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Primitive Arms of Portugal and León: An Article

Published by Carlos da Fonte, em 31.08.12


Estudos de Heráldica Medieval

I had the honour and privilege to be included among the authors of a collection of articles - Estudos de Heráldica Medieval (Studies of Medieval Heraldry) - edited by Instituto de Estudos Medievais from Universidade Nova de Lisboa and Centro Lusíada de Estudos Genealógicos e Heráldicos from Universidade Lusíada de Lisboa, published by Editora Caminhos Romanos with the coordination of Prof. Doutor Miguel Metelo de Seixas and Profª Doutora Maria de Lurdes Rosa.


It will be presented next 14th September by 9:00 pm at Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas of Universidade Nova de Lisboa, along with the Open Day of Medieval Heraldry, promoted by IEM, CLEGH and Instituto Português de Heráldica. The program will take all day long: in the morning, after 10:00 am, at Universidade Lusíada de Lisboa (Rua da Junqueira 188 a 198, Auditorium 1); in the afternoon, after 3:00 pm, at Faculdade de Ciências Sociais e Humanas of Universidade Nova de Lisboa (Avenida de Berna, 26-C, room Multiusos 2, Building I&D, 4th Floor).


Primitive Arms of Portugal

My modest contribution - Armas Primitivas de Portugal, novos Contributos - tries to be a condensation of the work developed during my MSc thesis, somewhat outdated by recent investigations, nevertheless largely unknown in several specialized circles. Further, we correct a few inaccuracies and add an important semantic level corresponding to our first king and another referring to his residence, the latter still uncertain to be entirely accepted. Simultaneously we develop similar considerations on the arms of the kings of León, that seem to share some organizational behaviour and possibly identical heraldic traces.


The primitive coat of arms of the Portuguese kings was thoroughly analysed in its core, therefore it is possible to say with some confidence, necessarily supported by historical proof, that they must actually correspond to a parophonic intention of whoever had been the creator of the blazon, seemingly still during the reign of D. Afonso Henriques. I consider as reasonably demonstrated the following heraldic traces and respective semantic levels:


The eleven "plates", corresponding to the river Mondego,

The blue tincture of the escutcheons, representing the city of Coimbra,

The escutcheons, associated with D. Afonso Henriques.


The number, disposition and orientation of the escutcheons are also discussed, as well as the white tincture of the main field, still waiting for more substantiation that may support or reject them. Remember that the text of the thesis in Portuguese may be downloaded in the menu bar at the top of this page (download), where we also find answers to the most frequent objections (discussion). I will be present in the presentation of the book in Lisbon, being at your disposal for any relevant questions.

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Published at 23:36

Portucalis: Door & Bezant

Published by Carlos da Fonte, em 14.04.12


This shield is mentioned in the Zurich Roll of Arms (Zürcher Wappenrolle) dating from mid 14th century, along with several other attributed arms. For our analysis it has the benefit of being consensually recognized as canting, at least in the first half referring a door (porta). The authors of the text and illustrations seem to be the same person, inferring a simultaneous execution. It also contains some text additions with a distinct calligraphy of the 16th century, including the arms we are studying now. The reading of the corresponding legend would be Portugal rex[1], in Latin, or according to others Portegalien[2], indeed Germanised but uncertain. We favour the first version, in spite of the difficult interpretation; in any case there are few or no doubts that this shield is related to Portugal.


Further than any palaeographic appreciation, some of the said supplementary writing appear in a Latinised form: Hispania, Britania, Arragon, whereas others are decidedly Germanic: Schotten, Rom or Frankreich[3]. Anyway, as a late addition, it would hardly influence the reasoning behind the construction of a denominant. Neither the language used would be decisive in an eventual genuine textual legend, given that the emblazonment could be a copy of an earlier armorial or alternatively its own creation. It wouldn't imply that the verbalization of the referent's metonym followed necessarily the text. The use of Latin seems to be rare for attributed arms, but we believe to occur here.


The comparison with other rolls of arms shows common or quite similar attributed arms as for the shields of Jerusalem, Ruthenia and Satrapy. In the same document we could still attempt an analogy with the entries of Navarre, England and Denmark, which are incomplete or inaccurate, but this is worthless, as they are, probably, new attributed arms. We repeat the question of the first article: Did the author ignore the true blazon of the Portuguese king? The answer must be the same; maybe there was even a bigger unawareness because we can't, in any respect, assert the association of the blue tincture and the bezant of this blazon with the Portuguese coat of arms.


The denominant seems to derive from the referent Portugal as a territory, if we accept the text near to other entries of the Armorial. Next we turn to a lingua franca, Latin, now classified as an imaginary language, modifying Portucalis into a denominant[4]. The solution found for the pair denominant-designant: Portucalis ~ porta cales, is not a perfect parophony as the previous one Portingale ~ porte ingal, treated in Portugal - Attributed Arms II, providing a discretion index k=0,30. We improved, nevertheless, the proposition introduced in the thesis: Portegalien ~ porta galla; not only taking into account our criterion of evaluation, the index k, but due also to the hybridism German-Latin put forward initially and to the lack of integration with the remaining traces of the shield.


Next we detail the calculation sequence starting by pairing the words, in order to verify coherently the comparable sounds, finding a total of n=10 phonemes for each. We already know that identical corresponding phonemes have a null penalty, and in this case they will not provide any addends for the summation, carried out character by character. Similarly we didn't find any phonetical transpositions and the related coefficient is null for all pairs of phonemes. There are only two transformations. The first, most obvious, from /u/ into /a/, will be penalized with a coefficient of character c=1.0; the second, inconspicuous, from /i/ into /e/, assumes the penalty c=0.5. Regarding the place occupied by the phonemes along the word they imply the same coefficient of position p=1.0 because both transformations are internal. We multiply each member and sum, obtaining the intermediate value 1.0 x 1.0 + 0.5 x 1.0 = 1.50, which is multiplied by the quotient 2/max(10,10) = 2/10 = 0.2, resulting 1.50 x 0.2 and k=0.3. As the discretion index k is lower than 1 we may accept the proposition Portucalis ~ porta cales as an heraldic parophony.


The designant porta (lat. door) cales (lat. to be hot) builds a compound monosemy as it articulates two different meanings and produces the same number of distinct heraldic traces, still semantically integrated by means of a metonymic composition. The door is fully apparent in the heraldic trace without any difficulty. The second word, cales, in association with the environment established by porta, will metonymize through to be  hot > hot place. We should then answer the question - How we call a hot place provided with a door? It would seem acceptable to proceed with the metonymization with to be hot > hot place > Hell. This solution shows a nice agreement with the other part of the compound metonymy, converging through the designant into door > address > Hell.


Even if we considered these arguments as reasonable, it would be unreasonable to suppose that the hypothetical sole drawing of a red field with a door could be understood as the address of Satan. Consequently, there was a need to refine the arrangement, without disobeying the basic principle of simplification of the medieval emblazonment. We think the author resourced to oppose a Heaven to the Hell, so that this opposition could exclude any doubts on the theme shown. This heraldic trace was also complemented by the use of a single referent's metonym, disregarding, excessively laborious drawings, as it is advisable and appears insistently in the armorial of imaginary arms.


Hell can be partially seen in the red tincture of the doorway which, by its turn, represents itself in the designant door. The surrounding blue tincture represents Heaven, whereas the Sun, the main heavenly body, in this respect a bit redundant, is supposedly responsible for the heat of Hell, undoubtedly by the grace of God's Hand. The Sun is a simplification, transformed into a bezant or even a ball [5]. The fact that there are no rays goes against the heraldic uses, but this can be explained for its emergence during sematization. It is not a main component, enjoying an absolute semantic capacity, neither a wholly secondary feature displaying a senseless complementation.


As a prop, the Sun is an element necessary to understand the sematization of Heaven, a blue trace, and Hell's, a red trace, inspired accessorily by the solar heat. Notwithstanding, it admits simplification, immanence and contrast, its other attributes as a visual complementation. Some of these ideas may be inspired in numerous biblical passages available to the authors, a common influence at the time, as for example[6]: " ... And they came upon the breadth of the earth and encompassed the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And there came down fire from God out of heaven and devoured them: and the devil, who seduced them, was cast into the pool of fire and brimstone, where both the beast and the false prophet shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever ... ".


Complementation didn't modify the drawing except for minor details, mostly exceedingly superfluous, as the horizontal placement of the door, besides contrasts and immanences. Regarding the two leaves of the door, they are made necessary by the symmetry of the drawing. There is a semantic demand to show the red colour inside, leading to the heraldic trace of an open door, inevitably unbalanced with only one leaf. The tincture of the arch and the door is the same, justifiable by the rule of simplification but also coherent with the corresponding colours of stone and metal. Wood seems maladjusted to a burning Hell. As there are no walls the idea of a disguised or hidden location for the infernal abyss is reinforced. Lastly, we add that there is no chance of considering only the arch, that is, representing the Hell without a door. That would be, literally, to let the Devil on the loose ![7]


[1] RUNGE, Heinrich - Die Wappenrolle von Zürich - Ein Heraldisches Denkmal des Vierzehnten Jahrhunderts - Zurich: Antiquarischen Gesellschaft in Zürich, 1860.


[2] CLEMMENSEN, Steen - The Zürich Armorial (Wappenrolle von Zürich) - Farum: Accessed 31 January 2012, available at: <>, 2009.


[3] BIGALSKI, Gerrit - The Zürich Roll of Arms - Accessed 31 January 2012, available at: <>, [s.d.].


[4] The recurring sequence: referent - referent's metonym - verbalization - accommodation - sematization - specification - heraldic trace - complementation, is the same used in the first example and follows detailed in the adjoining table.


[5] Maybe because it seems to be supported by the door.


[6] Revelation 20, 9-10.


[7] We repeat, for convenience, the less obvious abbreviations shown in the table: Referent (R), Referent's Metonym (M), Verbalization (V), Accommodation (A), Sematization (S), Specification (E), Heraldic Trace (H) and Complementation (C).



Attributed Arms R Portugal
Territorial M Portugal
Imaginary language V Portucalis (Latin)
Denominant A Portucalis
Graphemization A P | O | R | T | U | C | A | L | I | S
Phonemization A [ p | O | r | t | u | k | a | l | i | s ]
Pairing A [ p | O | r | t | u | k | a | l | i | s ]
A [ p | O | r | t | a | k | a | l | e | s ]
Coefficient of transposition A 0.0|0.0|0.0|0.0|0.0|0.0|0.0|0.0|0.0|0.0
Coefficient of character A 0.0|0.0|0.0|0.0|1.0|0.0|0.0|0.0|0.5|0.0
Coefficient of position A 0.0|0.0|0.0|0.0|1.0|0.0|0.0|0.0|1.0|0.0
Addends A 0.0|0.0|0.0|0.0|1.0|0.0|0.0|0.0|0.5|0.0
Discretion index A k = 0.30
Phonemization A [ p | O | r | t | a | _ | k | a | l | e | s ]
Graphemization A P | O | R | T | A | _ | C | A | L | E | S
Designant A porta | cales
Compound monosemy S door | to be hot
S door | hot place
Architecture + Notoriety E door + Hell
Tincture H sky Azure
Contrast C argent, or
Opposition S Hell x Heaven
Number H 1 a
Figuration H door door
Filling C shield's area
Symmetry C shield's axis
Orientation C placed horizontally
Centrality C fess point
Connective H door + leaves with
Number H 2 two
Figuration H halves leaves
Immanence C door + Hell
Symmetry C door
Aspect H showing Hell open reversed
Tincture H metallic argent
Contrast C azure, gules
Connective H door + gules the doorway
Compound metonymy 1/2 S door > address > Hell
Tincture H hot gules
Immanence C Hell
Contrast C argent
Compound metonymy 2/2 S to be hot > hot place > Hell
Disposition H 1, 1 surmounted by
Number H 1 a
Figuration H round bezant
Immanence C Sun
Simplification C without rays
Prop C day celestial body
Prop C source of heat
Tincture H golden(or)
Immanence C Sun
Contrast C azure


(next analysis in this blog is here)

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Published at 15:48

Portingale: Dice & Dots

Published by Carlos da Fonte, em 07.03.12


Appears first in the Herald's Roll, an English armorial from the end of the 13th century, showing some interesting aspects for the parophonic methodology used with heraldic semiotics. These attributed arms represented the respective sovereigns only in fantasy and there was some relaxation of the usual rules, rather using more convenient or easier solutions. One of these simplifications is the adoption of a local language for parophony. Our method works usually with a recurring sequence (↓) that transforms words into images: Referent (R), Referent's Metonym (M), Verbalization (V), Accommodation (A), Sematization (S), Specification (E), Heraldic Trace (H) and Complementation (C), as shown in the table that follows.


The starting point for the visual symbology in each attribution is simplified through a metonymy, almost always associated with the territory's denomination, nevertheless keeping the heraldic practice regarding the referent. Portingal or Portingale, is the denominant, a word used since the 12th century to describe Portugal by influence of languages akin to French, namely Anglo-Norman. We used the X-SAMPA code for the phonetic correspondences between denominant and designant, so as to enforce legibility without compromising accuracy. Both sets of phonemes to compare are the same - Portingale ~ porte ingal - resulting in a null discretion index. Therefore, we may classify these arms as perfectly canting.


The designant porte ingal is sematicized with the idea of carry equal, that is, show the same quantities. A simple metonymy transforms the comprehensive concept, quantities, into a restrict exemplification: the value of the spots in the three visible faces. Moreover, equal doesn't typify explicitly a qualification, although understandable as such; the change into a numeric specification is surely meaningful in heraldry. Two or more units of the same will be implicit, and appear later in blazoning: each with. Another solution using aleae (Lat. dice) seems unreasonable and in any case Latin is rarely used with parophonies of attributed arms. It would also create additional difficulties, seemingly insurmountable, in order to explain the first half of the designant.


The tacit action in carry may be interpreted as the vocation of the shield to display figurations inside its borders, a mere redundancy, with no discernible effect in the heraldic trace. As a second reading the figurations themselves, the dice, carry others, the spots.  Finally, this last meaning carry articulates with equal in a compound metonymy, as the corresponding representation of the same faces and spots reinforce their imagetic meaning when together.


But the data do not transmit the sole idea expressed by the designant. The white tincture, the presence, disposition and colour of the spots, all are immanent elements we can guess, deriving from the nature of the object. The reason to use three of them maybe was linked with the effort to guarantee a simpler drawing occupying the whole available area. However, we cannot underestimate the eventual role played by a popular game or the aesthetic and conventional preferences of the author of the manuscript, as for the King of Castile.


Blazoning normally regulates heraldic traces, except when the practice of the art or the nature of things agrees upon those characteristics understood by omission. In such a way, it is acceptable to align the faces of the dice by the upper border of the shield, even if this wasn't expressly referred. Alternatively exposing only one face of the die implied the description of the contents - each with five dots - without mentioning the other faces. The Llibre dels Privilegis de Mallorca from the beginning of the 14th century shows five dice 2-1-2, in synchrony with the five Portuguese escutcheons, or so it seems. But the Grimaldi's Roll, contemporary to the latter, shows the field in azure with six, five and four spots on the three visible faces of each cube. If we refuse a possible corruption of older attributed arms it may lead us to consider the similarity of this shield and the blue escutcheons of Portugal.


Choosing the number of dots could be associated with the efficient use of space. Six is the admissible maximum for one die and, besides, this armorial was made well before the adoption of the five plates in saltire within the national shield of Portugal. The older disposition alternating the eleven plates in quincunx still recalls their simplest form, the quina. If ever influenced by the Portuguese coat of arms, they would satisfy simultaneously their own logic along with the logic of the artefact.


Another question is to know why the true arms of the King of Portugal weren't used. Could the Portuguese arms be unknown to the author? We can't guarantee but the answer seems affirmative, at least regarding the knowledge of their precise details. Other examples of absolute divergence may be found in the Roll: the kings of Denmark and Norway. Besides, for the King of Castile we may find three castles instead of one. Incidentally there was no state of war that would arise the suspicion of a purported distortion.


The red field helps to organize and complement the composition. A gambling table in wood could be a suitable background for the scene knowing that the three dice are seen from the top. Several examples in our corpus represent this material in yellow or red tones, not too far from nature, the brown colour being uncommon in blazoning. Excluding the first tincture due to the poor contrast with white, the second remains.


Complementation, the last phenomenon in this arrangement, arises in many ways. They fill the blanks left by semantic heraldic traces and blazoning but, ordinarily, hides under an implicit form. We may find contrast, imitation, props, immanence, symmetry, filling, centrality, simplification and redundancy. The last is not even referred in blazoning, for unnecessary. See about this subject:


ANOH - The Anglo-Norman On-Line Hub - Visited 13th of December 2011 available in: <>.


TIMMS, B. - Heraldry - 2011 : Visited 13th of December 2011 available in: <>.



Attributed Arms R King of Portugal
Territorial M Portugal
Imaginary language V Portingale (Anglo-Norman)
Denominant A Portingale
Graphemization A PORTINGALE 
Phonemization A pORtGal 
Pairing A pORtGal   
A pORtGal   
Coefficient of transposition A   
Coefficient of character A   
Coefficient of position A   
Addends A   
Discretion index A 0.0   
Phonemization A pORtGal
Graphemization A PORTE_INGAL
Designant A porte   ingal
Simple monosemy S carry equal
S show the same quantities
Action + Quantity E show + equal
Redundancy C carry = emblazon
Tincture H reddish Gules
Contrast C argent
Prop C gambling table
Number H 3 three
Figuration H diedice
Simplification C = result's face
Tincture H whitish argent
Immanence C die
Orientation H horizontal(straight)
Simplification C = top edge
Disposition H 2, 1(two and one)
Filling C shield's area
Symmetry C shield's axis
Centrality C fess point
Compound metonymy 1/2 S carries > area > face > die
Placement H dots at the faces each with
Compound metonymy 2/2 S equal > faces > dots
Number H 5 five
Simple metonymy S quantity > points > die > dots
Figuration H dot dots
Immanence C die
Tincture H dark(sable)
Contrast C argent
Immanence C die
Disposition H 2, 1, 2(in saltire)
Filling C (quincunx)
Imitation C (roundels)
Immanence C die


(next analysis in this blog is here)

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Published at 18:12

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