Military crests, a symbol of the achieved milestone

L'origine e il significato del crest, il simbolo concreto del traguardo raggiunto dal corpo militare.
Pubblicato il 30 March 2022

“Crests” are highly prevalent elements in the military world.

They are reproductions made of metal alloys such as brass, bronze, or aluminum, applied to elegant wooden plaques shaped like shields, featuring the heraldic emblem of a military unit or division.

Over the years, the crest has evolved into a true symbol of maritime achievements, later spreading to other sectors.

The emblem is used as a memento and is usually given to individuals visiting a military unit or ship, to personnel leaving service, or as a conclusion to a training course for participants.

They are exchanged during visits to military units or ships, meetings, and exercises involving different military bodies.

Sometimes, they decorate entire walls on ships or in offices, official and non-commissioned officers’ clubs, military commands, and there are even private collections feeding a genuine market for these objects.

A famous example is Riccardo Schiocchetto from Piedmont, who has collected six hundred crests, often displayed at exhibitions or events.

What is a “Crest”?

The English word “Crest,” besides meaning the “crest” that roosters and other birds have on their heads, according to the “Twentieth Century Dictionary” also means: “Decorative figure that originally surmounted the helmet, placed on a crown, or used separately as a personal badge on a plate.”

Webster’s dictionary states: “Insignia or emblem… as an ornament or distinctive mark for plaques, uniforms, and the like.”

From its original meaning comes the connotation used today: a symbol that can be placed on a plaque as a personal memento or as a remembrance of an institution or ship.

Metal casts of various subjects, applied to a wooden support shaped like a shield, which ships and entities of the Navy offer as souvenirs to visitors and authorities.

If the cast is in bronze, the figure and any inscriptions are usually not colored; if it is in aluminum, they are enamel-colored, assuming a livelier appearance.

Today, there are more elaborate “Crests” with enamel figures, brass plates with the name of the person or entity to which the “Crest” refers, resulting from a “composition” of various parts applied to the support board.

Origins and history of the crest

Its original purpose was to make the appearance of the warrior more terrifying and imposing.

Its use has ancient origins: tradition has it that the first to put crests on their helmets were the Carians, a population of Caria, a region in southwest present-day Turkey, before the Greeks’ conquest by Alexander the Great.

This practice may stem from the even older habit of placing the spoils of fierce animals on warriors’ heads to frighten enemies and protect the head.

It was customary in Ancient Egypt to depict Pharaohs with animal heads, a symbol of grandeur and strength.

Over the centuries, many other peoples adopted the use of crests, such as the ancient Romans, who used horsehair or feathers, or the Vikings who adorned their helmets with wings and animal heads.

In the era of chivalry, the crest was a symbol of nobility that adorned the helmets of knights and could reproduce the knight’s achievements, a part of his coat of arms, or the order to which he belonged.

Crests in Italian history

The remote origin of the “Crest” in the Italian Navy can be traced back to Circular No. 419 dated February 2, 1865, concerning the institution of “volley plugs.”

This circular stipulated that: “Each ship must have a fixed allocation of wooden defenses for cannons, equal to the number of muzzles of the exposed battery, and that these defenses be constructed according to the model approved by the Ministry.”

The circular mentioned wooden plugs but not ornaments to be placed on top. The construction of iron ships had the consequence that the bollards were also made of iron and were closed by a circular plug made of brass or bronze, adorned with the ship’s emblem.

In addition to the volley plugs and the bollard covers, the ship’s emblem was also displayed on the “medallions” applied to the two sides of the ship.

These emblems were probably applied according to the ship’s commander’s simple directives; in later times, their shape and size were regulated by the General Directorate of Naval and Mechanical Constructions of the Ministry of the Navy, with the publication: “Rules concerning Emblems, Badges, and names to be applied on Royal Ships.”

Indeed, the official history of the Italian Navy’s “Crests” dates back to around the year 1960.

Abroad, the Crest was a widespread and used object for many years: following contacts with the British and US Navies, where “Crests” adorned the walls of officers’ messes, it also came into use in Italy.

Although it is not easy to determine precisely who introduced it and how it was introduced and spread, this “naval souvenir” became popular.

Celebrate the prestige of your military order

Today, the crest is the ideal gift for institutional meetings, a concrete symbol of the milestone achieved by the military body.

They have become genuine commemorative items offered to visitors and authorities.

Since 1902, Picchiani and Barlacchi have been creating Military Crests according to the art tradition of Florence, the most famous city of art and culture in the world.

Discover them on this page: