The double-headed eagle is a common symbol in heraldry and vexillology. It is most commonly associated with the Byzantine Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, the Russian Empire and their successor states. In Byzantine heraldry, the heads represent the Emperor having authority over both secular and religious matters, Byzantine emperors were regarded as Christ's vicegerent on Earth. It also signified the dominance of the Byzantine Emperors over both East and West. In the Holy Roman Empire's heraldry, it represented the church and the state. Several Eastern European nations adopted it from the Byzantines and continue to use it as their national symbol to this day.
Double-headed eagles have been present in imagery for millennia. The two-headed eagle can be found in the archaeological remains of the Sumerian civilization and through the Hittite civilization, dating from a period that ranges from the 20th century BC to the 7th century BC. The Gandaberunda is another example of a mythological two-headed bird, which is in common use in India.
Cylindric seals discovered in Bogazkoy, an old Hittite capital in modern-day Turkey, represent clearly a two-headed eagle with spread wings. The aesthetics of this symmetrical position explains in part the birth of this religious figure: It originally dates from c. 3800 BC, and was the Sumerian symbol for the god of Lagash, Ninurta son of Enlil. It can also be seen in the same region in three monumental settings: Circa 1900 BC, during the Hittite surge from north-central Anatolia down into Babylonia; in Alacahöyük around 1400 BC; and in Yazilikaya before 1250 BC. Here the context looks slightly different and totally religious: The eagle returns to its ancient origins as a symbol of divine power. The two-headed eagle is seen less and less during the last Hittite period (from the 9th to the 7th century BC) and totally disappears after the end of the empire.
Byzantine Empire 
Constantinople was the successor of Rome, and the Byzantine Greeks continued the use of the old imperial "single-headed" eagle motif. Although the roots of the transformation to double-headed are almost certainly connected with old depictions in Asia Minor, the details of its adoption are uncertain. It was, however, already in use by the 10th century.
The Ancients used no flags in the modern sense. The Romans used various signa, such as the bronze aquilas (adopted as the legions' symbol by Marius) and vexilloids, and, if the emperor was present, pikes or banners with the emperor's portrait. With the adoption of Christianity as state religion during the later Empire, the Chi-Rho and the cross became more and more used in military standards, such as the labarum. The Roman single-headed eagle however continued to be used as a symbol of imperial authority.
According to the most prevalent theory, the single-headed eagle was modified to double-headed by emperor Isaac I Komnenos (1057–1059) being influenced from local traditions about such a (mythical) beast (the haga) in his native Paphlagonia in Asia Minor. Local legends talked about this giant eagle with two heads that could easily hold a bull in its claws; the haga was seen as a representation of power, and people would often "call" it for protection. Isaac Komnenos, deeply influenced by these beliefs, had already used it as a family emblem.
Use by the Seljuk Turks (c. 1058 – 1246) 
The double-headed eagle became the standard of the Seljuk Turks with the crowning of Tuğrul (meaning "Falcon") Beg at Mosul in 1058 as "King of the East and the West" and was much used afterwards. The Sultans of Rum, Ala ad-Din Kayqubad I (1220–1237) and his son Kaykhusraw II (1237–1246) used the dicephalous eagle in their standards, and the motif was also found on tissues, cut stones, mural squares, and Koran holders.
Turcomans who ruled in Anatolia during the 13th century, inherited it from the Seljuk Turks. Islamic coins from the reign of Khalif Nasreddin Mahmoud bin Mohammad, following Turkish influence, sporting a double-headed eagle on one side and the Star of David on the other as early as year 1200.
Today, Turkish police have a double-headed eagle in its insignia as a secondary charge, in addition to the Atatürk University in Erzurum, municipality of Diyarbakır and two football clubs of Turkey, Erzurumspor and Konyaspor using it as their coat of arms.
Holy Roman Empire (c. 1250 – 1806) 
The first mention of a double-headed eagle in the West dates from 1250, in a roll of arms of Matthew of Paris for Emperor Frederick II of the Holy Roman Empire. Usually depicted black on a gold background, it replaced the earlier single-headed eagle, and was subsequently adopted in the coats of arms of many German cities and aristocratic families. After the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire in 1806, the double-headed eagle was retained by the Austrian Empire, and served also as the coat of arms of the German Confederation.
Use by other countries 
From Byzantium, two-headed eagles spread to Russia after Ivan III's second marriage to Zoe Palaiologina (a niece of the last Byzantine emperor Constantine XI), and to Montferrat, where a cadet branch of the Palaeologi ruled. It remains also an important motif in the heraldry of the imperial families of Russia (the House of Romanov) and Austria-Hungary (the House of Habsburg), as well as the royal family of Montenegro (the House of Petrovic).
It was the charge in the Coat of Arms of the Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Alexander (reigned 1331–1371). The Serbian Nemanjić dynasty adopted a white version as their own to signify their own independence of, and indeed, claim to the imperial throne of Constantinople. The white eagle was retained by most Serbian medieval dynasties, as well as the Karađorđević, Obrenović and Petrović-Njegoš houses and remains to this day in use in the coat-of-arms of the countries of Serbia and Montenegro. George Kastrioti (Skanderbeg) adopted a similar flag in his struggle against the Ottomans, consisting of a black eagle on red background, which has been resurrected in the current Flag of Albania. During the next centuries, the eagle was made to hold a sword and/or a scepter and an orb with a cross, symbols of the aforementioned double sovereignty.
Its usage also survived as an element in the Greek Orthodox Church, which was the inheritor of the Byzantine legacy during the Ottoman Empire, while it remained a popular symbol among Greeks and is still in use in Church flags. In modern Greece it is used officially by the Hellenic Army (Coat of Arms of Hellenic Army General Staff). It was also used as a charge on the Greek coat of arms for a brief period in 1925–1926.
The two-headed eagle appears, often as a supporter, on the current and historical arms and flags of many countries and territories, including Albania, Armenia, Austria (1934–1938), Austria-Hungary, Byzantine Empire, German Confederation, Holy Roman Empire, Kingdom of Mercia (527–918), Montenegro, Kingdom of Mysore, Russian Empire, Russian Federation, Seljuk Empire, Serbia, Serbian Empire, Kingdom of Serbia, Spanish Empire (during the Habsburg dynasty), and Kingdom of Yugoslavia. It also appears on other coats of arms and flags, including the flag of the Greek Orthodox Church, the arms and flag of the Hellenic Army General Staff and the Hellenic Army XVI Infantry Division, a number of cities in Germany, Netherlands and Serbia, the arms and flag of the city of Toledo, Spain, and the arms of the town of Velletri, Italy.
Use in Masonry 
The Double-Headed Eagle of Lagash is used as an emblem by the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry. There are many meanings attached to this symbol. It has been introduced in France in the early 1760s as the emblem of the Kadosh degree.
Use in sports 
The double-headed eagle is the emblem of the Greek sport clubs A.E..K. (black eagle on yellow background, with open wings) and P.A.O.K. (black eagle on white background, with folded wings). It is a symbol of the clubs' origins, since both were founded by Greek refugees who fled to Greece from Constantinople in 1922–23. It is also the emblem of the Turkish Konyaspor, the Dutch clubs NEC and Vitesse, the English League Two football club AFC Wimbledon and Scottish Premier League side Saint Johnstone FC.
Examples of double-headed eagles 
See also 
- Double Eagle
- Eagle (heraldry)
- Coat of arms of Austria-Hungary
- Divide and rule
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- A picture can be found in Titus Burckhardt, Art of Islam, under the chapter on the Rum seljuks.
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- Notes and Queries - William White - Google Books
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- Pierre Mollier (2004), "The Double-Headed Eagle: iconographic sources of the masonic symbol", The Chain of Union (Special issue No.3): 5–15, retrieved 2011-10-30
- "Mercian History". Mercian Volunteers Regimental Association. Archived from the original on 2007-09-29. Retrieved 2013-05-13.
- (French) Soloviev, A.V. (1935). "Les emblèmes héraldiques de Byzance et les Slaves". Seminarium Kondakovianum 7: 119–164.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Double-headed eagles|
- National Emblem of Russian Federation, 1993, The development of the use of the double-headed eagle in Russia (mirror of article archived from RF.Boom.ru)
- Heraldica.org, Page on the use of heraldry in the Byzantine Empire
- Metmuseum.org, Embroidered double-headed eagle on the podea of Paul, Patriarch of Constantinople (late 14th century) from the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art