Meaning of Double-Headed Eagle
History of the Double-Headed Eagle in Byzantine, Seljuk, Russian Empires
The symbol of the Seljuk Empire was a double-headed eagle on a blue background. The eagle has one body and two heads, which symbolize the Seljuk Empire’s dominion over the West (the Middle East) and the East (Asia).
Great Empire of Seljuk Turks
The Seljuks migrated from Asia, the homeland of the Turks, in huge numbers and founded a strong state in today’s Isfahan (Iran). Immediately afterward, they fought the Battle of Manzikert (1071) against the Byzantine Empire, which they won.
March of Seljuk Turks from Central Asia to Anatolia
Seljuk Sultanate of Rum
Today, Istanbul’s European side is regarded as the Western lands in Turkey. However, Anatolia meant the West (Rumelia which meant Land of the Romans) for the Turks in the past.
Therefore, the Anatolian Seljuk Turks that was founded following the fall of the Seljuk Empire is known as the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum (Western Seljuk Empire) in international politics.
Double-Headed Eagle on Seljuk Flags
History of Double-Headed Eagle Since Roman Empire
We see the double-headed eagle crest in two empires that reigned in the same era, the Seljuk and Byzantine Empires. However, before jumping to the Byzantine era, it is a good idea to mention the Roman Empire from which the Byzantine Empire came.
The State of Rome was founded in around 500 BC in Rome. This civilization was a small city-state in the beginning which swallowed the nearby city-states one by one gradually and it seized the boot of Italy (the southern part of Italy) finally.
The state was governed by a senate as a republic in the beginning and it became an empire in 27 BC, beginning from the era of Augustus Caesar, the adopted son of Julius Caesar.
The Roman Empire was divided into two by Emperor Theodosius in 395 AD One of his son (Honorius) inherited the West and the other son (Arcadius) inherited the East.
The reason why I’ve included this information is that the empire known as the “Byzantine” in modern history is actually the Eastern Roman Empire. The Byzantines always regarded themselves as the Romans.
The name Byzantine was derived from the name “Byzantium”, the first name of Istanbul. The reason why this name was derived is that it was aimed to separate the Ancient Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire, which was born of the Roman Empire.
When the Ottoman Turks seized Istanbul, the people from the Roman Empire were called “Rum”, namely Roman and Mehmed II gained the title “the Roman Emperor” after his conquest of Istanbul.
If you look at the crest of the Roman Empire, you can see that the eagle has one head. The Byzantine, on the other hand, must have adopted the double-headed eagle as they were right in the middle of the world back then. They used this symbol to emphasize that they dominated the East and the West.
Another reason might be the fact that Constantinople (Istanbul) used to be the capital in those times and it connected Europe and Asia.
The Eagle on Roman Empire Flag
Meaning of Double-Headed Eagle in Byzantium
The Byzantine Empire always used the eagle motif on her flags and crests throughout her history, which they adopted from the Roman Empire.
Eagle has always been associated with Romans since the Ancient Age and this tradition was kept alive for around a thousand years (395-1453) by the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire.
Meaning of Double-Headed Eagle on Byzantine Flag
Double-Headed Eagle on Russian Flag
When the Byzantine Empire became history in 1453 AD, Russia embraced the double-headed eagle crest and its flag. In the beginning, Russia was a princedom that turned into an empire under Tsar Peter the Great and the empire saw herself as the successor of the Byzantine Empire. There are a few reasons why Russia made such a claim.
Russians were converted to Christianity by the Byzantine monks and they followed the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople for centuries. After the fall of Constantinople, Moscow stood out as the protector of the Eastern Christianity. Therefore, Moscow is mentioned as the “Third Rome” in some sources.
After the Western Roman Empire was seized by the barbarian tribes in 476 AD, “The Cult of Capital Rome” was passed on to Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and Moscow respectively. Naturally, this is a controversial title.
When the Roman Empire was divided into two, a bipolar world order came to existence temporarily. However, after the fall of the Western Roman Empire only in 81 years, the Pope at the Vatican filled the authority gap. In a short time, the Pope turned into both a political and religious authority and he gained power continuously. The biggest political authority that challenged Pope was the Byzantine Empire and the major religious authority against the Vatican was the Patriarchate of Constantinople.
After the conquest of Istanbul in 1453, Mehmet II protected the Patriarchate with a smart move and it turned into an establishment that would be a part of the Ottoman Empire. Therefore, Russia founded her own patriarchate immediately. By doing so, as the most powerful country in the Slavic world, she aimed at becoming a religious and political authority.