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History of shield: the light of Stéphane Dubois, Research Director and Semiologist

The shield is a language

The shield was a heraldic mania of the Middle Ages, somewhat outdated since then, without having totally disappeared, especially by having found new attributes. This is because the shield was anchored in an aristocratic and Christian imaginary, somewhat obsolete since the 19th century. However, contrary to popular belief, coats of arms have never been reserved for the nobility. The shield is made up of emblems and signs that can be political, signify family ties, specify a historical fact, group together a profession, federate a territory. Workers, craftsmen, bourgeois, knights or communities, each community could have its shield and proudly wear its colors. Because shield is above all a symbolic language and the rallying sign of a community.

A shield is a fundamental attribute of a community

Unbroken bonds and shared symbols are what makes a community. A shield constitutes one of these fundamental community elements, along with rites and rituals, festivals, consecrations, mottoes and names. A shield is a visual, representative element, one that unifies and unites. This makes it an internal and external symbol of belonging, a sign of inclusion as well as exclusion. It is something that defines us, intrinsically and compared to others. It is something that goes beyond individuals to define a group.

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"A shield is meant to be recognized, identified, because it is an element of connection and pride. "

A shield is a source of secret meanings

None of the elements on a shield are chosen by chance. Every single colour, representation and line has a meaning. There is much to be learnt from the choice of emblems, as explained in extensive studies by the historian Michel Pastoureau. Choosing an eagle rather than a dragon, a particular shade of blue, a specific motif or stripe are not decisions taken for decorative purposes: they are symbols of identity and hidden codes. A sort of bookplate intended to be seen by everyone, but understood by very few. As a shield is designed to exude a sense of mystery. Only the members of the community can fully understand the meaning. Who even designed it and understands its reasoning? This is a game or puzzle in itself, a powerful source of fiction and symbolism.

A shield is unique and unchanging


As a sign of belonging and distinction, a shield must be unique. Whilst they have a similar shape, there are never two the same. A shield is designed to be recognised and identified, as it represents bonds and pride. It is also a symbol that is passed down through time. Unlike contemporary logos that often feature, shields never age over time and are unaffected by changing fashions or trends. Because changing an attribute would mean changing the meaning. And because a shield represents history, like a legacy rooted in reality.

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