What Do I Use for Arms if my Persona Wouldn't Have Used Arms?

By Arval d'Espas Nord (Josh Mittleman)

Heraldic arms began appearing in several parts of Western Europe in the early to mid-12th century; by the last quarter of the century they were widely used, especially in England, NW France, and the Low Countries. Earlier cultures and many later cultures did not use arms as such, though some of them decorated shields and banners. Not all forms of decoration or even all forms of personal insignia are heraldry; and thus for many cultures, there simply is not such thing as historically authentic heraldic arms.

This historical fact leaves you in a difficult position: It is customary for everyone in the Society to bear arms, but no arms are appropriate for your persona. There are three basic solutions to this problem, any of which is reasonable; you need to decide for yourself which approach is best for you.

  1. Don't use arms. Your culture didn't use arms, so you won't either. If your primary goal is accurate persona development, then this approach makes the most sense for you. If your culture used other kinds of shield decorations, then you might use them; but you would not register it as arms or use it as if it were your arms.

  2. Use arms designed according to Society custom. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Wherever you were born, you now live in a land where heraldic arms are customary, so you will follow the custom. Design and use arms which fit the standard medieval style popular in the Society. A slight variant is to use arms appropriate to the culture closest to yours that did use arms, i.e. if you have a persona from 15th century Russia, which had no native heraldry, you might use Polish- or German-style arms.

  3. Use arms designed to fit medieval style, but with design-elements chosen to match the shield-paintings and personal insignia of your culture. People in many cultures used decorations on their shields or banners and may have used certain kinds of personal insignia. Some of the motifs that they used are compatible with medieval armory, so you can design medieval-style arms which are also appropriate to your culture. This is not easy and requires some serious research; but you may find it a compromise that suits your needs, and you may be proud of the result.

The most creative approach to this problem that we've encountered came from Trevor Barker:

This page maintained by Jim Trigg (known in the SCA as Blaise de Cormeilles), blaise@s-gabriel.org
Last updated 9 Nov 2004.