Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The double-headed eagle of the Third Rome

The internet technology company Google has one of the most famous and recognizable logos. In scripophily, this title is taken by the double-headed eagle of the Russian Tsar. During the 19th century, until the Russian Revolution in 1917, millions of securities have been issued to finance the Russian state, its railways, Russian companies and Russian cities. They were distributed all over Europe and the rest of the world. But have you paid any attention yet to the imperial eagle that has been printed on so many certificates? Have you noticed how many shields that eagle bears ?  Ever heard of the Third Rome ?

collage of old Russian bonds
Collage of bonds from the Russian Empire.
Image sources provided by Mr. and Mrs. A. Kamyshin

Nine coats of arms represent 500 years of history
When looking carefully, you can distinguish 9 coats of arms on the eagle. However, in most cases, these shields are printed so tiny that few details can be revealed.

Russian Kopek coin 1917
click to enlarge and distinguish the 9 shields

The center shield on the eagle's chest is the one with the arms of Moscow. Then, in clockwise order starting from the heads, we see the arms of Astrakhan, Siberia, Georgia, Finland, Kiev-Vladimir-Novgorod, Taurica, Poland and Kazan. As you will read further, you'll see that this double-headed eagle represents about 500 years of Russian imperial history. To be honest, I was unaware of the rich past of Russia and while reading about it I found myself consuming one story after another. I can only recommend you to do the same.

1866 bond of the Russian empire with detail on the Russian double-headed imperial eagle
2e Russ. 5% Inner. Anleihe mit praemien-verloos.
1866, Bond for 100 Roubles
Double-click for details
At the end of the post, I'll highlight some more remarkable appearances of the Russian eagle, but to start with, here is a brief overview the shields and the history that is represented by them, given again in their clockwise order.

Khanate of Astrakhan
The territory of the Khanate of Astrakhan is located around the delta of the Volga river and the lower Volga valley. The capital of Astrakhan was a center where many trade routes converged. In the 13th century, the region became part of the Golden Horde, the western part of the Mongol Empire. When the latter collapsed at the beginning of the 15th century, it fell apart into smaller Tatar khanates. Astrakhan was one of these. In 1556 it was conquered by Tsar Ivan IV the Terrible.

Khanate of Astrakhan
Khanate of Siberia
The Khanate of Siberia was located east of the middle Ural Mountains. In the 1550s the Stroganovs, a family of merchants, obtained the right for colonizing the vast lands over the Ural mountains, a rich source for furs and raw materials. In 1582 the Cossack Ermak Timofeev (Yermak Timofeyevich), hired by the Stroganov's for protecting their interests and leading an expedition into the Siberian Khanate, captured its capital Isker. 

Khanate of Siberia

Kingdoms and principalities of Georgia
At the beginning of the 19th century, the eastern Georgian kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti and the western Georgian kingdom of Imereti, were annexed by the Russian Empire. Other souvereign Georgian principalities and regions, previously conquered by the Ottoman Empire, such as Adjara, Guria, Megrelia and Svaneti were recovered by Russia.


Grand Duchy of Finland
During the war with Sweden, Alexander I of Russia invaded Finland in 1808. One year later  Finland was annexed but it was allowed considerable autonomy. The Russian Vyborg province was incorporated into Grand Duchy of Finland.

Grand Duchy of Finland

Unified coat of arms of the Grand Principalities of Kiev, Vladimir and Novgorod
The state of Kiev, the Kiev Rus, formed in the late 9th century was the craddle of the Russian empire. Trade routes were maintained with the Vikings to the north and west and with the Byzantine Greeks to the south and west. After Mongol invasions in the 13th century, the Kiev state fell apart into smaller separate principalities such as Vladimir and Novgorod, all tributary to the Tatars.  In the Vladimir principality, the region around Moscow gradually gained more influence and became known as the Grand Duchy of Moscow, the predecessor state of the Tsardom of Russia. In the 15th century, the Grand Dukes of Moscow took over the former Kievan territories. Novgorod was conquered by Ivan III of Moscow in 1478.
Principalities of Kiev, Vladimir and Novgorod

Khanate of Taurica Chersonesos
Chersonesos was an ancient Greek colony in the Crimea, the peninsula in the north of the Black Sea. Later the region came under control of the Byzantime empire before being looted by the Mongols. In 1475 the Tatars established the khanate that soon became a vassal of the Ottoman Empire. In the 16th century the Crim Tatars claimed the ruling over the khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan. Their campaign in 1571 led to the burning of Moscow. The balance of power changed in favor of the Russians. During the Russo-Turkish War (1735-739) they invaded the Crimea. Catharina II of Russia annexed the region in 1783.

Khanate of Taurica Chersonesos

Kingdom of Poland
As a result of many wars with Russia, Sweden, Prussia and Austria, Poland was partitioned several times in the 18th century. In 1814, after Napoleon's defeat, Alexander I of Russia was made king of Poland at the Congress of Vienna.

Kingdom of Poland

Khanate of Kazan
This state, located around the confluence of the Volga and Kama rivers, was absorbed into Russia in 1552 after more than 100 years of raids, battles and revolts (the Russo-Kazan Wars) between both parties.

Khanate of Kazan

Grand Duchy of Moscow
The shield of Moscow depicts Saint George defeating the dragon. Moscow originally was a part of the Vladimir Principality, see above.  It was Ivan III that adopted the Byzantine double-headed eagle in his seal. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Moscow saw itself as the "Third Rome", the successor of Byzantium (which was the "Second Rome"). After the death of his first wife, Ivan III, married Sophia Paleologue, a niece of the last Byzantine emperor.  In 1480 Moscow made an end to the Mongol rule after Ivan III rebuffed the Tatars in the battle on the Ugra river. The first officially crowned Tsar of Russia was Ivan IV.

Grand Duchy of Moscow

Russian eagle watermarks
Many old shares and bond certificates contain a watermark. Russian scripophily is no exception. In case a watermark is present, you will mostly detect a geometrical watermark pattern such as a wave pattern. Sometimes, a collector can be surprised by a watermark of a recognizable image like one of our double-headed eagle.

Russian Peasant's Land Bank
4.5% Bond of 150 Roubles, 1912
exceptional large watermark of the double-headed eagle
click to enlarge  

On other examples, we might even spot a whole pattern of imperial eagles in the watermark.
2e Russ. 5% Inner. Anleihe mit praemien-verloos.
Bond for 100 Roubles, 1866
The watermark pattern is composed of Russian imperial eagles.

Final version in use until the Russian Revolution
The double-headed eagles, shown above, are the ones most commonly seen on Russian stocks and bonds. However they represented the Tsars only for the last 35 years of the Russian empire. This version was called the "lesser" coat of arms and was introduced in the early 1880s together with a "great" and a "middle" coat of arms version.

In the 400 years preceding these "final" versions, the design with the double-headed eagle evolved several times so it could  reflect the expansion of the empire or conform to more modern standards in western heraldry.  You can read more about that development here.

variant of the Russian arms, 1825
double-click to enlarge
Rente perpetuelle 1839 Russia
6% Rente perpetuelle 5000 Roubles, 1839
Image source : Mr. M. Boone, auction March 2011

Luckily for us scripophilists, older certificates that depict earlier versions of the Russian imperial double-headed eagle have survived. In general these are rare to find.

variant on the variant of the Russian arms, 1825
Coat-of-arms of the Kingdom of Poland, see above.
The Polish eagle is incorporated in the Russian eagle.
double-click to enlarge

Share of 100 Polish Florins of the Warsaw-Vienna Railway company
Warsaw-Vienna Railway Company
Share of 100 Polish Florins, unissued, 1839
Image source : Mr. M. Boone, auction March 2011


Is the Russian double-headed eagle present in your collection? Go ahead and try to identify the shields. You may need a magnifier. If you find another version of the Russian imperial eagle, I will be happy to add it to this article. I want to thank Mr. and Mrs. A. Kamyshin and Mr. M. Boone for providing images of Russian certificates.

Reference links

Related links
  • Boone Shares, the Internet site of Mario Boone's scripophily auctions
  • KievScripo, the Internet site of Mr. & Mrs. A. Kamychin

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  1. Good post. Enjoyed it. Thanks.

  2. I am researching four Russian, Jewish forgers who attempted to produce counterfeit rouble bonds in 1863. Could I have permission to use your image of the 1866 bond for 100 roubles?
    Or do you perhaps have one around 1862 or 1863?

  3. Hello Ron, no problem to use the image. An interesting topic indeed. If any questions please ask.

  4. Great summary, thank you very much Franky! I'm so glad I googled into this page.