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buber.net > Basque > Folklore > Eusko Harmarriak
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Eusko Harmarriak

The Basque Coat of Arms

by John Ysursa

The emblems of the Basque provinces are recognized by most all Basques, adorning the cover of festival programs, advertising a Basque restaurant, and displaying prominently on shirts worn during club festivals. The collected emblems are usually entitled atop or below with a phrase such as "Euskal Herria," or "Zazpiak-Bat." The combined emblems symbolize the unity and shared heritage of the "Euskaldunak," or Basque people.

Seven provinces now comprise Euskal Herria, but what some may not know is that the Basque coat of arms contains only six emblems. The common mistake is to assume that the two parts of Lapurdi's coat-of-arms (see below) represent two provinces. The resolution is to interpret one emblem, that of the gold chains upon a red background, as representing two provinces. Both the northern (French) province of Benafarroa and the southern (Spanish) province of Nafarroa share the same emblem of the medieval kingdom of Navarre which was divided by Spain and France in 1659 by the Treaty of the Pyrennes. This treaty established the border between these two nations. Neither kingdom consulted the Basque people over the division of their homeland; Spain and France imposed and maintained the boundary because of their military supremacy. This essay seeks to provide several known theories for the origins of the Basque coat of arms.


The field is red, with a gold castle and the arm holding the sword is silver. The lion is gold in color. The province's name, "Araba" in Basque, "Alava" in Spanish, is not derived from the Basque word "alaba" (daughter), on the assumption that it is the daughter of the other three provinces in the South. The origin of the name remains unknown. What is known is that the province adopted its emblem from the twon of Portilla in 1332, when Araba accepted a fuedal relationship with Castille to the South. The "fuero" or charter of Portilla was extended to the whole province which adopted the town arms at the same time.


The field is silver with a green and brown tree superimposed upon a red crucifix. In front and behind the tree are two black wolves with lambs in their mouths. The tree is the famous oak tree of Gernika which has since come to symbolize the liberties of the Basque people. The cross symbolizes the Christianity of Bizkaia. The two wolves, according to tradition, are said to be those that crossed in front of the army of Lope Zuria, a Basque leader who repelled an invasion by Alfonso of Leon in 880 at Arrigorriaga. After the victory, the wolves were in no doubt taken to be a good omen. The origin of the province's name, "Bizkaia" in the Basque spelling, "Vizcaya" in Spanish, is unknown.


The emblem of Gipuzkoa has undergone recent revision. The older version contained three portions. A gold monarch seated upon a throne, holding a sword, upon a red field is probably King Alfonso VIII of Castille. In the fourteenth century, Gipuzkoa took the King of Castille as its nominal overlord, as did Bizkaia and Araba. The second portion of twelve gold cannons upon a red field are thought to commemorate the victory gained by the Basque's of Gipuzkoa over the invading army of Jean d'Albret in the passes of Otxondo and Belate on December 12, 1512. The current provincial emblem has dropped these two previous portions and retained only the third: three trees over blue and white waves upon a field of gold (sometimes silver). The water and trees most likely represent the sea-coast and forests of the province, and three trees symbolize the three primary regions of Gipuzkoa. The name of the province is said to be derived from Basque roots meaning "land of low waters."

Nafarroa 'ta Benafarroa

Gold chains on a field of red. The chains are said to be those that surrounded the tent of the Moorish Caliph. They were captured by Sancho the Strong, King of Nafarroa, at the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212. In the center of the chains is an emberald, said to symbolize the rich spoils taken at the battle that Sancho distributed to the churches of Pampeluna, Irache, Tudela and Roncevaux. Benafarroa is literally the lower part of Nafarroa, although it is the northern-most portion of the province. It most likely refers to the lower or smaller part of the medieval kingdom of Navarre that was transferred to the Gauls (French) with the Treaty of the Pyrennes discussed above. Benafarroa did not conceive its own emblem; rather it was subsumed by the French into their pre-existing kingdom. Therefore, both provinces still share the same emblem. No satisfactory etymology for the name "Nafarroa" has been found.


An emblem of two parts: a red lion holding a sword on a gold background, and a gold fleur-de-lis on a field of blue. These are believed to have been adopted from the arms of the city of Uztaritz when it became the provincial capital. The lion most likely represents the early Viscounts or rulers of that area, and the French fleur-de-lis commemorates the union of Lapurdi with France under Charles VII. The province derives its name from Lapurdum, the Latin name for the city of Baiona (Bayonne).


A gold lion on a field of red. These were the arms of the Lords of Maule (Mauleon) which were adopted by the town of that name and eventually the province. Xiberua or Zuberoa in Basque, Soule in French, is said to mean "hot, wooded country." It is the smallest of all seven provinces, with the most unique dialect of "Euskara" or the Basque language.

[SOURCES: "The Basque Coat of Arms," in the commemorative program for Jaialdi '87: International Basque Cultural Festival; and Rodney Gallop, A Book of the Basques (Reno, NV: University of Nevada Press, 1970).]

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