Origins of the Russian eagle emblem

The Byzantine symbol of a two-headed eagle was made an emblem of Russia by Tsar Ivan III after his marriage to the Byzantine princess Sophia Palaiologina. So it is written in the textbooks. However, there was no such state symbol in Byzantium.

The image of a two-headed bird could indeed be found in the Imperial Palace of Constantinople, but only in the form of an ornament. ,This bird was not depicted on any known seals or coins. But by the 15th century she had already proudly spread her wings on the coat of arms of the Holy Roman Empire, and on the coins of the second Bulgarian kingdom, where she was depicted with a lion.

Another reason to doubt the Byzantine origin of the eagle is its color. In Constantinople ornaments, the two-headed bird is always white, while in Germany and Bulgaria it is black. There is only one mention of the color of the Russian double-headed eagle in the first decades of its nesting in Russia: The Oprichnik (Special Police Force) German Heinrich von Staden, describing the Oprichniy palace located on Vagankovskom hill in Moscow, mentions that on the southern gate there was a depiction of two lions and a black two-headed eagle with outstretched wings.

Most likely, the double-headed eagle was brought to Russia by the Bulgarians, whose mass emigration began after the capture of Constantinople by the Turks. In addition to symbolism and Orthodox scholarship, they brought the idea of ​​the third Rome to Moscow. Historian Igor Danilevsky offers a narrative that cleverly links the two-headed eagle, the idea of ​​the third Rome, and the flight of the Bulgarians to Russia. According to his hypothesis, the image of a wise bird goes back to the third book of the biblical prophet Ezra. In this work, which many churches consider apocryphal, there is an eagle having a discussion with a lion. Admittedly, the eagle in Ezra does not have two heads, but three. During the conversation, the middle head becomes invisible, but continues to talk with the lion, and the conversation is about the appearance in the future of a new stronghold of faith.

The third book of Ezra was introduced into the Orthodox canon in the 15th century by Bulgarian scribes. Almost immediately, the two-headed eagle appeared on the royal seal. Several decades later in Russia there was talk about Moscow being the third Rome. A little later, two eagle heads were depicted with small crowns, while a large central crown settled between them over an empty space. Does it not crown the head of the invisible but wisest eagle, who predicted the future appearance of the third stronghold of Christianity?

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