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S. Maria la Antigua del Darien

Ciudad de Panama


State and Department of Panama

Republic of Panama

Armed Forces


Back to New Kingdom of Granada



In 1501, Rodrigo de Bastidas was the first European to explore the Isthmus of Panama sailing along the eastern coast. A year later Christopher Columbus, on his fourth voyage (1502-‘04), sailing south and eastward from upper Central America, explored Bocas del Toro, Veragua, the Rio de Chagre and Porto Belo. By then he had received from the Catholic Kings the title “Admiral of the isles and continent discovered and to be discovered by our appointment in the ocean and part of the Indies” (Almirante de las islas e tierra firme por nuestro mandado descubiertas e por descubrir en el mar oceano en la parte de las indias) On his arms in his Codice dei Privilegi (today in the State Archives of Genoa) which he wrote just before the sailed for his fourth expedition, the Tierra Firme is represented in the third quarter by a golden continent and islands in a blue sea. When he discovered present-day Panama however, he had been dismissed by the royal court in 1500, rehabilitated after a while but not restored in his functions by the Catholic Kings. After his fourth voyage he died in 1506.

Soon Spanish expeditions would converge upon Tierra Firma which later became the Spanish name for the Isthmus of Panama.

In 1509, authority was granted to Alonso de Ojeda and Diego de Nicuesa to colonize the territories between the Gulf of Uraba and Cabo Gracias a Dios in present-day Honduras. The idea was to create an early unitary administrative organization similar to what later became Nueva España. Tierra Firme later received control over other territories: the Isla de Santiago (now Jamaica) the Cayman Islands, Roncador, Quitasueño, Providencia and other islands now under Colombian control. It ended up to be the region between the Gulf of Urraba and the Rio de Chagre on the spot of present Panama Canal.

1538 the Audiencia de Panama was founded consisting of the Tierra Firma and the duchy of Veragua, granted to a grandson of Columbus in 1537.

The Audiencia was made a part of the vice-kingdom of Peru founded 1542 and in 1717 became a part of the vice-kingdom of Nueva Granada.  It shared the vicissitudes of this vice-kingdom after it fell apart in 1810 and was reunited in 1819. In 1831 it was united with the State of New Granada (which was the central part of the former vice-kingdom) and its successors and only revolted in 1840 to found an independendt state, the 'Estado Libre del Istmo', or the Free State of the Isthmus which lasted only 13 months.

After a conflict of the Republic of Colombia (the last successor of the Estado de Nueva Granada) with the french Company constructing the Panama-canal, it was made an independent Republic with the help of the United States on 3 November 1903.




In Panama as in other parts of the Spanish Indies, the emblems of the Spanish kings and of the Kingdom of Castile  were valid. This can be seen on this 4 reales coin struck for the Audiencia de Panamá. It shows the arms of King Philip II (1555-’98) before he became a king of Portugal in 1580.

On the reverse is a cross and the quarters of Castile and Leon.

Many other lower administrative units became their own  coats of arms. Also the Spanish Amercian nobility was provided with its own blasons.


Santa Maria la Antigua del Darien




In September 1510 Santa María la Antigua del Darién, the first permanent European settlement on the American mainland, was founded.

A coat of arms was granted  to the settlement by Royal Warramt of King Charles I (V) of Spain, dated10 July 1515. The arms are:


Arms: Gules, a castle Or between a tiger and a crocodile rampant respecting proper and a sun radiant in chief Or.

Crest: Our Lady of Antigua


The relevant part of the warrant reads:


[...] señalo e doy que tenga por armas la dicha cibdad un escudo colorado e dentro, en él, un castillo dorado e sobre él la figura del sol e debaxo del castillo un tigre a la mano derecha y un lagarto a la izquierda, que estén alzados el uno contra el otro alrededor de esta manera siguiente y por divisa la imagen de Nuestra señora de la Antigua, las cuales dichas armas y divisa doy a la dicha ciudad para que las podáis traer e trayais y poner y pongáis los pendones y sellos de la dicha ciudad [...].


These arms are now used by the community of Acandí (Dept. Chocó). Santa Maria la Antigua del Darien disappeared in 1524 and its exact location is not known.







Å Nuestra Señora de la Antigua in Sevilla Cathedral (last quarter of the 16th centuy).

Ciudad de Panama


After the so-called Balboa expedition of 1513 the 'fantastic descriptions' of the isthmus impressed Ferdinand II of Aragon and Castilla, who gave the territory the name of Castilla Aurifica (Golden Castile). He assigned Pedro Arias Dávila as Royal Governor. Dávila arrived in Santa Maria  in June 1514.

On 15 August 1519, Dávila, having abandoned Santa María, moved the capital of Castilla Aurifica with all its organizational institutions to the Pacific Ocean's coast and founded Nuestra Señora de la Asunción de Panamá (present day Panama City), the first European settlement on the shores of the Pacific.

On 15 September 1521 the settlement was granted a coat of arms by Royal Warrant of King Charles I.


Arms of Panama

On a view of the forum of Panama City, 1748

The shield quarterly, the colors somewhat disarranged, the ships frigates.

Arms of Panama

Modern rendering on Wikipedia Commons


The arms are:


Arms: Or, parterd per pale, the dexter a yoke proper and a bundle of five arrows pointing down proper, its feathers Argent its points Azure; the sinister two caravels proper, and a five-pointed star Argent in dexter chief; within a bordure compony of Castile and Leon.


On the arms there is a crown of five leaves which is the crown of a duke. In the time of Independence this crown was replaced by a mural crown.


The Royal Warrant reads [1]:




Veragua and Tierra Firma in in the Blaeu Atlas, 1630


Veragua or Veraguas was the name of five territorial entities in Central America, beginning in the sixteenth century during the Spanish colonial period. It was based on an Indigenous name for the region.


1.The Gobernación de Veragua (Columbian Veragua) (1502-1537) included the Caribbean coast of present-day Nicaragua and Costa Rica and the coast of Panama as far as the Río Belén, namely, the coastline explored by Christopher Columbus on his fourth voyage, in 1502. It was this area that Columbus (and his heirs) claimed as his private domain, but which the Crown did not recognize. Spanish governors of this territory were Diego de Nicuesa and Felipe Gutiérrez y Toledo.

2 The Duchy of Veragua, created in 1537 from the Gobernación de Veragua in territory now belonging to Panama. The first duke was Luis Colón y Toledo, grandson and heir of Columbus, who received the title after a long lawsuit with the Crown of Castile. In 1556 he returned the territory to the Crown but retained the ducal title.

3 Royal Veragua (Veragua Real) (1537-1540) included those territories of the Gobernación de Veragua not included in the Duchy of Veragua. These territories were in two parts, with the duchy separating them. In 1540 the western part, together with territories from Castilla de Oro, became the Province of Nuevo Cartago y Costa Rica within the Spanish Kingdom of Guatemala. In 1565 the name was shortened to Province of Costa Rica.

4 The Province of Veragua, formed in 1560 from territories formerly in the Duchy of Veragua. Its first governor was Francisco Vázquez. This territory, slightly expanded to the west and the south, became a dependency of the Intendencia of Panama, and in 1821, of the Republic of Colombia.

5 Veraguas Province is today one of the provinces of the Republic of Panama. It is the continuation of the Colombian Province of Veragua.


Arms of the Duke of Veragua 1537


The son of Christopher Columbus, Diego Columbus, spent most of his life trying to regain the titles and privileges that his father had been granted for his explorations and then stripped of in 1500. He was greatly aided in this goal by his marriage to María Álvarez de Toledo, niece of the 2nd Duke of Alba, who was King Ferdinand's cousin. In 1508, he was named governor of the Indies, the post his father had previously held. He continued to fight for the remainder of his father's titles, and was made viceroy of the Indies in May, 1511. He continued to resent enroachments on his power and to fight for all of his father's privileges thereafter and made trips to Spain in 1515 and 1523 to plead his case without success. After his death, a compromise was reached in 1536 in which his son Luis Colon (1519/20-1572) was named Admiral of the Indies and renounced all other rights for a perpetual annuity of 10,000 ducats, the island of Jamaica as a fief, an estate of 25 Í 25 leagues on the Isthmus of Panama, and the titles of Duke de Veragua and Marquis de Jamaica.


The arms of the House of Veragua were:


Arms: Tierced per point embowed, the first Gules a castle Or, the second Argent, a lion Gules; the third barry wavy Argent and Azure, five islands [and an Orb] Or.


The arms are documented by: Gonçalo Argote de Molina, Nobleza del Andaluzia, en Sevilla, por Fernando Diaz, año 1588 (1), Livro II, pp. 245-246.[2]

The relevant quote from this book reads:

Y don Christoval Colon primer Conquistador de el nuevo mundo de las Indias, que como escrive Paulo Iovio en sus Elogios, fue natural de Albizolo cerca de Saona de aquesta Señoria, de quien deciende la Casa del Duque de//

Página 246

// de Veragua Almirãte de las Indias, y Marques de Xamayca. Cuyas Armas son un Escudo en Mantel, en el primero un Castillo de oro en campo roxo, y en el segundo un Leo(n) Roxo en campo de plata, y en lo baxo unas Ondas de plata y azul con cinco islas de oro, con una letra q(ue) dize.

A Castilla, y a Leon mundo nuevo dio Colon. (...)


Sovereign State and Department of Panama



In the time when Panama was a part of the successors of the Kingdom of New Granada, the emblems of these states were also valid in Panama. In 1855 the Provincia del Istmo became the Sovereign State of Panama (Estado Soberano de Panama). This state lasted until 1886 when it became the Departamento del Panama.

At first, the Sovereign State used the crested arms and seal of the Republic of New Granada adopted 1834 and the name of the state below:


  Fiscal paper of 25 centavos, 1859 [3]


When the Republic changed its name to Confederación Granadina in 1858 the achievement of 1834 came within a red oval ring inscribed í CONFEDERACION GRANADINA í ESTADO SOBERANO DE PANAMA.

When the name of the state was changed into Estados Unidos de Nueva Granada in 1861 the name on the ring was changed accordingly but the achievement remained the same. [4]




The oval rings with the achievement were also on the flag of the sovereign state which was at first of three vertcal stripes red, blue and yellow and later of three horizontal stripes yellow, blue and red, the first twice as wide as the other two.


After1886 the achievement of the Republic of Colombia was used without any additions for the department.

Achievement of Colombia on a fiscal paper of 1 peso, 1893-‘94

For use in the Department of Panama


The flags being the merchant flag with a five-pointed star within a red oval ring in the middle.


Republica de Panamá

03.11.1903- present


After the proclamation of the independent republic the Provisional Government called for a  contest to make a design for the coat of arms for the new republic.

From the one hundred and thirty designs presented the one signed N.V. (for Nicanor Villalaz) was chosen by the jury. The motto PAZ. LIBERTAD. UNIÓN. PROGRESSO chosen by Villalaz, caused some discussion in the Constitutional Convention. Dr. Luis de Roux of the Convention proposed to change the motto into the motto of Ferdinand de Lesseps, the initiator of the canal: APERIRE TERRAM GENTIBUS (To Open the World to All People). In a second debate some changes in the arms and another change of the motto into PRO MUNDI BENEFICIO (For the Benefit of the World) were suggested by Juan A. Henriquez and Rafael Neira.


Achievement of Panama

Original drawing of Nicanor Villalaz, 1903

The motto PAZ. LIBERTAD. UNIÓN. PROGRESSO, and a railway with a railway train in the fourth quarter


The changed version was adopted by Law 64 of 4 June 1904.


The achievement is depicted on a green background. It is:


Arms: Quarterly: 1.Argent, a sabre an a rifle in saltire proper; 2. Gules, a spade an a hoe in saltire, proper; 3. A cornucopia mouth downwards discharging gold coins, Or; 4. Argent, a winged wheel Or. And on a fess a landscape of the isthmus of Panama with a rising moon and a setting sun, all proper.

Crest: An eagle sejant, above its head a semi-circle of seven five-pointed stars Or, in its beak a ribbon with the motto PRO MUNDI BENFICIO, in black lettering.

Supporters: Four national flags being quarterly: the first and fourth white, the second red, the third blue, a blue five-pointed star in the first and a red five-pointed star in the fourth, in saltire.


Achievement of Panamá in a European publication 1906 ca.

(private collection)

The law reads:


Descansa sobre campo verde, simbolo de la vegetación; es de forma comunmente denominada ojival y es terciado en cuanto a la división. El centro o punto de honor del Escudo, muestra el Istmo con sus mares y su cielo, en el cual se destacan la luina que comienza a elevarse sobre las ondas y el sol que comienza a esconderse tras el monte, marcando asi la hora solemne del grito de nuestra independencia. El jefe está dividio en dos quarteles: en el de la diestra, en el campo de plata, se ven colgados una espada y und fusil en son e abandono para significar adios para siempre a las guerras civiles, causa de nuestra ruina; en el de la siniestra y sobre campo de gules, se contemplan relucientes una pala y un azadón cruzados para simbolizar el trabajo.

“La punta del Esuco también se subdivide en dos cantones: el de diestro, en campo azul, nuestra una cornucopia, emblema de la riqueza; y el de la siniestra, en campo de plata, la rueda alado, símbolo del progreso.

“Detras dfel Escudo y cubiéndolo con sus alas abiertas, está el águila, emblema de la soberania, la cabeza vuelta hacia la izquierda, y lleva en el pico una cinta de plata cuos cantos cuelgan de derecha a izquierda. Sobre la cinta va estampado el siguiente lema: “PRO MUNDI BENEFICIO.”

“Sobre el aquila, en forma de arco, van siete estrellas de oro en representación de la sprovincias en que está dividida la República. Como accesarios decorativos, a cada lado del Escudo van dos pabellones nacionales recogidos por su parte inferior.


Law N°48 of 10 March 1925, approved by President Rodolfo Chiari left the arms unchanged but augmented the number of stars above the head of the eagle to nine, as the Republic had been divided into nine provinces.


Achievement of Panama as by Law of 10.03.1925

Picture H.d.V.


After the adoption of a new constitution on 2 January1941 the achievement was adapted by Law N° 28 about the arms. The sabre and rifle came to symbolize the “vigilance to defend our sovereignty” instead of “a farewell to civil war”. The motto on the ribbon was changed, after a lively debate, into HONOR JUSTICIA Y LIBERTAD.

This achievement was used until 1 March 1946 when Art. 6 of the new constitution approved on that date stipulated that “the symbols of the Nation are: The Hymn, the Flag and the Arms adopted before 1941.” This meant that the achievement with the nine stars and the motto PRO MUNDI BENEFICIO of 1925 were restored. [5]


The Law N° 34 of 15 December 1949 Art. 4 about the achievment is literally the same as the Law n° 64 of  4 June 1904. It reads:


Ley numéro 34 de 15 de diciembre 1949


Artículo 4º.- El Escudo de Armas de la República tiene la descripción siguiente: descansa sobre campo verde, símbolo de vegetación, de forma ojival terciada en cuanto a la división. El centro o punto de honor del Escudo muestra al Istmo con sus mares y su cielo, en el cual se destacan la luna que comienza a elevarse sobre las ondas y el sol que comienza a esconderse tras el monte, marcando así la hora solemne de nuestra separación de Colombia. El Jefe está subdividido en dos cuarteles: en el de la diestra, en campo de plata, se ven un sable y un fusil relucientes, para significar actitud de alerta en defensa de nuestra soberanía; y en el de la siniestra, y sobre un campo de gules, se contempla un pico y una pala como símbolo de trabajoLa punta del Escudo también se subdivide

en dos cantones: el diestro en campo azul, muestra una cornucopia, emblema de riqueza; y el siniestro, en campo de plata, la rueda alada, símbolo de Progreso. Sobre el Escudo y cubriéndolo con sus alas abiertas, está el águila, emblema de soberanía, la cabeza vuelta hacia su izquierda y en el pico una cinta de plata, cuyos cantos cuelgan a derecha e izquierda. Sobre la cinta va estampado el siguiente lema: “Pro Mundi Beneficio”. Las estrellas que hacen arco sobre el Águila serán tantas cuantas Provincias tenga la República.



By Law n° 18 of 2002 it was provided that the Harpy eagle (Harpia harpyja - Accipitridae), a bird of prey with a two meter wingspan and a body length to one meter, would be the national bird. Consequently the eagle of the crest of the national achievement was made an Águila Harpia by Law N° 50 of 17 May 2006. 



Æ See illustration in the head of this essay.










Å Harpia harpyja - Accipitridæ



Presidential Flag


National Assembly


Seal of the National Assembly


Armed Forces


National Police


Panama's first army was formed in 1903, when the commander of a brigade of the Colombian army defected to the pro-independence side during Panama's fight for independence. His brigade became the Panamanian army.

In 1904, the army tried to overthrow the government, but failed. The United States persuaded Panama that a standing army could threaten the security of the Panama Canal Zone. Instead, the country set up a National Police.  For 48 years, this was the only armed force in Panama.




However, starting in the late 1930s, the National Police attracted several new recruits who had attended military academies in other Latin American countries. Combined with increased spending on the police, this began a process of militarization. The process sped up under José Remón, who became the Police's commanding officer in 1947. He gave the police a more military character.


National Guard




After helping to overthrow two presidents, José Remón resigned and became president himself in 1952. His first act was to reorganize the National Police along military lines with a new name, the National Guard. The new organisation retained police functions as well. [6]




Emblem 1970-1983


In 1968, the National Guard overthrew President Arnulfo Arias in a coup led by Lieutenant Colonel Omar Torrijos and Major Boris Martínez. They completed the process of converting the Guard into a full-fledged army. Torrijos thrust Martínez aside in 1969, promoted himself to brigadier general, and was de facto ruler of the country until his death in a 1981 plane crash.


Panama army officer hat badge, 1970-’80. [7]


Panamanian Defense Forces




Torrijos was eventually replaced by Manuel Noriega, who merged all of Panama's armed forces under his command as the Panamanian Defense Forces. He built the PDF into a structured force, and further consolidated the dictatorship. Under Noriega, the PDF was a feared tool of repression. Having set up a commando style group called the Dobermans he was able to survive various attempted coups. Outside of the inner core of the PDF Noriega did not have strong support similar to the civilian population. For this reason he formed the civilian paramilitary Dignity Battalions in 1988. The majority of the PDF surrendered quickly when the United States invaded Panama and overthrew Noriega in 1989.

Emblem of the Doberman Commando [8]


Panamanian Public Forces


On February 10, 1990 the government of President Guillermo Endara abolished Panama's military and created the Panamanian Public Forces. In October 1994, Panama's Legislative Assembly approved a constitutional amendment prohibiting the creation of a standing military force, but allowing the establishment of a special temporary military to counter acts of "external aggression." The PDF was replaced with the Panamanian Public Forces.


The PPF consists of the

  • National Maritime Service,
  • National Air Service,
  • Judicial and Technical Police (PTJ)
  • Institutional Protection Service.
  • National Police,
  • National Border Service,


The PPF has also limited military duties.


In contrast to the former PDF, the Panamanian Public Forces is on public record and under control of the executive.





Cap Badge



The emblem of the National Maritime Service of Panama consists of two golden foul anchors in saltire, charged with the achievement of Panama


The NMS merged with the National Air Service in November 2008.


Air Force


Fuerza Aérea de Panama (until 1990)



1st class Pilot Wings

Pilot Wings


Servicio Aéreo Nacional (1990-2008)





Joined Navy & Air Force


In November 2008, the Servicio Aéreo Nacional (National Air Service) merged with the Servicio Maritimo Nacional (National Maritime Service) to become the Servicio Nacional Aeronaval (National Aeronaval Service)




Judicial and Technical Police



Until 1990



The Policia Tecnica Judicial (PTJP), formerly the Departamento Nacional de Investigaciones, is for forensic investigations and for that reason its emblem shows a balance, a microscope and a magnifying glass.


Institutional Protection Service


The SPI is for the protection of public buildings


National Police






The 1990 police emblem shows the ancient tower of Panama City. The new emblem shows the map of Panama and a head of a Harpy eagle as a crest


Border Service


In November 2008, the new Servicio Nacional de Fronteras (National Border Service) as a force independent from the National Police, was created.




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© Hubert de Vries 2013-03-06


[1] Archivo General de Indias. Sevilla, estante 109, cajón I. legajo 5. libro I, folio 301. Publicada en la Collección de Documentos Ineditos para la Historia de Hispano-America. Tomo III. Nobiliario de Reinos, Ciudades y Villas de América Española. Madris, 1928, página 139.

[2] http://ph-colombina.blogspot.nl/2008_06_01_archive.html

[3] http:/www.neocollect.com/coll/165/?page=2#image_viewer

[4] http://www.angelfire.com/realm/jolle/colombia/colombia-repngran.htm\

[5] Castillero R., Ernesto J.: Historia de los Simbolos de la Patria Panamena. Publicationes de la Biblioteca Nacional V. Imprenta Nacional. Panama, 1946.

[6] Some pictures of the divisions of the Panamanian Armed Forces from: http://www.flickriver.com/photos/fuerzasarmadasdepanama/3879592315/

[7] Archives of N.S. Meyer, New York.

[8] http://panamacz.com/czvets/patches/Pana%20patches.htm


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