominence whithin the state administration and army already in the period of the Great Duchy of Carantania (952 - 1180) which comprised the territory of the Eastern Alps and Northern Italy between Vienna and Verona. The oldest families of Carantania (today Carinthia and Styria) used black and white coats of arms. Osterwitz, Liechtenstein, Stubenberg and others. In the March of Treviso, the Collalto family being Counts there in the Carantanian period already in about the year 1000, bore a black and white coat of arms. Similarly, the arms of the Colloredo family in Friuli and so on.

After the decline of the Carantanian dynasty, around 1270, the shield with the black panther was no longer used. This symbol remained only in the form of the white panther, still used in Styria to this day.

The domination of the Habsburg family over the Carantanian lands after 1335 brought with it a new name for the region, Inner Austria. The Carantanian heraldry passed over into the Austrian. A new heraldry used elements of both. The colours red and white were more in fashion then, and the bundle of so-called 'Austrian Peacock' feathers was favoured. However the banner with the figure of the panther was retained as the sign of ancient statehood.[see left: h) GORISKI] The origin of this symbol lies, as we have seen, in Carantania. It continued as an Austrian symbol until 1440 when Duke Frederic V was elected King, and later become Emperor Frederic III. From that time the Imperial symbols supplanted all others.


During the past centuries, several successful attempts have been made to cancel titles of the nobility that lived in the Carantanian territory. The last such move was made by Yugoslavian king Alexander in the 1920's when the only title retained was that of the Serbian royalty. Today it would not matter, but not too long ago the nobility represented the leadership of a nation -- and we all know that a leaderless nation can easily fall prey to another nation that has leaders. This is the year 2000, Slovenia has its leaders, properly elected, and noble titles no longer matter. The historical record above, however, helps to show that Slovenians can exist as a sovereign nation and can indeed govern themselves.
Borut Prah, (Collalto family relative)