Two heads, two cities

 

Ever since my interest in Albania began in the 1960s, I have had a fascination with the use of the double-headed eagle as a symbol. It appears in many places including the Albanian flag. Far less commonly used than single-headed eagle, the symbol has been found on ancient Babylonian archaeological remains dating from roughly 3000 to 2000 BC.

A few days ago, while I was visiting an exhibion (of works by Ruskin) in London, I spotted a man carrying a bag with the badge and letters in the photo above. I suspected that the letters above the double-headed eagle were Greek, but I did not know what they stood for. I asked the man, who turned out to be a Greek from Thessaloniki (Salonika). He told me that the badge and letters were the logo of a football team based in Thessaloniki.

PAOK stands for ‘Panthessaloníkios Athlitikós Ómilos Konstantinopolitón ‘, which means ‘Pan-Thessalonian  Athletic Club of Constantinopolitans’.   The club was founded  in 1926 by Greeks who had fled from Istanbul (Constaninople) following the tragic population exchange that began in 1923 after the Greco-Turkish War (1919-22). During this exchange, Turks living in Greece were deported to Turkey, and Greeks living in Turkey were deported to Greece. Over 160,000 ethnic Greeks from Turkey were resettled in Thessaloniki.

Some of the Greeks who had been evacuated from Istanbul established the PAOK in 1926. The team has two nicknames, translated as ‘The Black-Whites’ and ‘The double-headed eagle of the North’. Why did PAOK choose the double-headed eagle? The answer might lie in the fact that since the early Middle Ages this symbol was used occasionally by the Byzantine Empire, which had its headquarters in Constantinople, from where the founders of the team originated.

Two heads on the football field

WIMB

 

Back in March 2017, I was flicking idly through the London Evening Standard. So idly was I flicking that I looked at the sports pages, which I usually ignore. There was a large photograph of football players in orange shirts. Absent-mindedly, I stared at them, and then suddenly I noticed that their shirts had black double-headed birds printed on them. Knowing that the national symbol of Albania is a double-headed eagle, I wondered whether this was an Albanian team.  It was not. It was AFC Wimbledon, a team based in the southwest suburb of London, Wimbledon.

Soon, I discovered that Wimbledon’s municipal coat of arms bears a double-headed eagle. A trip to Wimbledon Library did not prove useful in my quest to discover why this two-headed bird should appear on the Borough’s crest. Various Internet websites suggested that it was there as a reminder that Julius Caesar had camped somewhere in what is now Wimbledon.

It is believed that the Ancient Romans used the eagle as a heraldic symbol, but it was usually the single-headed variety. It is unlikely that they used the double-headed variety, which dates back to Ancient Babylon and maybe before. It is likely that it was first used in a ‘Roman’ empire context after the fall of the Ancient Roman Empire, by the Byzantine Empire, a successor to that earlier Roman Empire, in the 12th century AD when it was adopted by Isaac I Komnenos (c. 1007 – c. 1060). His family originated in Paphlagonia (now ‘Paflagonya’ in Turkey) in Anatolia. Double-headed eagles were associated with the Hittites, who had lived in the area, notably in the city of Gangra (now ‘Çankırı’ in Turkey). A plausible theory, but probably unprovable, is that the double-headed bird migrated from the Hittites into Byzantine usage.

This brings us back to Wimbledon. From the little evidence that I have presented, the connection with Julius Caesar and the London borough’s crest seems weak. Whatever the real story, the crest is not an ancient one. It was designed and granted as late as 1906.

 

Part of  an image from http://www.sportinglife.com

One body, two heads

A short reflection on the use and origin(s) of birds with two heads

DHE 2 Blore

On a Hindu temple in Bangalore, Krnataka, India

The earliest archaelogical evidence of the existence of double-headed eagle (‘DHE’) or any other bird with two heads (each with its own neck) is in Bablylonian remains dating back to 3000-2000 BC.

The DHE is and has been used as a heraldic symbol by, for example: the Scythians, the Hittites, the Seljuk Turks, the Kingdom of Mysore (in India), pre-Columbian America, Cormwall (UK), Byzantium, the Holy Roman Empire, the Russian Empire, and several states in the Balkans. The Balkan states that use the DHE include: Albania, Montenegro, and Serbia.

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Map showing some of the many places where the double-headed eagle has been employed

I find the DHE to be a fascinating symbol because unlike, forexample,  the cross, Star of David, and swastika, it is not a simple geometric construction, which could be created by random ‘doodling’. Also, it is not naturalistic like the commonly used  such as a lion,  single headed eagle, bear, fish, and hound. 

There is a Hindu mythological creature, a bird with two heads, the Gandaberunda, which has been adopted by the Government of Karnatak (formerly Mysore) as its state emblem. The origins of this creature are obscure, but it has been described in the ancient Hindu texts, the Vedas.

The DHE is an imaginary creature, a product of human thought. The Babylonians not only portrayed the DHE, but also other double-headed creatures.

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The Albanian double-headed eagle on the summit of the Llogara Pass in Southern Albania

I would like to SPECULATE that the origin of the DHE was Mesopotamia. From there, I imagine it spread through what is now Turkey to Europe, and across the Indian Ocean to India. If the DHE, or something similar appears in the Vedas, it would be interesting to know if this was by chance or as a result of some forgotten connection between Mesopotamia and the Indian sub-continent.