What does the Ukrainian coat of arms mean?
Today, on Feb. 19, 2023, Ukraine marks 31 years since the official adoption of its coat of arms. A trident was chosen as Ukraine’s coat of arms not by chance. It emphasizes the thousands of years-long tradition of Ukrainian statehood.
As a symbol of Ukraine, the trident unites Ukrainians all over the world. During the full-scale Russian invasion especially, it came to symbolize the invincibility and resilience of the Ukrainian people.
Learn more about the history of the Ukrainian coat of arms in our special story.
Rurik’s dynasty seal and coat of arms
The oldest image of the Ukrainian trident dates back to the 10th century, when the ancient state Kyivan Rus was on the territory of modern Ukraine. It is assumed that the symbol was seen as a magical talisman. The symbol’s most important use was when it was used as a seal and a dynastic coat of arms by members of the Rurik dynasty. It was depicted everywhere: on coins, dishes, tombstones, bricks, rings, weapons, equipment, and so on.
This symbol of ownership and power was passed down from generation to generation, changing so that each representative of the family had an individual emblem. Most artifacts which document the trident’s ancient use date back to the time of Volodymyr the Great, so the symbol’s popularization is frequently attributed to him.
40 interpretations of the trident’s meaning
Currently, there are about 40 interpretations of its meaning — among the potential visuals considered, there are a falcon, an anchor, an ear of rye, a bow and arrow and so on. One of the interpretations says that the Ukrainian word воля — which means freedom — is hidden in the trident.
It is unknown how the trident was called and what it meant then. The Ukrainian word tryzub — which means trident — appeared in use only in the 20th century.
Trident as a coat of arms of the Ukrainian People’s Republic
Along with the decline of the Kyivan Rus, the sign of the trident also disappeared. According to historians, national heraldic systems began to take shape in the 14th century. For the next several centuries there were different seals and coats of arms on Ukraine’s territory. For example, a cossack with a musket was an emblem of the Zaporizhzhian Host and later the state emblem of the Hetmanate.
The trident was restored in the 20th century when the question of choosing a coat of arms for the Ukrainian People’s Republic arose. According to the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory, in 1917 the Central Rada of Ukraine (editor’s note: Parliament of the Ukrainian People’s Republic) created a special commission that united historians, lawyers, coat of arms experts and artists to create a coat of arms.
Mykhailo Hrushevskyi, head of the Central Rada, believed that the coat of arms of Ukraine should be a golden plow on a blue background as a “symbol of creative peaceful labor.” But in the end, the trident was chosen as the coat of arms and officially adopted in 1918, as a historical symbol commemorating the days of the greatest power of the Ukrainian lands.
The meaning of the trident in modern Ukraine
During the Soviet rule, the regime branded the trident as a “nationalist sign” and its use was prohibited. In the 20th century, the trident became a symbol of the Ukrainian struggle for independence.
After Ukraine restored its independence in 1991, the trident was chosen as the coat of arms of the Ukrainian state. Ukraine demonstrated its adherence to the traditions of the Ukrainian People’s Republic.