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Emblems

(Click a link above to see pictures of coats of arms, seals, or related emblems representing countries associated with a particular continent, or subnational emblems of Canada and the United States.)

An emblem can be broadly defined as a symbol adopted and used as an identifying mark. While one wouldn’t ordinarily hang a national bird on a wall or tape a national flower to a document, state emblems are typically easy to display.

Every country has at least two primary emblems, a flag and a coat of arms, seal, or similar emblem. While flags are boldly displayed on flag poles, arms and seals are more commonly stamped on documents. On this website, coats of arms, seals, and similar devices are collectively called emblems, with flags discussed separately.

We might divide emblems into three broad categories.

Coats of arms—arms for short—originated in medieval Europe. A coat of arms typically consists of a shield flanked by two “supporters,” usually people or animals. The shield stands on a base, or compartment, which often displays a motto. Above the shield is a crest.

Namibia coat of armsNamibia’s coat of arms is broken down into its four basic elements below.
ShieldShield SupportersSupporters
CrestCrest CompartmentCompartment

The crest commonly includes a crown, particularly among arms representing European countries, dependencies, and former colonies. Pictured below are the arms representing the United Kingdom (left) and San Marino. Notice that San Marino’s arms features plants as supporters.

Great Britain coat of arms San Marino coat of arms

Some countries and subnational divisions are represented by a shield, rather than an entire coat of arms.

Albania coat of arms Finland coat of arms Switzerland coat of arms
Left to right: Emblems representing Albania, Finland, and Switzerland.

A seal is a circular design that commonly has the same function as an arms. In some cases, arms are depicted on seals.

American Samoa seal Mauritania seal Japanese imperial seal
Left to right: Emblems representing American Samoa, Mauritania, and Japan.
Wisconsin coat of arms Wisconsin seal
Wisconsin’s coat of arms is depicted on its state seal.

Some countries are represented by distinctive emblems that are neither arms nor seals. On this site, such emblems are simply referred to as “emblems.” Indonesia’s official emblem (below center) includes a shield and motto, similar to a coat of arms.

India emblem Indonesia emblem Iran emblem
Left to right: Emblems representing India, Indonesia, and Iran.

Not surprisingly, coats of arms are especially common in Europe. Countries outside of Europe may be represented by an arms, a more distinctive emblem, or more rarely a seal.

Each of the 50 U.S. states is represented by a seal, though some states also have arms. Arms represent each of Canada’s provinces and Australia’s states. Japan’s prefectures are represented by logo-like symbols that are also depicted on their flags.

Alberta coat of arms Northern Territory arms
Arms representing Alberta (Canada) and Northern Territory (Australia).
Kyoto flag Kyoto emblem
Flag and emblem representing Kyoto, Japan.
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