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Coat of Arms
A coat of arms is a unique heraldic design on an escutcheon, surcoat, or tabard. A surcoat, and subsequently a coat of arms were used by medieval knights to cover, protect, and identify the wearer. The coat of arms on an escutcheon forms the central element of the full heraldic achievement which consists of shield, supporters, crest, and motto. The design is a symbol unique to an individual person or family, corporation, or state. Such displays are commonly called armorial bearings, armorial devices, heraldic devices, or simply arms.
The ancient Romans used similar insignias on their shields, but these identified military units rather than individuals. The first evidence of medieval coats of arms is found in the Bayeux Tapestry from the 11th Century, where some of the combatants carry shields painted with crosses.
Coats of arms came into general use by feudal lords and knights in battle in the 12th Century.
By the 13th Century arms had spread beyond their initial battlefield use to become a kind of flag or logo for families in the higher social classes of Europe, inherited from one generation to the next. In the German-speaking region both the aristocracy and burghers used arms, while in most of the rest of Europe they were limited to the aristocracy. The use of arms spread to Church clergy, and to towns as civic identifiers, and to royally-chartered organizations such as universities and trading companies. The coats of arms granted to commercial companies are a major source of the modern logo.
In the 21st century, coats of arms are still in use by a variety of institutions and individuals; for example, many European cities and universities have guidelines on how their coats of arms may be used, and protect their use as trademarks. England and Scotland, still maintain the same heraldic authorities which have traditionally granted and regulated arms for centuries and continue to do so in the present day.
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