The GRIFFIN bird
An animal from the human fantasy, much used in coats of arms and flags

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  The griffin, Grijp in Dutch, Grip in Swedish and Griep in the old Low-German language, is an animal that only exists in the mythology: it's half a lion and half a bird of prey. He mostly is portrayed as a winged animal, the upper part of the body being an eagle, and the lower part of the body being a lion.

In the middle ages, the griffin was considered to be one of the symbols of Christ (two natures in one person), of the Church (the religious and the secular power) and the pope (the king of all priests).

In the heraldry the griffin is very often used, especially in the countries around the Baltic Sea.

 
 

THE GRIFFIN

 
 
  The griffin was already known as a mythological animal in the old ages. Aristeas (7th century before Christ), the first one to mention it, called him the guard of the gold of Northern Europe and the adversary of the one-eyed Arimaspes in Scythie. In ancient Greece the griffin was considered to be an attribute of Apollo. Portrayed as a gigantic bird with the head of an eagle and the body of a lion, the griffin appeared on Attic vases and in the relief art of Anatolia, Babylon and Rome.

The griffin combines the strength of a lion with the speed of an eagle. His shaggy legs have sharp claws. According to the ancient Greek the griffin came from India, and later from the far North. In the middle ages these myths get a quite different character, when people tend to believe in its real existence. In 1587, Lonicern the following description of this animal:

"The Griffin is a feathered, four-legged animal. His body is that of a lion, with the wings and the face of an eagle. The Griffins from Asia and Scythie, who guard the gold and silver, are savage and cruel birds who hardly allow anyone to enter their territory. Every human being they see will immediately be torn to peaces, as if their main task in this world is to kill their desire. The Arimaspi, a tribe from Scythie, fights them because of their precious stones: in every nest lays an agate. They hate horses and men, and in battle they will beat an armed man. When they have killed a cow, horse or human being, they carry it away flying. Their nails are as big a ox-horns and their feathers are strong enough to use them as strong arrows or lances."

In ancient times the griffin is also said to have nested in Pomerania. When the city of Greifenberg was founded, an old legend tells, the first plan was to build it on the Lübzow mountain. When they had all the building material transported to that spot, a griffin that had his nest nearby took all the materials and brought it to the place where the city now is situated. The griffin played a similar role when the city of Greifswald was founded.

According to the old legend, on the place where now Greifswald is situated there used to be a big and densely grown forest. When the monks of monastery of Eldena wanted to found a city in that forest, they first send out some scouts to look for a proper place. The scouts sailed off the River Ryck and surveyed both sides of the river. At a certain moment they spotted a huge four-legged griffin with two tails, sitting to brood on a tree-stump. The monks thought this to be a good omen and they decided to build the city on that spot. The place where the griffin-nest was found is now called Schubhagen. From the earliest times on many terrible things has happened over there: the expelled griffin used to rob children to swallow them; later on people spotted horrible ghosts that were wandering around at nights: a big wife, rattling with a bunch of keys, driving a herd of pigs or snow-white goose in front of her; the appearance of a black horse or a grey that jumped on peoples shoulders and pushed them unto the ground that hard that the blood came out of their noses and their mouth. In recent times that kind of ghostly apparitions have however stayed away.

These and other saga's are based on very old tales and stories. The oldest one is in Pomerania from Joh. Bugenhagen:

„It has been told that in old days Griffins used to live in our region, and to proof this people point at the names of some cities that have pesumably been named after the Griffin bird. Some of those are Gripeswald, or the wood of the Griffins, Griphenberg and Gryphenhagne. To make this legend more credible, one adds this and the other that. On one spot people tell that the Griffin had his nest in the middle of the market place, somewhere else another location is indicated. People also point at a tree-stump on which the Griffin is said to have been sitting."

In 1593 the magistrate Lukas Takke made a stand against the old legends about the Griffin bird. He did this is a lecture, published in Latin, about the city of Greifswald:

"The first part of the cities name isn't, as often has been told, derived from the Griffin bird that would have nested here, but goes back to the coat of arms of the famous 'Greifen' family, the ancestors of the Dukes of Pomerania. "

The legend about this ancient noble family is also written down by Temme. It says that a noble family by the name of Gripes used to live nearby the present location of the city of Greifswald. When the members of this family started plundering around, the were finally eradicated. Because the part of the forest where the city was founded was owned by this family, the city was named Gripeswald, later Greifswald. At the bottom of the coat of arms a tree-trunk is shown, with green leaves. A Griffin is sitting on it, holding a branch with his claws. The tree-trunk points at the location where the city was founded. In 1249 duke Wartislaw III of Pommern-Demmin granted the city the right to carry a Griffin on the coat of arms, and when this duke died in 1264 without a successor and Greifswald fell to duke Barnim I. of Pommern-Stettin, a branch was added because of that name. About the origin of the city of Greifenhagen, no legends are known with regard to the Griffin bird. Maybe he has been replaced by the dragon, who would have lived on the Bahner gate, and is still haunting there.

Griffins do appear in the old legends of Pomerania on two other locations. Close to the southeastern corner of the Klützer forest, between Binow and Wittstock (Kreis Greifenhagen), there is a small lake called Rotte Griep. Near the southern shore of the lake there is an ancient wall, subject of numerous old legends. According to the saga the lake got his name because of the Griffin that nested along his shores. Another explanation is, that members of the Greifen-family was buried near the lake, sometime before the year 1124. The true origin of the name however derives form the Slavic word gribu, which means fungus or mushroom.

On the island of Usedom there is a recently made-dry swamp called Thurbruch, also Auerochsenbruch. Much of the area used to be covered by forest, in which griffins were said to be living. Once a herdsman took his little son with him in the forest, while grazing his herd. When he had to leave his son alone for a while, a griffin came and took his son with him to his nest, where he put him between his own young. When the herdsman returned and didn't find his child, he immediately knew what had happened. He hurried to the griffin's nest, and found the old griffin already flown out again. The father bravely climbed into the mighty fir-tree, and saved his son who had managed to keep clear from the griffin's young. When they stood on the ground again, he put the fir-tree on fire to destroy the griffin's nest. In that he succeeded, but unfortunately the whole forest was set on fire. So, until recent years, peat-diggers will sometimes find carbonized tree-trunks in the swamp, that remembers them about that big wood fire.

The historian Schmidt points to the fact, that cities that are named after the Griffin bird are almost always situated in or nearby area's that were formerly Slavic. In Silezië we find the cities of Greifenberg, Greifental, Greifenstein and Greifenhahn, in Lausitz and in Saksen there are Greifenhain, Greifenberg and Greifen and in Austria Greifenstein and Greifenburg. The legends and saga about the Griffin are still vivid among the population of Pomerania. And also in another way their memories are living on; in the Treptow region the inhabitants of Pomerania and those of Mecklenburger are calling each other names according to their mutual coats of arms: Mecklenburgische Ossenköpp (ox head from Mecklenburg) respectively Pommersche Aasvögel (carrion bird from Pomerania).

Source: A. Haas (1922): Der Vogel Greif in der pommerschen Volkssage, in: Unsere Heimat.
Heimatbeilage der Kösliner Zeitung, Jg.1922, Heft 12.

 
 

GRIFFIN COATS OF ARMS

 
 
  On this map is shown, which towns, villages and regions do have a griffin on their coats of arms.

The purpose of it is, to find out whether there is any relation between that and the places where names like Griep, Grijp and Grip originate.

Each red dot on the map represents a local community that has a griffin on their coats of arms, and the pink area's do the same for a country, province or region.

A great help by drawing this map has been
the Civic Heraldry Special Pages:
http://www.ngw.nl by Ralf Hartemink,
on thewebsite of the Bank of the
Dutch Municipalities.

  A conclusion that can be drawn on the basis of this map is that, besides the concentration of griffins in Pomerania, there is no clear relationship between the appearances of griffins on the coats of arms in the region and the surnames Griep, Grijp and Grip. On the contrary. In Scandinavia the surname Grip appears frequently, but there are hardly any griffins on the coats of arms. But in the middle and the south of Germany the opposite is the case. The appearance of the surnames Griep, Gryp and Grip in Flanders, Ostfriesland, Emsland and Holstein also doesn't have its reflection on the regional coats of arms.
 
 

THE BALTIC COAST OF POMERANIA

 
 
  Before World War II, the German province of Pomerania had centuries long a griffin on his coat of arms. That province doesn't exist anymore, its area has been divided between a German and a Polish part. The west became a part of the German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The centre and the eastern part now form the Polish provinces Pomorze Zachodnie en Pomorze. All these regions still carry the griffin on their coats of arms, and also does a lot of the lower regional and local authorities in the Pomeranian area.
 
 
THE GERMAN STATE OF MECKLENBURG-VORPOMMERN
The members of the obotritic dynasty of Mecklenburg have always, with pride, emphasized their Wendic origin. Probably, the presence of the griffin as the first heraldic symbol of Mecklenburg has something to do with these roots. The griffin, being a mystic fable animal, could have been the symbol of all the Christianized slavic peoples, especially the Wends, and would ultimately have become the symbol of the winds.
       
       
THE COUNTIES IN AND AROUND VORPOMMERN
Vorpommern has four counties, and three of them have a griffin on their coat of arms: Nordvorpommern, Ostvorpommern and Ücker Randow. With regard to the color of the griffin: the golden griffin is the symbol of the Rostock region, while the black griffin is a variation of the red griffin of Pomerania. Vorpommern is situated in that part of Pomerania that was governed by a branch of the ducal family that had the black griffin in his coat of arms. Finally, the coat of arms of the county Uckermark, in the state of Brandenburg just underneath Vorpommern and for centuries long disputed between Pomerania and Brandenburg, shows a Pomeranian griffin as well as the eagle from Brandenburgs.
       


Nordvorpommern


Ostvorpommern


Ücker Randow


Uckermark

       
       

TWO POMERANIAN PROVINCES IN POLAND
At left the coat of arms of Pomorze Zachodnie and right that of Pomorze. Also in this case the different colors reflect the different branches of the Greifendynasty that for centuries long rules the area.
       
       
COATS OF ARMS OF POMERANIAN MUNICIPALITIES
It is not a surprise that the mythological griffin also appears on many coat of arms of regional and local authorities in the Pomeranian region. Most of them already last for many centuries long, some of them even from the 13th century.
       


Altentreptow


Bialogard


Dargun


Demmin


Franzburg


Greiffenberg


Greifswald


Gryfice


Gryfino


Jarmen


Nowe Warpno


Okonek


Penkun

 
Platy


Polanow


Pyrzyce


Slawno


Slupsk


Swinoujscie


Szczecinek


Tczew


Trzebiatow


Wolgast


Wolin

       
 
 

OTHER REGIONS AROUND THE
NORTH AND BALTIC SEAS

 
 
  Along the coast of the North an Baltic seas the griffins appear, outside Pomerania, more sporadically. There isn't really a patron that can be recognized. Each appearance seems to have its own specific origin.
 
A NORWEGIAN PROVINCE
All the way on the top of Norway, rather more along the Ice Sea than the North Sea, the province of Troms fylke is situated.
The griffin in its coat of arms came from the Bjarkøyætten family, in the 13 century one of the most wealthy and powerful families of the country. They also ruled over big parts of Troms fylke, which made the province to chose the griffin, who combines the courage of an eagle with the strength of a lion, to be shown on their coat of arms.
       
       
SWEDISH PROVINCES
In Sweden there are three provinces with a griffin on their coat of arms. All of them are derived from Bo Jonson Grip, the mighty governor who in the 12th century ruled this land and lived in these provinces. He had the griffins head, at the right, for his coat of arms. This symbol didn't find its way into much municipal heraldry, besides the Saab factories who named their fighter plane Gripen after it and placed the Griffin logo on their cars.
       


Östergötland


Skåne


Södermanland


Stockholmslän

       
       
LATVIA
On the national coat of arms of Latvia here below, a griffin and a lion are facing each other. The same goes for the shield supporters. The griffin seems to be introduced in Latvia after count Friedrich of Kurzeme, who in 1590 founded the city of Serene, died. When he was killed the war in 1647, his widow grants her coat of arms -- derived from her birthplace Stettin -- to the city. This town is now called Jaunjelgava and is situated in the centre of Latvia. The griffin in the national coat of arms of Latvia found its way into that of the provinces Latgale and Vidzeme and the municipalities Ainazi and Rezneke
.
       


Latgale


Vidzeme


Ainazi


Rezneke

       
       
TWO BOROUGHS IN ENGLAND
There are only two English boroughs with a griffin on their coat of arms: Solihull (left) near Birmingham and Trafford (right), part of the conurbation of Manchester. The griffins on both coats of arms are derived from noble families living in the region. The one from Solihull comes from the earls of Aylesford and the one from Trafford from the family with the same name. Apart from these two, there are in England several coats of arms with griffin as supporters of the shield: Alderley Edge, Barnsley, Broadland, Camden, Dorking and Horley, Elmbridge, Holborn, Knowsley, Malton, Oldham, Rotherham, Stoke Newington, Swamsea, Tandridge and Whitehaven.
       
       
MUNICIPALITIES WITH A GRIFFIN IN THE NETHERLANDS
The four griffins on the coats of arms of municipalities in the Netherlands all have a different background. The former municipality Grijpskerk, founded in 1474 by Nikolaas Grijp, honors its founder with a wrongly drawn griffin (without wings). The coats of arms from Ooststellingwerf and Weststelingwerf are derived from the old seal of Stellingwerf, that made itself free from the bishop of Utrecht during the 14th century. On the oldest seal, from 1350, some obscure animal is shown, his tail between the legs, and a five point star within a circle. On later seals it becomes clear that this animal is a griffin. The coat of arms of Wolphaarsdijk lastly is derived in 1817 from the polder-board Oud-Wolphaartsdijk, founded in 1577. Besides that there are also coats of arms with griffins as supporters of the shield. Two of them flank the coat of arms of Dordrecht (right), dating from the 13th century. It is derived from the coat of arms of count Jan van Beieren. Also the coat of arms of the municipalities of Heemstede and Vlaardingen are supported by two griffins. On the one of Heilo the griffin shares his task with a lion.
       


Grijpskerk


Ooststellingwerf


Weststellingwerf


Wolphaarsdijk

       
       
DENMARK AND NORTHWESTERN GERMANY
The griffin on the coat of arms of Gram, a town in the south of Jutland, was already shown on an old seal daring from 1600. It was probably derived from Erik von Pommern who was ruling the area in the 16th century. So this red griffin is related to the Pomeranian greif. The griffins along the German coast -- outside Pomerania -- of the Baltic sea however are golden griffins, for many centuries the symbol of the city of Rostock. This city started as a settlement near a Wendic fortress, received city-rights from Lübeck in 1218 and was in the later middle ages one of the most important trading cities in Northern Germany. The golden griffin is also shown on the coat of arms of nearby Ribnitz and on that of the county Bad Doberan, that surrounds Rostock. Also the golden griffin on the coat of arms of the county Nordvorpommern is derived from Rostock.
       


Gram


Rostock


Ribnitz


Bad Doberan

       
 
 

THE GERMAN SPEAKING AREAS IN CENTRAL EUROPE

 
 
  In the rest of Europe, outside the coastal area along the Baltic Sea, the griffin mainly appears on coats of arms in the German speaking areas in central Europe: central and southern Germany, Luxemburg, the French Alsace, Switserland, Zwitserland, Liechtenstein and Austria. These griffin coats of arms are rather evenly distributed over this whole area. In many cases the coat of arms has been derived from a noble family that played a role in the history of the municipality.
 
THREE VILLAGES IN LUXEMBURG
The first one (left) is from the village of Dippach in the south of Luxemburg. Then Kayl (right), whose coat of arms seems to be derived from the Lords of Kayl, a family that for centuries long rules the village. Finally Mertert (far right) along the eastern border of Luxemburg. The coat of arms is the same one as from the Billig family, who has been living in the area form the 14th century.
       
       

FOUR VILLAGES IN THE FRENCH ALSACE
There are four villages in this originally German speaking part of France with a griffin in their coat of arms: Furdenheim, Munwiller, Pfulgriesheim and Uhlwiller. With respect to their origin, there is probably a relationship with the Seigneurs de Greifenstein, one of the oldest noble families from the Alsace and already mentioned in 1165. They lived at Greifenstein castle at Saverne.

       

 
Furdenheim


Munwiller


Pfulgriesheim


Uhlwiller

       
       
MUNICIPALITIES IN CENTRAL GERMANY
One can expect that Greifenstein, a village in the German state of Hessen and now part of a greater municipality with the same name but a different coat of arms, traditionally had a griffin on his coat of arms (right). Greifenstein castle, build in 1352 and now in ruins, has for many years been in possession of the count of Solms-Greifenstein, who had a griffin for his symbol. The griffin on the coat of arms of the nearby Holzappel (below) dates from the 17th century and is derived from the county with the same name. Next is Obbornhofen also in Hessen and a part of the municipality of Hungen. The village of Kella and the market town Niederorschel are both in Thüringen. This last town first appears, in a charter from the Beuren monastery, under the name 'Asla'. The village could be very old, it maybe founded in the 5th century. Petersberg is situated in the state of Rheinland-Pfalz, just like the two villages Clausen en Rodalben, now both incorporated in the new Rodalben municipality. Schramberg finally, in the state of Baden-Württemberg, started as a few buildings around the local castle. It changed possession a few times, and one of them were the counts of van Bissingen-Nippenburg, from which the griffin on the coat of arms was derived.
       


Clausen


Holzappel


Kella


Niederorschel


Obbornhofen


Petersberg


Rodalben


Schramberg

       
       
MUNICIPALITIES IN THE SOUTH OF GERMANY
Both villages Neuburg am Inn (left) and Neuhaus am Inn (right) are situated along the river Inn, south of Passau. The griffin on their coats of arms is derived from the noble Vornbach family, founders of Neuburg castle and for many centuries the rulers of the region. The griffin on the coat of arms of Jengen (right below), also in Bavaria, is derived from the Steingaden monastery, in the old days the large landowner of the area. On the row below, the first coat of arms is that of Freystadt in Bavaria. The town was founded in 1300 by the Lord of Hilpoltstein. The oldest seal dating from 1332 shows the griffin of the Lords of, who on their turn derived it from the counts of Peilstein. Next is Neckarzimmern, situated east of Heidelberg. Then Niederaudorf, in the south of Bavaria near the Austrian border. The griffin on the coat of arms is derived from Johann von Messener, the founder -- in 1721 -- of a castle in the village. Finally, also in Bavaria, Rot an der Rot.
       


Freystadt


Neckarzimmern


Niederaudorf


Rot an der Rot

       
       
SWISS MUNICIPALITIES WITH A GRIFFIN
The first one is Donath, a farmers village with less than 200 inhabitants -- 3000 feet high -- in the mountains of Graubünden in the southeast of the Graubünden region. Next one is Feldis, with just 140 inhabitants. Greifensee is a village near Zürich, with a coat of arms already mentioned in 1473, and to conclude Wiggiswill in the Bern region.
       


Donath


Feldis


Greifensee


Wiggiswill

       
       
LIECHTENSTEIN
Balzers
, in the south of the mini-state Liechtenstein, has 4400 inhabitants. The griffin on the coat of arms is derived from the Lords of Frauenberg, from Graubünden in Switzerland, who owned the local castle around the year 1300.
       
       
MUNICIPALITIES IN AUSTRIA
The municipality of Gerlos is situated near the border between Tirol (with an eagle on the coat of arms) and Salzburger Land (with a lion). The griffin does symbolize that by combining both animals. In 1130 count Ekbert II of Formbach choose Grafendorf , in Steiermark, for its residence. The village that grew around his castle took over the coat of arms of this mediaeval noble man. Leonding finally, situated near Linz, derived the griffin from the Painherren, large landowners in the area.
       


Enzenkirchen


Gerlos


Grafendorf


Greifenburg


Innervillgraten


Leonding


Tumeltsham


Windhaag bei Perg

       
 
 

GRIFFINS IN THE REST OF EUROPE

 
 
  In the rest of Europe, coats of arms with griffin on it do appear much more sparsely. Where they do, there is often some relationship with German speech or heritage, like in the south of Poland (which has been under German or Austrian rule), the north of Italy (close to southern Tirol), the Czech Republic (the former ethnic German Sudetenland), Hungary (a ethnic German enclave)) and Romania (the former ethnic German region Siebenbürgen). One of the few exceptions is central Italy. The griffins in that area seems to have Etruscan roots.
 
A SMALL TOWN IN FRANCE
Anse is situated along the river Saône, a bit north of Lyon. The place has been inhabited since prehistoric times. In the 11th century, the city of Lyon build a fortress on this spot. There is no clue yet about the origin of the griffin on this coat of arms.
       
FIVE MUNICIPALITIES IN THE REST OF POLAND
Away from the coastal area along the Baltic Sea, there are another five municipalities in Poland with a griffin on their coat of arms. The first one is Brzesko (rights), a small town in southeast Poland, with city-rights dating form the year 1385. Here below is at first the coat of arms of Choroszcz, situated in the northeast of Poland and founded in the 16th century. Next is Debica, a town in southeast Poland, named Dembitz in the period that it belonged to Austria. This coat of arms dates from the 16th century. The griffin in the coat of arms is derived from the Gryfow family, who ruled the area for many centuries. Then Gryfow Slaski (Greiffenberg in German times), a town in southwestern Poland. The griffin is already shown on the oldest seal of the town, in the year 1353, at first in combination with a rising moon. The present layout dates from 1562. Finally Swidnica, a town in southwest Poland.
       


Choroszcz


Debica


Gryfow Slaski


Swidnica

       
       
THE CZECH REPUBLIC
Radvanice and Bartovice are two former villages, now incorporated in the city of Ostrava. One of them had a griffin in his coat of arms, which is now also shown on that of the new rural district Radvannice a Bartovice (left).
The coat of arms at the right is from Greifendorf, till 1945 a village inhabited by Germans. The village now has another name (Hradec nad Svitavou) and another coat of arms.
       
TWO HUNGARIAN MUNICIPALITIES
In Hungary there are several griffins that act as a supporter of the shield. This is also the case in the capital Budapest. Besides that, there are two municipalities with a griffin on their coats of arms itself. The first one is Ganna (left), a village in the Veszprém region, near the town of Pápa, and populated with etnic Germans. The golden griffin is the symbol of the Esterházy family, that once ruled the village. The second one is Héviz (right), a spa with thermal baths west of Lake Balaton.
       
       

A FORMER HONGARIAN PROVINCE IN ROMANIA
Küküllö
is a former German speaking province of Hongary, dating from the period of the Austrian-Hongarian monarchy. The area, in Siebenbürgen, is now situated in Romania. The coat of arms of the region is on the right.

       
       
A CROATIAN VILLAGE
The coat of arms at the left is from Zabok, a village in Croatia just north of Zagreb. Its background is that in 1335 the town has been granted to a noble family, who subsequently took the town's name as their own: Zaboky. In 1575 this was their coat of arms, and the present municipality has chosen to take it over.
 
       
       

ITALY
At right the coat of arms of Cloz, a small village in the partly German speaking North Italian region of Alto Adige. But also more to the south griffins do appear in the local heraldry. It seems that the griifin is an old Etruscan symbol. Underneath, the first coat of arms is that of Perugia, the capital of the Italian region of Umbria. The second one is Narni, in the south of Umbria. Moreover there are the two Tuscans cities Volterra and Montepulciano, both with their roots in the Etruscan past, who show a griffin in their coats of arms.

       


Perugia


Narni


Montepulciano


Volterra

       
 
 

 

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Last update of this webpage (http://home.kpn.nl/artrako/Historie/Grijpvogels-EN.html)
on April 12, 2010 by ©
Jan Griep at Katwijk aan Zee, Netherlands.