Black panther (symbol)

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the symbol of the black panther

Black panther (Slovene: črni panter) is a Carinthian historical symbol, which represents a stilized heraldic panther. As a heraldic symbol, it appeared on the coat of arms of the Carinthian Duke Herman II as well as of the Styrian Margrave Ottokar III. In this region it was most frequently imaged on various monuments and tombstones.

The symbol can still be found in the coat of arms of the Austrian state of Styria, although the colours have changed.

The symbol of the black panther in its current version was first reconstructed by self-declared historian Jožko Šavli in the 1980s. Šavli claims that he discovered that several feudal families originating from the old Carantanian area had a black panther in their dynastic coat of arms. He also claims he discovered several documents mentioning the black panther as an ancient symbol of Caranthania. From all these evidences he made a reconstruction of how the symbol of Carolingian Caranthania most probably looked like.

Šavli's reconstruction soon gained some popularity among younger generations of Slovenian patriots and nationalists. In the last two decades, it has become one of the most recognizable symbols of Slovenian patriotism. It is also used by several nationalistic groups.

Several academic historians, such as Peter Štih, have disputed the hypothesis that the black panther was the symbol of Carolingian and Ottonian Duchy of Carinthia. According to their views, all mentions which would suggest such a conclusion are vague. Furthermore, there is no direct evidence of the symbol dating to the time of the Slavic principality of Carantania. Nevertheless, the ties of the black panther symbol with the territory of the early Ottonian Carinthia seem to be beyond doubt.

The origins of the symbol are unclear. Some maintain it comes from the Roman province of Noricum. Indeed, the figure of two panthers guarding the arbor vitae can be seen in an ancient Roman carved stone built into the church of Maria Saal, which was the religious and administrative center of the old Carantanian principality. Furthermore, the figure of the black panther was very popular in medieval legends: since ancient times, the panther was regarded to be the deadly enemy of the dragon, thus symbolizing the archetypal narrative about the struggle between forces of light and darkness. In early medieval symbolism, the panther was often depicted as a symbol of Christ.

Since 1991, there have been several proposals to replace the Slovenian coat of arms with the black panther.


  • Andrej Pleterski, "Karantanski Rašamon ali mit pred mitom" in Delo, y. 39, n. 118 (May 24, 1997).
  • Peter Štih, "Brskanje po zgodovini in iskanje slovenskih simbolov" in Delo, y. 30, n. 130 (June 6, 1990).
  • Jožko Šavli, Slovenski simboli (Bilje: Založba Humar, 1995).

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