Updated: Dec 10, 2020
Chapter II: Symbols of sovereignty in Jerusalem
The Ottoman Emblem on the Jerusalem District Heath Bureau building: photo ©Ranbar
This series of virtual tours tries to mention references that could, eventually be included in real field trips around the country and Jerusalem in particular. This dictates our choice of subjects. In this chapter we will deal with historical symbols of sovereignty and secular government. We do not have the symbols and flags of the Israelite kingdoms. Neither of the Old Testament Kingdoms of Israel and Judah (ca.1000 BC till 586 BC or of the Second Temple period 500 BC. till 70 AD. The Stars of David and Solomon were later introductions to Jewish culture. The symbols of the menorah and the holy vessels were liturgical symbols, for religious worship. If there were any state symbols - they did not survive. There is no known specific symbol of the Hasmonean kingdom nor that of Herod's vassal state.
The Romans, 63 BC to 324 AD
The Roman symbols of that particular period are much better known. The Roman troops carried with them the "Vexillum", the legionary standard. The Roman army, when not fighting, was kept busy building throughout the empire and also here, in this country, they built roads, bridges, aqueducts, palaces and fortifications. In these places, when a road or structure was completed, their marks were engraved on it, or near their military camps. The legion emblems were engraved in stone or clay. There were two Roman legions present in the area. The most famous and was the Tenth Legion Fretensis (of the Straits, Straits of Messina) the same which had defeated the Jewish revolt and was responsible for the destruction of Herod's temple. It also controlled the land in the following centuries. the other was the Sixth Legion Ferrata. Many remains have indeed been found of both these legions. Their initials are inscribed on milestones as well as on memorial tablets called Tabulae Ansate which are found in various places.
The vexillum, the legionary standard, carried at the head of the Roman battalions with the eagle, and the SPQR letters of Rome. Next, a construction signature of the Sixth Legion Ferrata from the aqueduct in Caesarea. The inscription was found not far from the ancient city, and dates back to the time of the emperor Hadrian (130 AD), today the inscription is in the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem. This inscription and all three following are on stone markings called "tabula ansata". Tabula ansata consists of a surface and two "ears" facing it. These were also carried as banners.
A milestone with the dedication of a soldier to the Tenth Legion Fretensis (can be seen in the fourth line of the text: the name of the Tenth Legion in initials: LEG X FRE.) The pillar is at the entrance to the Imperial Hotel, near the Jaffa Gate. The same signature appears in the tabula ansata at the Abu Ghosh Monastery, near Jerusalem.
The Byzantines, 324 AD to 638 AD
No particular symbols of government remain from the Byzantine period. Apart from the symbol of the crucifix and the cross following religious use, there was no change in the symbols of the empire in the first centuries AD, especially not in the Holy Land. The Byzantines saw themselves as heirs to the roman Empire and held on to its symbols. Some of the Vexilloids took on Constantine's Greek letters XP (Chi-Rho, please see the section about Christian symbols in Chapter I) and we assume that it was at that period that the Roman eagle became two-headed. Finally, the emblem and banner of the 11th century Palaeologus dynasty, used by the Empire till its final demise in 1462.
The First Arab Period 638 AD to 1099 AD
The first Arab period, which included the rule of the Umayyad, Abbasid and Fatimid dynasties did not bring with it much regarding flags and emblems. Most of the flags may have carried inscriptions, but it is clear that the aversion of Muslims concerning figurative and symbolic expression did not contribute to the formation of national symbols at that time. The names of God, the Prophet, the Rashidun and quotations from the Qur'an constituted the expression of sovereignty over stone and flag.
The Crusaders 1099 to 1291
The Crusaders imported heraldry into this country - the lore of feudal family symbols - the visual symbolic language of European nobility. A systematic set of rules of form and color symbolizing origin and status. This visual language is the foundation from which the language of modern national flags evolved. It was developed in the Middle Ages, also here in the Holy land, starting in the 12th century, and some of the symbols created here were then brought over to Europe.
The Crusader states, from Edessa in northern Syria to the Holy Land were called in French "Outremer".
Map of the Middle East and the Crusader states. In 1135 the Crusader kingdom was at the peak of its power. The city of Jerusalem was taken over by Saladin as early as 1187, but the kingdom survived for another 100 years, along the coastal plain, with its capital in Acre. In 1291, the Egyptian Mamluks captured the last Crusader fortress and eliminated the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
The emblem of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem is attributed to Godfrey of Bouillon, who was elected the first King of Jerusalem. He famously rejected the crown on the grounds that he would not bear a golden crown in the city where Jesus wore the crown of thorns.
He established a new emblem and chose a special cross for him and his kingdom, called ever-since the Jerusalem Cross: a cross potent surrounded by four crosslets. There are a few interpretations: Some claim these are the wounds of Jesus on the cross: the four wounds of the nails and the wound of the lance. Others claim that it is Jesus and the four evangelists. Either way, the uniqueness of the emblem and flag is in its colors. According to the first Law of Tincture in heraldry (Règle de contrariété des couleurs), metal should never be put on metal. Gold is represented as yellow and silver is represented as white, and there is little contrast between them. The other colors are green, azure, black, red and purple. Godfrey, however, sought to create an exception. "Because Jerusalem is the redemptive city of mankind, it deserves an exception: the two precious metals." This emblem was adopted as the emblem of the Kingdom of Jerusalem and is found, even today, on the blazons of several European royal and noble families, claiming the titular crown of the Holy Kingdom of Jerusalem which ceased to exist as early as 1291.
Arms and flag of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem.
Moreover, many knights came to the Holy Land carrying their coats of arms and shields. Here, in the Holy Land, however, the Chivalrous Orders developed, which later returned to Europe with much power and money. We will mention four of them here.
The Crusader Chivalrous Orders
We tend to see them today as relics of the past, institutions which existed in a distant history. This is far from true. They are alive and kicking even today, even in Jerusalem. Due to the sensitivity of this matter among Jews, and especially among the Muslims, they tend to keep their visibility discreet, and engage mainly in ecumenical activities and charity.
There seems to be a contradiction between Christian monastic orders and military activity, as Christianity is bound to non-violence and turning the other cheek. Due to the fact that Christian pilgrims and travelers were attacked throughout their journey to the Holy Land, especially by bandits and pirates, a need had arisen to protect them. Therefore, the church allowed these monks to carry weapons and protect pilgrims, under strict moral rules. Thus, orders of warrior knights were created, who also defended the Crusader kingdom. When they were expelled from the Holy Land by the Muslims, they returned to Europe, maintaining their military might and economic assets as bankers. Some orders were accepted, others like the Knights Templar were brutally persecuted. In the late 19th century representatives of the surviving orders began to find their way back to the city.
The Knights Templar
The first and most famous orders is the "Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon" an order of warrior monks established in Jerusalem in 1119 to protect and defend European Catholics. The order was located on Temple Mount, where traditionally, the 'Templum Salomonis' is believed to have stood. Hence their name: Knights Templar. They kept a strictly modest and ascetic lifestyle, to the point that two knights rode on one horse, and that is famously represented on their seal. Their fate was harsh. They became very rich and gained enormous economic and political influence in Europe, before and after the Crusaders were expelled from the country. Philip IV, King of France, for complex reasons, liquidated the order and confiscated its property in a most brutal campaign and it was perpetually suppressed by Pope Clement V in 1312. Many members of the order were charged with various bizarre charges and brutally executed. This is what has happened in most European countries. In a few of them the Templars managed to survive.
The cross of the Order, brought by the Knights to Portugal, became a national symbol there, under the title "The Order of Jesus." The war flag of the Order and finally, two sides of the Order's seal: two knights on one horse and the Dome of the Rock emblem, under the title "Temple of Christ." I don't know of a place in the city where these symbols can be seen, but they are important in its history.
The Knights Hospitaller
As their name implies, they developed the first hospitals in the Holy Land for Christian pilgrims. Their first central hospital was in the Muristan area of the Old City, in what is now the Greek Market, near the German Lutheran Church of the Redeemer (Erlöserkirche). A hospital was probably already built in the Byzantine period and operated in one way or another during early Muslim rule. In 1060 a hospital for pilgrims was opened and in 1080, The blessed Gerard (Gerrardo Sasso) a lay priest, was appointed to run the hospital. With the Crusader occupation, the hospital grew and received financial support from the State. The priests began to accompany the pilgrims and thus gradually became another military order of knight-priests, with a strict moral code and rules. They became very powerful, both economically and politically and a turned into a formidable military force. With the fall of Jerusalem, they moved to Acre and with the fall of Acre in 1291, they established their center on the Island of Rhodes, where their influence is evident everywhere. From there they moved to the island of Malta, which they ruled for many years. They still maintain wealth and political influence and are now active throughout European countries.
In Jerusalem, there remains a living relic of their work: the St John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital. This hospital was established at the end of the 19th century by an English order called "The Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem". In the 19th century the hospital operated from what is now the Mount Zion Hotel near the Cinemateque, then their center moved to the Old City, where a cenotaph is located near the Muristan as a memorial to where the old hospital used to be, and finally a modern hospital was opened in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, operating to this day. There are more clinics around the West Bank and a new modern hospital in Hebron. There is also a German Johanniter Hospitz on the Via Dolorosa.
These are the international symbols of the Sovereign Order of the Hospitaller Knights: the State flag, of a simple white cross on a red background, the flag with a Malta cross on a red (sometimes the white Malta cross appears on a black background). And finally, the order's coat of arms.
The Old City memorial of the old eye hospital, located on Muristan street. The modern hospital in Sheikh Jarrah (second photo). The German Johanniter Hostel on Khankah alley in the Old City; The flag which is hoisted over the memorial, with the symbol of the Order of St. John and finally, the two emblems on the cenotaph.
The German Knights (Teutonic Order)
The German Order also began as a hospital by a pair of philanthropists, who founded it for German-speaking sick and wounded. It operated in the Muristan area and with the conquest of Jerusalem, was closed. The Order and the Hospital were re-established in Acre, in northern Israel, in 1192 and the German Knights have actively participated in the Crusades from the Third onwards. Their organizational and military center in the country was the Montfort Fortress in northern Galilee. They established a strong military and economic force, and with the expulsion of the Crusaders began to operate in many parts of Europe, developing independent entities there, especially in the regions of East Prussia and the Baltic countries. Their symbols are seen in Jerusalem, less from the time of the Crusaders and more due to the fact that the German-speaking powers Austria and Germany brought back the symbols to various places in the city in the late nineteenth century. In addition, their symbols inspire German national symbols to this day.
The black cross on a white shield worn by the German knights. Next, the cross of the head of the order, with the German Imperial Eagle of the Holy Roman Empire. This is the source of the modern German emblem. The imperial eagle emblem is engraved in stone over the arch on Muristan Street in the Old City of Jerusalem, passing into David Street. The symbol was embedded over the gate during the visit, in the late 19th century, of the German Kaiser. Finally, the ceremonial cross of the German Order, which inspired the Iron Crosses and the symbols of the German army and air force to this day.
A mural in the Imperial Chapel at the Austrian Hostel, built in anticipation of the visit of Emperor Franz Joseph I in 1867. In the painting he arrives in Jerusalem accompanied by the chivalrous orders of the Middle Ages (on the left, with their emblems) and the peoples of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in traditional dress on the right. After all, as part of his Habsburg heritage, he was the king of Jerusalem, at least by title. This mural expresses the longing for the crusader heritage of the city. This hostel, built in 1855, was also intended to demonstrate the presence of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which was then an important player in the European arena. The Austrian flag still flies proudly over the roof of the hostel that now operates as a hotel in a wonderful vantage point familiar to many.
The Military and Hospitaller Order of Saint Lazarus of Jerusalem.
Of the all orders that were here in the Middle Ages, one has suddenly returned to charitable activities in Jerusalem after an absence of seven hundred years. This is the Military and Hospitaller Order of St. Lazarus (who Jesus had revived from the dead).
They are not recognized by the Vatican and are considered a self-styled private institution, but they gain support from some non-reigning European dynasties.
In the Middle Ages they split from mainstream Hospitallers and specified in the construction of special leper hospitals (Lazarets). They took part in the battles of the Crusader kingdom and retired to Acre after the conquest of Jerusalem by Saladin. After the fall of Acre, they returned to the town of Boigny in France. They have a connection to the French royal house even today (The claimant to the crown of France was recently the head of the order) and are connected to present-day European nobility, mostly ex-reigning. The Jerusalem Municipality allowed them to establish a charity here. There was a time when they tried to supply golf carts for the disabled tourists in the Old City. Theirs is a Green Maltese Cross. One can see their flag, hoisted on one of the roofs near Jaffa Gate. This is their new center, opened in 2017. They also support the Syriac Church in Jerusalem and the Greek Catholic Church.
The flag of the order is hoisted near the Jaffa Gate with the personal banner of the head of the order, the order's coat of arms and the typical cross.
(There is an overlap of dates between this period and the previous one: the conquest of Jerusalem in 1187 and the fall of Crusader Acre in 1291)
Again, during this period we witness reduced figurative expression with the Muslim reconquest of Jerusalem by Saladin al-Ayyubi, who gave his name to the dynasty of sultans who made Cairo their capital. In 1187 he expelled the Crusaders from Jerusalem, although they still ruled the coastal plain until 1291. Perhaps due to the Crusader influence or due to temporary loosening of the rules, the rulers of the Ayyubid dynasty and Mamluks who followed, allowed themselves some symbolism. There is verbal evidence that Salah a-Din sat under a golden canopy with a silver eagle, but no visual evidence remains. However, in Cairo fortress, which he strengthened and built, there is a remnant of an eagle relief of his time. This symbol has gained immense significance in Arab countries as "Saladin's eagle", and appears on dozens of Arab national and state flags, including those of Egypt and Palestine. The eagle in the fort is headless, probably as a result of a late-period islamic iconoclasm. In the twentieth century, Saladin's eagle was resurrected.
The figure of Saladin has already become a symbol in its own right in the modern age, and it is printed in full armor, on shirts sold in the streets of Jerusalem's Old City. The relief of the eagle in Cairo fortress (Photo: @MENAsymbolism), inspired the Egyptian and Palestinian emblems and more. I do not know of any other symbols from this period in the country.
The Mamluks 1260 to 1516
The first Mamluk General to reign over Egypt was Baybars, and together with his partner Qutuz deposed the Ayyubid dynasty. His greatest military achievement was the victory over the Mongol army of Hulagu Khan, at the Battle of Ein Jalut in 1260, in what today is northern Israel. It also began accelerating the overall expulsion of the Crusaders from the Holy Land, when it eliminated some of their last outposts. He adopted for himself, perhaps under European influence, a heraldic emblem, a "lion passant". There is debate among some researchers as to whether it is a lion or a leopard, but in any case, a large and formidable cat. He was a great builder and built the postal road between Cairo and Damascus. A bridge was built in the city of Lod, which is still used for the modern road, at the northern entrance of the city. On the bridge of Lod he imprinted his seal of the lions. They also adorn the homonymous Lions Gate in Jerusalem.
The first picture is of the Jindas Bridge in Lod, where the lions are depicted playing with a mouse, on either side of the dedication to the Beybars marking the year the bridge was built. The last picture is of the Lions Gate, the eastern entrance to the Old City, with two lion reliefs on either side of the gate.
The Mamluk rulers contributed enormously to Jerusalem's public architecture. One of the great builders was Emir Saif a-Din Tankiz, viceroy of Syria from 1312 to 1340, who built more than any other Mamluk in Jerusalem - madrasas, khans, baths and aqueducts. His family symbol was the glass, which can be seen at the entrance to the khan, named after him, in the cotton market.
The Ottoman Empire
The tuğrâ, stylized signature of Suleiman the Magnificent, around 1540
The Ottomans were Muslims like their Mamluk predecessors, and in addition to making greater use of the crescent and star symbol, they also used stylized Islamic calligraphy ornamentation and maintained geometric and floral shapes for illustration and decoration. However, they renewed something in the field of symbols. They created a stylized Sultan's signature, in a way that would incorporate symbolic elements in the name of the incumbent Sultan. This symbol is called tuğrâ. With the rise of a new sultan to power, the letters of his name would be replaced but the structure of the emblem would remain essentially the same. The symbol underwent few changes and was minted on many coins and is found on Ottoman structures around the country. Below is the golden signature of the Sultan Mahmud II on a red background. Finally, The signature of the penultimate sultan, Abdulhamid II, is especially common in the Holy Land.
Sabil Abu Nabut in Jaffa, built in 1809. Above, the tuğrâ of Sultan Mahmoud II as emblem of the state, and below it the personal emblem of Jaffa's governor, Muhammad Aga.
The walls of Jerusalem were built on the initiative of Suleiman the Magnificent in 1538. In the walls there are many decorated stone roundels, some even with the "Star of David". Well, these are not symbols, but geometric and floral aesthetic ornaments and have no symbolic meaning.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the Ottoman Empire started approaching the West. In 1882, Sultan Abdul Hamid II received a request to send to Europe an emblem to represent the State. Until then, the empire had no official symbol. Therefore, they created a European-style symbol while maintaining the strict rules of Islam concerning figurative forms. Although the tuğrâ is included in the emblem, it contains inanimate objects, such as elements of military power, flowers for tolerance, scales of justice and a cornucopia, a green flag of the Islamic Caliphate and a red flag of the Turkish Empire. The engraved coat of arms is found in stone on several buildings in the country.
The full arms at the base of the clock tower in Acre, near Khan al-Umdan, was erected in 1906 in honor of the thirtieth anniversary of the rise of Abdulhamid II to the throne. The symbol is carved in marble. Another magnificent emblem exists on the façade of the old municipal hospital on Jaffa Street in West Jeusalem (now the District Health Bureau).
The British Mandate 1918 to 1948
The British were given a mandate, a temporary custody, over an Ottoman province they had occupied, in order to create constitutional and institutional infrastructure for this province of empire, which by virtue of international agreements and political promises, was to become an independent state (Sykes-Picot agreement, the Balfour Declaration, Sharifian Solution). It was neither a British crown colony nor an area where immigrants from Britain had settled (the likes of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Kenya). Here, the land was promised to the Jews and the local Arab population, simultaneously.
In view of the immediate hostility between the Jews and Arabs, it was impossible to reach agreement about anything, let alone symbols, and the British were stuck between a rock and a hard place and their conflicting assurances to the opposing sides.
The Red Ensign for the merchant fleet and the governor general standard.
Therefore, neither was there a colonial flag, nor a naval flag. The Ensigns, which were usually defaced by a local emblem in all British holdings, received here only the inscription "Palestine" in English and there were more theoretical drawings of them than any specimens of real flags. They were hardly used, perhaps on merchant vessels. Ordinary British flags were in general use, such as the plain Union Jack and Red Ensign. The state emblem remained the British Arms in the style of the period. Indeed, there were two magnificent official coats of arms, carved in wood, that stood in the Government House and in the high court. Amazingly, these actually survived!
Their current locations are fascinating. One was taken from Government House when it was in the demilitarized zone between Israel and Jordan, to become the center of UN representatives in the country, and was placed in the Anglican Church of St. George on Nablus Road, in East Jerusalem, where it is still exhibited to this day. It was deposited at the church from May 14, 1948. The second, apparently from the Supreme Court of the Mandate, was placed in the new Supreme Court Building in Jerusalem where it is displayed today.
Thus, ends this chapter on political symbols of the past. I hope you enjoyed it. Their locations can be incorporated with real tours.
I invite you to read the final chapter of this series of symbols on both sides of the present conflict: the Israeli and the Palestinian.