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The Arms of the Archbishops (in german)

Die Wappen der Erzbischöfe 1

Die Wappen der Erzbischöfe 2

Das Erzbistum-Kurfürstentumliches Wappen


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Early Emblems


The Treveri or Treviri were a tribe of Gauls who inhabited the lower valley of the Moselle from around 150 BC, at the latest, until their eventual absorption into the Franks. Their domain lay within the southern fringes of the Silva Arduenna (Ardennes Forest), a part of the vast Silva Carbonaria, in what are now Luxembourg, southeastern Belgium and western Germany; its centre was the city of Trier (Augusta Treverorum), to which the Treveri give their name.

The province of Gallia Belgica was ruled by a governor with the rank of praetor of which the badge of rank was a griffin. For that reason his administration was symbolized by a cup (symbol of  administrative authority) supported by two griffins. Such an achievement, be it of the praetorian administration or be it from the Civitas Augusta Treverorum from the second century AD, is preserved in the Rheinisches Landesmuseum in Treves.


Achievement of the Praetorian Administration in the Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Treves.


Trier rose in importance during the Empire's third-century crisis, as the chief city of the province of Gallia Belgica. From 271 to 274 AD, Trier was the second city of the breakaway Gallic Empire, at first under Postumus, who was proclaimed in Cologne, then under his ephemeral successor, Victorinus, who made his base at Trier, where he had rebuilt a large house with a mosaic proclaiming his position as tribune in Postumus’ Gallic Praetorian Guard; the city served again as capital under the emperors Tetricus I and II.

The rulers of the ephemeral Gallic Empire presented themselves crowned with a pointed crown which, in fact is a sun-crown, the points symbolizing the rays of the sun.






Postumus 260-268

Marius 268

Victorinus 268-270



Tetricus I  270-274

Tetricus II  270-274



No other insignia of these emperors are known for the time being but, as they were high-ranking warriors they may have used an eagle or a griffin as a badge of rank.

Posthumus for example, as an emperor immediately assumed the office of consul. He also became the pontifex maximus (religious head) of the state and assumed tribunician power each year. He established a senate and a praetorian guard. His office of consul alone brought him the right of using an eagle as an insignia of rank.. His praetorian guard may have had the usual roman thunderbolt as its emblem.


The Gallic Praefecture


From 318 onwards, Trier was the seat of the Gallic praefecture ruled by the Praefectus Praetorio Galliarium, one of the two highest authorities in the Western Roman Empire, which governed the western Roman provinces from Morocco to Britain. Constantine's son Constantius II (*316-†361) resided here from 328 to 340 when a Caesar under his father, Constantine I (324-337) and a co-Augustus with Constantine II and Constans (337 – 340). His shield showed the christogram XP which was the emblem of the Christian armed authority and forces from the time of Constantine the Great. [1] It is surrounded by a crown of precious stones, indicating the military rank of the bearer. [2] In 356 Constantius II declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire (abandoned by his successor).

Also his style is changed compared with his rebellious predecessors in Gaul as the sun-crown is replaced by a diadem and a halo, also a sun-emblem, which was the symbol of the Christian Roman Empire.

Silver dish of Constantius II (*317- †361)

Constantius on horseback, his shield-bearer with a shield charged with the  XP-cypher

Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg inv. n° 1820/79

Æ 24,8 cm. Weight 660 g. Acquired in 1892. Found in Kerch, 1891. [3]


Christograms which have a direct relation with Trier are preserved in the Bischöfliches Dom- und Diözesanmuseum in Trier. They consist of golden plaques, showing the XP monogram. Also preserved in the museum is such a monogram carved on a wall fragment,.

The golden plaques are from the coffin attributed to bishop Paulinus († 358). The christograms suggest that he was, besides a bishop, also a christian warrior, a combination also common in later times. As such, the golden plaques are the oldest known arms of a bishop of Trier.

Mountings from the coffin of Bishop Paulinus († 358)

Trier, crypt of the church of  St. Paulin,  after 358.

Gold and silver plate (copy in the Bischöfliches Dom- und Diözesanmuseum Trier)


1. Larger disc with christogram between alpha and omega, surrounded by the legend: elvthera  peccatrix  posvit (Eleutheria, a sinner has made it) (illustration).

2. Smaller disc of gold plate with christogram between alpha and omega

3. Mounting of the cover with christogram between alpha and omega. In the middle the abbreviation ΙΧΘΥС (ichthys = fish) of ‘Jesus Christ Son of God and Saviour’.


From 367, under Valentinian I, Trier once more became an imperial residence (lasting until the death of Theodosius I in 395) and remained the largest city north of the Alps. It was for a few years (383 – 388) the capital of Magnus Maximus, who ruled most of the western Empire.

Magnus Maximus continued the style of Constantius II and had a labarum (personal standard) showing, according to a solidus coined in Trier, a christogram composed of a square cross Æ and a ‘P’ which is the emblem of a christian governor.


Gold solidus of Magnus Maximus (383-384) coined in Trier.

Obv.: bust with diadem to the right. L.: D N MAG MAXIMVS P F AVG

Rev: Standing Emperor, in military dress,  holding a Victory on a globe in his right hand & labarum in his left, eight-pointed staron the  left. L.:  RESTITVTOR REIPVBLICAE


Praetorian Prefects in Trier


From 318 AD Gaul was ruled by Praetorian Prefects who, as some of them had the rank of Consul, could have an eagle for badge of rank. In the early fifth century such praetorian prefects had an ivory diptych decorated with golden bands and the imperial portrait between four candlesticks, standing on a table covered with a blue cloth, as their insignia of office. This diptych was the codicil or credentials of the Praetorian Prefect. Also they had a theca, the insignia of their judicial power standing beside that table. In official processions they had the right on a quadriga, a cart drawn by four horses. Pictures of these insignia of office are in the Notitia Dignitatum but in that manuscript the insignia for the praefectus praetorio galliarum are missing.[4]


The Insignia of a Praetorian Prefect according to the Notitia Dignitatum.


On the other hand we have a fifth century stone from Trier showing a christogram XP, supported by two peacocks and this is almost for sure the emblem of the praetorian guard, the peacock being the emblem of a prefect.  [5]

Much later the arms of the archbishops of Trier were crested with a screen decorated with peacock’s feathers.

Headstone, probably of a member of the Praetorian Guard, 

showing a christogram supported by peacocks, 5th century

Bischöfliches Dom und Diözesanmuseum Trier


In 407, shortly after the invasion of Gaul by the Vandals, Alans and Suebi, the Gallic prefecture was relocated to Arles, on the Rhône.


The Archbishops


From the second half of the 3rd century onwards, Trier was the seat of an archbishopric; the first bishop being Eucharius (250+). By the end of the 5th century, Trier was under Frankish rule, first controlled by the Merovingian dynasty (460-751), then by the Carolingians.

The bishops of Trier were already virtually independent territorial magnates in Merovingian times (460-751). In 772 Charlemagne granted Bishop Wiomad (757-791) complete immunity from the jurisdiction of the ruling count for all the churches and monasteries, as well as villages and castles that belonged to the Church of St. Peter at Trier. In 816 Louis the Pious confirmed to Archbishop Hetto (814-847) the privileges of protection and immunity granted by his father.

At the partition of the Carolingian empire at Verdun in 843, Trier was incorporated into the Kingdom of Lorraine (Lotharingia). After the death of Lothair II, ruler of Lorraine, Trier in 870 became part of the East Frankish kingdom, which developed into the Kingdom of Germany under Henry I (919-936).


Archbishop Radbod (archchancelor 883-915) received in 898 complete immunity from all taxes for the entire episcopal territory, granted by Zwentibold, the natural son of Emperor Arnulf of Carinthia, who reigned briefly as King of Lotharingia and, under great pressure from his independent nobles, desperately needed a powerful ally. The gift cemented the position of the archbishops as territorial lords in their own right. Following Zwentibold's assassination in 900, the handlers of the child-king Louis courted Radbold in their turn, granting him the district and city of Trier outright, permission to impose customs duties and the right to a mint (as much a symbol of independent authority as an economic tool). From the court of Charles the Simple, he obtained a final right of election of the Bishop of Trier by the chapter, free of Imperial interference. In this way the secular possessions of the bishops of Trier, which had sprung from the valuable donations of the Merovingians, were raised to a secular principality.


From early times until the middle of the 13th century the archbishops of Trier have been represented as a religious official, even when they exercised considerable military and administrative power.

In Roman times this could have been, contrary to the evidence given above, besides from their image, a bishops-monogram which consisted of a latin cross ‘†’ and the greek letter ‘P’ (= R). Such monograms, derived from the XP-monogram by turning the X’ by 45°, are already mentioned by Lactantius and are, in their original forms, in the hands of images of St. Peter and associated with 4th and 5th century bishops. [6]

No images of archbishops of Trier are known however from those early times. On their early seals, which are of small size, they are depicted as a bust, their heads having a tonsure and with a crozier  in their left hand.

This can be seen on the seal of Archbishop Egbert (977-993) of 978.


Seal of Egbert: bust and crozier

Æ 4,4 cm.L.: X EKBERTVS • ARHCI • EPISC. Urk. 09.08.0978. Trier Stadbibliothek Urk. J 12


Archbishop Egbert receiving the Codex Egberti.

The archbishop seated with rectangular plate behind his head,  a crozier in his left and sitting on a lion’s throne. L.: EGBERTUS TREVEROR ARCHIOPS.

 (Trier Stadtbibliothek Cod 24  Codex Egberti fol. 2)


Archbishop Egbert has been portrayed several times in manuscripts. On this picture from the Codex Egberti he is portrayed sitting on a lions-throne and with his crosier in his left hand.

The lion’s thrones in Europe are derived from the lion’s thrones of the later roman consuls as depicted on their diptychs. [7]  This matches very well with the praetorian praefects of the later roman era many of which had the rank of consul (and bore an eagles’ sceptre).

It would mean that the archbishops of Trier, after the gaining of secular power at the beginning of the 10th century, considered themselves to be the successors of these roman magistrates.

This is also demonstrated by the golden plaque behind his head. This is derived from the ivory diptychs of the 4th and 5th century roman governors of praefectures, dioceses and provinces (as documented in the Notitia Dignitatum) which were rectangular and decorated with golden bands.

Such plaques, with a green mantling, can be found for example on a mosaic in the basilica of St. Demetrius in Thessalonica (t. Zeno (474 AD)) behind the heads of two magistrates.

Later a blue plaque can be found behind the head of a prelate, probably pope John XI (931-935), on a mosaic in the S. Cecilia in Trastevere (Rome). [8]

A crozier as the badge of office of a bishop was introduced in the 10th century, probably after the restoration of papal authority by the Emperor Otto I (936-973) as a successor of the crook. In itself it is derived from the bishops’ †P-monogram, the staff and knob representing the latin cross † and the scroll or curl representing the P.


From the beginning of the 12th century the archbishop of Trier was represented sitting on a chest-shaped seat. On his head he has a mitre, introduced as the more or less official headdress of a bishop in the middle of the 11th century. In his left hand he has a book, representing the Holy Bible, symbolizing the christian faith, and in his right his crozier, symbolizing his care for his christian community.

Such an arrangement can be seen on this seal of archbishop Hillin (1152-1169):


Seal of Archbishop Hillin, 1159

Sitting prelate with mitre, pallium, crozier and book. His mantle strewn with square crosses.  8,2 Î 6,4 cm. L.: X HILLIN • DI • GRA • TREVIRORVM • ARCHI • EPISCOPVS. Urk. 11.03.1159 Trier Stadtbibliothek, Urk H. 16.


A peculiarity are the square crosses on his mantle, symbolizing administrative authority.


Photo Henk Tijhof

Market cross from the Hauptmarkt in Trier, 958.

Trier, Städtisches Museum Simeonsstift.


A square cross may have been introduced by the archbishops of Trier after the secular possessions of the bishops of Trier, which had sprung from the valuable donations of the Merovingians, were raised to a secular principality in 902. An early example of such a cross is the so-called Marktkreuz on the market in Trier. This represents the administrative authority of the archbishop, guaranteeing the peace on the market.

On the cross is a paschal lamb, probably granted to the archbishop by the Pope (i.e. John XII ( 955-964)) who often sent them to sovereigns and distinguished personages.

A paschal lamb is the symbol of Christ of which the Pope is the earthly representative, it may be meant to symbolize the subordination to the Pope of Trier.


From about the end of the 13th century the archbishop of Trier is also represented by the arms of the archdiocese of Trier and from the beginning of the 14th century also by his personal arms.


Die Wappen der Erzbischöfe 1



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© Hubert de Vries 2012-01-12


[1] As on a Silver dish of Constantius II. Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg inv. n° 1820/79 Æ 24,8 cm. Weight 660 g. Acquired in 1892. Found in Kerch, 1891.

[2] Other known shields bearing a christogram are surrounded by a crown of laurel or just a blank bordure.

[3] Niello and gilding have disappeared in several places. The reverse is considerably damaged, showing cracks. The dish is of the patera type. The reverse is plain, fitted with a ring for suspension. The Emperor is shown mounted; on the right is the figure of Nike crowning him with a wreath; in her other hand she holds a palm branch. On the left is a guard with a shield bearing the XP-monogram. Under the feet of the Emperor’s horse is a shield with an umbo, belonging to a vanquished enemy. Some of the details are enriched with gilding or niello.

[4] Berger, Pamela: The Notitia Dignitatum. Diss. 1974. Revised ed. 1981.

[5] Such achievements, dating from the 6th century are on tombs  preserved in Ravenna and another, from early 7th century merovingian France, has been  preserved in Bourges, then an important city of te kingdom of Aquitaine. The supporting birds undoubtedly are peacocks there.

[6] Lactantius, Lucius Coelius Firmianus: De Mortibus Persecutorum. Edited & translated by J.L. Creed. Oxford, 1984. H. 44, 1-6.

[7] For example the consuls Aerobindus (consul, 506) and Anastasius (consul 517). See also: I Kings 10.18 and II Chronicles 9.17.

[8] On this mosaic the plaque apparently means a degradation of the pope from a magistrate of the Empire to just a religious magistrate. Indeed, secular power in Rome was exercised in his time by his brother Alberic and the sisters Marozia and  Theodora.

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