Chapter 3.
Tiflis stamp.

Heraldry and symbolics of the Tiflis stamp.

The use of heraldry on the stamp, and in particular the Tsarist double-headed eagle and the Georgian symbols were particularly important. It not only connected the stamp with city post of Tiflis and Tiflis province, but also pointed to the state status of postage mark. Also it also reflected the complex relationship of the transformations, occurring in the Caucasus.

As it has already been described in the first chapter, Georgian-Imereti province was founded in 1840 on the South Caucasus lands annexed to Russia. Already in 1843, the coat of arms of this province and eleven uyezds (cities), which this province comprised, had been drawn up.

The coat of arms of Georgian-Imereti province of the Russian Empire.

The coat of arms of Georgian-Imereti province of the Russian Empire.

The date of adoption: 1843.

Description: the shield, having a golden field, is divided into four parts. The two upper parts show: on the left side there is the Mount Ararat with the reliquary on its top and on the right there is the Black Sea. The two lower parts depict: on the left side there are two silver winding stripes, meaning the rivers Kur and Araks, on the right there is a snowy peak of Mount Kazbek; in the middle of the main shield there is a small shield, in which on the silver field there depicted is St. Great Martyr George, and above the main shield a crowned Imperial eagle covers the shield with its wings.

In the entire city (uyezd) coat of arms in the upper half of the shield there placed a part of provincial emblem, signifying that the city belonged to this province. [46]

The description of the symbolics of coat of arms is further given according to the book “Complete Collection of Laws of the Russian Empire”. In brackets: the time when the city was founded or the first mention of it and its name in the annals. The city was ascribed to the province, to which it belonged at the time the emblem was developed.

Like on the other coat of arms of the cities, that were a part of Georgian-Imereti province, on the emblem of Tiflis there were depicted common symbols of the given province. In the upper part of the shield there was also a part of the provincial coat of arms, which meant that the city belonged to that particular province.

At the time when the Tiflis city post stamp was released there existed officially approved the coat of arms of Georgian-Imereti province (although there was no province itself) and the emblem of Tiflis. The coat of arms of Tiflis province was officially approved later. Therefore, there appeared Mount Ararat with the reliquary on its top, Saint George and the Black Sea. The creators of the stamp left the characters on the image just adding postal horns, edging and legend.

The coat of arms of Tiflis (Tbilisi).

The coat of arms of Tiflis (Tbilisi).

In the Russian Empire, the city was called Tiflis. It was the center of Georgian-Imereti province, and then — the Tiflis province. Now Tbilisi (Tiflis) is the capital of Georgia. On May 21, 1843, along with other coat of arms of Georgian-Imereti province, the coat of arms of Tiflis district was approved:
“The shield is divided into two halves: in the upper half of the shield on a golden field there is an emblem of Georgian-Imereti province; in the lower part, on a silver field there is Mercury’s rod, a sign of the vast trade”. (PSZ, v. XVIII, №17061, the Senate from 07.26.1843).

What sense did these characters have which were found in the picture of the Tiflis stamp? What did people who had invented it and put it into life want to express by its drawing? After all, there is no doubt that the drawing of the stamp was discussed not only in the management of post office of Tiflis, but also by the vicegerent in the Caucasus Prince A.I.Baryatinsky. Without his participation, without his approval the stamp would never come to life.

The main emblem of Georgian-Imereti coat of arms is the image of St. George placed in the center. It has become a central miniature symbol of Tiflis stamp. This is due to the fact that since ancient times St. George was considered to be the patron of Georgia and all Georgian people. The history of the legend about him was common to all European and Middle Eastern peoples.

During the reign of Tamara (1184–1213) — the great-granddaughter of David the Builder — the country reached the peak of its bloom. The borders of the kingdom stretched from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea, from the North Caucasus to the Persian Azerbaijan and Erzurum. By this time, the formation of the Georgian ethnos (general original name — Georgian) had been completed, and to refer to the whole of Georgia the term came — Sakartvelo. Georgian kingdom adopted its own emblem — the image of St. George hitting the dragon with a spear, which came from the Byzantine Empire from the time of the adoption of Christianity.

St. George on the first stamps of Georgia, 1919.

St. George on the first stamps of Georgia, 1919.

St. George on the first stamps of Georgia, 1919.

St. George on the first stamps of Georgia, 1919.

St. George on the stamp of Russia 1992.

St. George on the stamp of Russia 1992.

The image of St. George in Christian symbolism is associated with the local pagan cults, where the hero-hunter George acted the patron of agriculture and animal husbandry. It is celebrated on April 23. It was celebrated in all the Eastern European lands, as the beginning of spring field work, when the cattle first came to pasture, the first spring lamb was slaughtered. In addition, George was considered to be the master of celestial fire and thunder in some pagan cults. In Christian symbolism, he had turned into a martyr, a passionate apostle of the new faith.

According to the folk tradition, George was the native of the eastern part of Minor Asia (Cappadocia) — a contemporary of the Roman Emperor Diocletian (284–305), a representative of the local nobility. During the persecution of Christians, he courageously endured all tortures, and had become on a par with other Christian martyrs of the military class, who are considered to be heavenly patrons of “Christ-loving Sabaoth”.

A legend about George as a Dragon fighter also got a wide spread occurrence and independent life in literature and art. In these legends (there are several variants of them) it is told about the evil serpent, settled near the city. Its inhabitants were forced to pay a terrible tribute, giving boys and girls to be devoured by the monster. And one day it came the turn of the daughter of the ruler of the city. When passing by, George had learnt that the girl believed in Christ, he offered up a prayer to God with the request to punish the dragon. A tame serpent fell at the feet of the saint, who, cutting off the monster’s head, returned the daughter to her father. The townspeople, having heard the story of the hero, once got baptized. In this legend, George acts both as a hero-strongman and a preacher of the true faith.

The worship of George started from the fifth century and was widely spread in Asia Minor, Syria, Palestine, the Caucasus, the Balkans and Western Europe. That is the reason of all the diversity in the iconography of George. In the earliest icons he appeared as a martyr. From the tenth century the image of George-the warrior with a cross and a spear in his hand begins to dominate. In many Georgian temples there are the paintings with the image of “the life of St. George”, his name was given to dozens of temples. Twelve stories from the “Life of St. George” are depicted on a large embossed cross from the temple Chhari, which is now kept in the museum of “Metekhi”. [47]

St. George is popular not only in the Orthodox Christian church, but also in all areas of the Christian church. Moreover, St. George is mentioned in the Holy Book of Muslims, in the comments to the Koran. There are other stories about Georgia in various Islamic sources. In the Christian world, St. George is considered to be the leader of the heavenly host of the Lord and saint patron of earthly chivalry. St. George is recognized to be a defender of human being in trouble, his savior from all evil and misfortune. Sitting on a white horse, St. George, warring against evil, as a symbol of justice and victory, became the spokesman of the Georgian cherished ideals.

According to the “Life of Kartli”, during the Battle of Didgori St. George presented himself to the Georgian army and headed it, hitting the kuffar his right hand. Without any exaggeration, Vakhushti Bagrationi wrote that “there was no such hill or upland, where the church of St. George hasn’t been built”. (“Kartli Life”). That’s why nobody is surprised of the legend which is widespread among people, stating that in Georgia there have been built 365 temples in honor of St. George for every day of the year. Churches and temples built in honor of St. George are decorated with ancient frescoes depicting his life and the miracles, created by him, icons and unique crosses of St. George, covered with gold and silver. Georgian Orthodox Church celebrates the day of St. George twice a year. Christian churches celebrate the day of St. George once a year, except Catalonia, where it is also celebrated twice.

While developing the coat of arms of Georgian-Imereti province, the elements of symbolism of Armenian region emblem were used. Armenian region was formed in 1828, and in 1833 the emblem was made up for it. The drawing of this emblem has not been preserved, but its description is given in the book of P.P.Vinkler “The coat of arms of cities, provinces, regions and trading quarter of the Russian Empire”:

  • “On the overhead panel, in the middle of the main one, a silver snow top of the Mount Ararat is depicted against a blue background, in the silvery clouds, on top of the mountain there is all golden ark.”
  • In the lower part the general coat of arms becomes a halved divided shield: in one part on the right in the red area the ancient crown of Armenian tsars can be seen. And this crown is all gold, has a silver star and is showered with pearls; the band and the lining are blue.
  • On the other side to the left there is the Church of Echmiadzin on the green area, it is all the silver, cupolas and crosses are gold.
  • In the upper compartment of the coat of arms, on the golden area, there is the Russian eagle, embracing and holding an attachable shield as well as two lower sections of the general shield; over all the coat of arms there is an imperial crown.” [48, 49]

When Georgian-Imereti region was formed Armenian region was included into it, so the central part of the Armenian emblem was used when developing the province coat of arms — Mount Ararat with the ark on its top. This symbol appeared on the left of the Tiflis stamp. Of course, without any explanation it is difficult to understand the miniature drawing. But knowing the history of the origins of the stamp, you can see the contours of this image.

Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat on a special postal block of Israel, 2007.

Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat on a special postal block of Israel, 2007.

The image of Mount Ararat with Noah’s ark on the coat of arms of the Armenian region appeared in connection with the well-known biblical legend of the Flood, which the Lord used to God punish mankind for its sins. Only righteous man Noah and his family stayed alive. The God warned him of the Flood and commanded him to build an ark and take a couple of every animal with him.

According to legend, after the Flood, the ark rested upon the mountains of Ararat, which were, according to the drafters of the emblem near the Armenian region.

The Black Sea has always been of a particular importance for the peoples of the Caucasus. Due to the exit to the sea trade and economic ties in the region were developed. There was mutual enrichment of cultures and scientific knowledge. In fact, the Black Sea turned out to be an open door to the world to the Caucasus.

On Tiflis stamp the contours of this symbol in the form of wavy lines on the right are partly closed by the image of St. George.

Postal stamp. Painting by Ivan Aivazovsky “Black Sea”.

Postal stamp. Painting by Ivan Aivazovsky “Black Sea”.

Any sea, by itself, in any image carries a lot of meanings and interpretations:

  • The sea is a symbol of eternity, the Great Mother, the source of Life. In many cultures, the sea is the primary source of life, formless, infinite, and inexhaustible. Babylonian goddess Tiamat (Ecumenical Waters) is the mother of all other gods, earth and sky were formed from its body. The great mother goddesses are Isis Egyptian, Babylonian Ishtar; they are “Mistresses of the waters”, “Sea Stars”, “Queen of the Seas”. Aphrodite Anadyomene “Born from the Sea”, the goddess of love and beauty was simultaneously the patroness of the coasts. The people addressed to her begging the sea to be generous. The Sun is born in the sea and it dies there. To be back to the sea means to return to the maternal bosom that is to die. According to myths our Universe rests in world’s oceans on whales, turtles, on a pillar or mountain. And in it, it will come back at the sunset of life. Water returns to life and gives new life, hence the baptism by water or blood in the rites of initiation. The dive into the sea water symbolizes the return to the original state of purity, death in the old life and the rebirth in the new one.
  • The sea is a symbol of time. It is a constant changeability, a continuous movement, constant change of images, it is life and death. Every single moment is different, no waves exactly repeating another. “The sea brings bread and death, fruits and death.” The sea is an eternal donor and an eternal thief.
  • The sea is a symbol of strength. The sea dissolves, destroys, cleans, washes and restores. In the cosmogonies of East and West only gods were able to calm sea down, formidable even for them. “And He arose and rebuked the wind and said unto the sea: Fall silent, be still! And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” (The Gospels from Mark 4:39).
  • The sea is the keeper of secrets. To dive into the sea means to look for the secret of life, its infinite mystery. Clean water embodied honesty, truthfulness. Dirty water meant falsity, resourcefulness.

The next symbol of Tiflis stamp — in the lower part of the coat of arms, in silver area, there is the Wand of Mercury (Hermes), as a sign of extensive trading.

Wand of Mercury — the caduceus (Latin Caduceos) or kerikeyon (from the Greek Kerykeion, wand of Hermes) — truncated down the shaft, wrapped up by two snakes and topped by a pair of wings.

According to Homer Hermes got it from the god Apollo in exchange for the pipe. In the Roman version of the myth the wand was given to Mercury by Hades.

According to legend, Hermes saw fighting snakes huddled up in a ball under the old oak tree. He threw the wand under the oak, and the snakes immediately stopped fighting. Two of them in a fit of angry climbed up the want and froze, eyes met. Snakes had remained petrified, and Hermes gave the wand to his son Nerick, who, according to Greek mythology, gave the birth to the herald’s genus.

Since that time Mercury’s wand (Hermes) has been used as a symbol of trade, mutual understanding and peace promotion. In many cultures, Mercury’s wand was a mandatory attribute of the herald, providing the messenger with safety while being in the enemy camp.

However, it is impossible to make sure that the symbol came from Ancient Greece, since there is evidence of its existence in earlier periods of history. So the same wand can be found on Egyptian monuments built in honor of Osiris. It was also found in India, carved on the rocks at the entrance to the temple. The rod of Aaron, who was the high priest, and elder brother of Moses, according to the Bible, also had a form of the caduceus. It was used in Jewish ceremony. Since ancient times it was believed to possess the power of the sacred fire.

Researchers find kerikeyon on images of the god of Ancient Mesopotamia Ninurt. It is believed that in his hands caduceus acquire the meaning of a magic wand which gets the ability to heal and to revitalize.

An essential supplement to the emblem of Tiflis on the stamp was the signs of the post department — two crossed post horns. They are located in the corners between the inner circle and a square frame.

Kerikeyon Hermes (caduceus) on postal stamps of Greece.

Kerikeyon Hermes
(caduceus)
on postal stamps
of Greece.

Kerikeyon Hermes (caduceus) on postal stamps of Greece.

Kerikeyon Hermes
(caduceus)
on postal stamps
of Greece.

Kerikeyon Hermes (caduceus) on postal stamps of Greece.

Kerikeyon Hermes
(caduceus)
on postal stamps
of Greece.

Caduceus on Australian stamps (1957).

Caduceus on
Australian stamps
(1957).

Caduceus on Estonian stamps (1919).

Caduceus on
Estonian stamps
(1919).

Caduceus on stamps of France (1938).

Caduceus on
stamps of France
(1938).

Postal horn, a cylindrical copper or brass wind instrument with a mouthpiece, without flaps or valves, served to signal the arrival or departure of the dismounted or horse postman.

Germany is considered to be the homeland of the mail sign in the form of a horn. This simple musical instrument is much older than the post. In the XVI century Thurn und Taxis got the privilege of using the postal horn for their couriers carrying mail. All other people were forbidden to use postal horns by the postal regulations of Prussia (1712) and in several other countries. The horn had some significant privileges. Hearing the postal horn signal every other carriage had to give it away. On hearing the sound of the postal horn the ferrymen had to immediately carry the mail to the other bank for free. At the tollgate the post carriage didn’t have to pay the fee. Even at night at the sound of the horn the guarded city gates should have opened, while any other carriage was obliged to wait until the morning.

In Russia, the post horn couldn’t find any application as a signal instrument. A bell took a place of the postal horn in Russia, which is like a horn in Prussia was an exceptional affiliation of postal rush. Individuals were forbidden to ride with a bell. Still the image of the horn as a symbol of postal service and the belonging to the postal department was adopted in Russia at the turn of XVII–XVIII centuries. The samples of eagle and horn, as the postal marks were presented to the Emperor and stored in the Order of Secret Affairs. The uniform with an eagle and a postal horn was introduced in Russia in 1675. On the Tiflis stamp two crossed post horns at the corners are depicted as a symbol of post, but not a Russian yamschik bell.

Post horn on the first stamps.

Switzerland (1850).

Switzerland (1850).

Finland (1856).

Finland (1856).

Romania (1858).

Romania (1858).

Hannover Kingdom (1860).

Hannover Kingdom (1860).

Hungary (1871).

Hungary (1871).

Norway (1872).

Norway (1872).

The most important element of the coat of arms and accordingly of the Tiflis stamp is a crowned Imperial eagle, which covers the shield with its wings. An interesting fact is that the most serious heraldic reform was carried out in 1855–1857 years. In the Department of Heraldry of the Senate there was established a coat of arms Department specially to work over the emblems, which was headed by Baron B. Kene. He developed a whole system of Russian State coat of arms (Large, Medium and Small), following in their artistic expression the universally recognized norms of European monarchical heraldry. Also under the management of Kene the drawing of the eagle and St. George was modified, and the state coat of arms was done in accordance with the international rules of heraldry. On April 11, 1857 Alexander II approved the coat of arms of the Russian Empire — the double-headed eagle. The whole set of state coat of arms — Large, Medium and Small, which symbolized the unity and the power of Russia was also approved. In May 1857 the Senate issued a Decree with description of new coat of arms and the rules of their use, which without any changes managed to exist till 1917.

So, by the time the Tiflis stamp was issued, new rules for the use of state imperial symbols had already been published. Therefore, the presence of the two-headed crowned eagle on the stamp, issued June 20, 1857, further confirms its state official status.

The shield, St. George, Mount Ararat with Noah's ark on top, the Black Sea, postal horns are the basic elements-symbols of the Tiflis postal stamp. They collectively represent the main sense that the creators of the stamp wanted to put in their creation. The combination of these elements should have solved not only the problem of improving the postal services in the Caucasus, but certainly had ideological significance. After all, it was a time when heraldry had a strictly scientific meaning. And any public undertaking was necessarily considered from the point of view of the political context. That was the era of total censorship, even when innocent poems and drawings were suspected to have sedition and hidden hostile sense. Therefore, any character on a postage stamp could appear only after deep deliberation and approval.

The coat of arms of Russian Empire.

The coat of arms of Russian Empire.


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