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Ukraine – State Arms (The Trident)

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Keywords: ukraine | trident | triglav |
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by Željko Heimer, 15 March 2016

See also:

Ukrainian Arms

Rejected Project of Ukraine Great Coat of Arms
from Ukraine Heraldry site

From (by A. Zhukovsky):
Trident (tryzub). The official coat of arms of Ukraine is a gold trident on an azure background. As a state emblem the trident dates back to Kievan Rus', when it was the coat of arms of the Riuryk dynasty. There are various theories about its origins and meaning. A trident was the symbol of Poseidon, the sea god of Greek mythology. It has been found in different societies, such as the Bosporan and Pontic kingdoms, the Greek colonies on the Black Sea, Byzantium, Scandinavia, and Sarmatia, and has been used in various ways:
    a religious and military emblem,
    a heraldic symbol,
    a state emblem,
    a monogram,
    and simply a decorative design.
The oldest examples of the trident discovered by archaeologists on Ukrainian territory date back to the 1st century AD. At that time the trident probably served as a symbol of power in one of the tribes that later became part of the Ukrainian people. The trident was stamped on the gold and silver coins issued by Prince Volodymyr the Great (980–1015), who perhaps inherited the symbol from his ancestors as a dynastic coat of arms and passed it on to his sons, Sviatopolk I (1015–19) and Yaroslav the Wise (1019–54). Iziaslav Yaroslavych (1054–78), Sviatopolk II Iziaslavych (1093–1113), and Lev Danylovych (1264–1301) used the bident (two prongs) as their coat of arms. Although the trident continued to be used by some ruling families as a dynastic coat of arms until the 15th century, it was replaced as a state emblem in the 12th century with the Archangel Michael.

The trident was also used as a religious symbol in Ukrainian folklore and church heraldry. The trident appeared not only on coins but also on the bricks of the Church of the Tithes in Kiev (986–96), the tiles of the Dormition Cathedral in Volodymyr-Volynskyi (1160), and the stones of other churches, castles, and palaces. It was also used as a decorative element on ceramics, weapons, rings, medallions, seals, and manuscripts. Because of its wide use in Rus' the trident evolved in many directions without losing its basic structure. Some of the variations include the bident, the trident with a cross on one of the arms or at the side, and the trident with a half-moon. Almost 200 medieval variations on the trident have been discovered.

At M. Hrushevsky's recommendation Prince Volodymyr's trident was adopted by the Little Rada (12 February 1918) and the Central Rada (22 March 1918) as the coat of arms of the UNR. By that act the UNR leaders linked the modern Ukrainian state with the medieval state of Kievan Rus'. The Great and Minor state emblems of the UNR were designed by V. Krychevsky. The trident also appeared on the UNR banknotes, which were designed by H. Narbut, O. Krasovsky, V. Modzalevsky, Krychevsky, and others. It was retained as the official coat of arms by the Hetman government and the Directory. The trident with a crossed middle arm was confirmed on 18 July 1918 as the emblem of the Black Sea Fleet.

On 15 March 1939 the Diet of Carpatho-Ukraine adopted the trident with a cross as its official coat of arms. On 19 February 1992, after the restoration of Ukraine's independence in 1991, the Supreme Council accepted the trident as the chief element in the state coat of arms. Various versions of the trident are used by Ukrainian organizations: supporters of the Hetman regime and certain affiliates of the Ukrainian Catholic church use a trident with a cross, nationalist organizations use a trident with a sword in the middle (designed by R. Lisovsky), and the Ukrainian Native Faith church has incorporated the trident into its blazing sun emblem.

Skotyns'kyi, T. UkraVns'kyi herb ta prapor (Lviv 1935) [skt35]
Andrusiak, M. Tryzub (Munich 1947) [adk47]
Sichyns'kyi, V. UkraVns'kyi tryzub i prapor (Winnipeg 1953) [sck53]
Lebedynsky, Ya. L'origine et l'histoire du trident ukrainien (Paris 1982) [lbk82]
Giuseppe Bottasini

Among the others I was watching the Ukrainian part. There are a lot well documented opinions about origin of the Ukrainian symbol – "Trizub" (Trident). I have been always interested in origin of this symbol. Trident was a Neptune's weapon, symbol of navy, connected with the sea, etc. ... But Ukraine does not have rich naval history. In fact I know that Cossacks in XVI and XVII century used to fight against Tartars on Black Sea using small boats called "Tchayka". That is all! They have never had a big navy. So, why they use trident as the national symbol?
I am Polish, I work for the american medical company, and I am responsible for the eastern european market, for Ukraine among the others. During one of my trips I met an old professor, Ukrainian, who told me his explanation. This is really interesting story. Pay attention that this "Trident" does not look like typical Neptune's trident. Its shape is a little bit different, a little bit strange. This professor told me that this is "A SHADOW OF THE HAWK". And everything became clear to me!
In the common Polish and Ukrainian tradition, Polish were called as "Eagles" and Ukrainians as "Hawks". Hawk was the symbol of the zaporozhian Cossacks, a symbol of freedom during the war against Polish in the XVII century. In many Ukrainians songs there is the hawk as a synonym of free Cossack.
Maybe this explanation is not correct, but it does make some sense for me.
Tomasz Kwiecien, 12 March 1998

Reading the FOTW page about Ukraine I found Giuseppe Bottsani's text dealing with the main element of Ukrainian coat of arms, the "trident". Unfortunately, he not quite correctly points out that "on 15 March, 1939 the Diet of Carpatho-Ukraine adopted the trident with a cross as its official coat of arms."
I have official minutes of the first session of Carpatho-Ukrainian parlament (called in local dialect of Ukrainian as "soim") which took place in the town of Khust on the 15th of March, 1939. So, according to those documents, deputies were proposed to adopt the old Czechoslovak time territorial coat of arms (with blue/yellow stripes and standing bear) as that of a state one.
During the discussion parliament member Dr. Stephen Rossokha suggested to adopt the St.Vladimir's trident as the state coat of arms as well. Priest Cyril Fedeles proposed to make a cross from the trident's center teeth by adding to it a short horizontal bar. Those proposal were accepted by all 22 members of parliament. So, the final text of Law's part 1 (there was no specific title for the law but only number) was read as follows:
The Law. Part 1.
The parlament of Carpathian Ukraine adopted this law:
Article 1. Carpathian Ukraine is an independent State.
Article 2. State's name is Carpathian Ukraine.
Article 3. Carpathian Ukraine is a republic headed by parliamentary elected president.
Article 4. Ukrainian is a state language of Carpathian Ukraine.
Article 5. The colors of state flag are blue and yellow, the upper one is blue and the lower is yellow.
Article 6. The state coat of arms of Carpathian Ukraine is contemporary territorial coat of arms: standing bear in left red field and four blue and yellow stripes in right one, as well as the St. Vladimir's trident with a cross on center teeth.
Article 7. The state anthem of Carpathian Ukraine is a song "Ukraine has not
died yet".
I also have an image of memorial photo of parliament members which is decorated with both mentioned coats of arms: "trident" and "stripes with bear". So, Republic of Carpathian Ukraine had two coats of arms. Since the short period of state existence no regulations describing the usage of both coats of arms were adopted.
Source: Stepan Rossokha. Soim Karpats'koi Ukrainy. – Lwiw, 1991. (Book is written in Ukrainian language)
Ph.D. Andrew Rukkas 23 Febuary 1999
(Lector at Kiev State University,Department of History. The fields of his scientific interests: military history of 20th century, vexillology and heraldry of Slavs countries.)

The current state emblem (officially known as the "small" or "minor" coat of arms) is a gold Trident of St. Volodymyr the Great on a blue shield (much like the one shown on your rendition of the Border Guard Flag). As correctly stated in your excerpt from the Ukrainian Constitution, the small coat of arms is to become the central element in the great coat of arms. However, this decision has become stalled in parliament, mainly due to opposition from the Communists, who would like to see an emblem at least partially recalling the Soviet period (As an aside, the parliament is now the only government building in Kyiv which still has the hammer and sickle on its facade. All of the other state buildings have either had them removed or have the Soviet emblems covered until the great coat of arms is adopted).
As such, the trident and shield is used officially by all state organs, on passports, documents, coins, etc. Sometimes, as in the case of the coins ("kopiyky") and some military patches, it is surrounded by a wreath, but that is strictly for decorative/stylistic purposes.
Petro Matiaszek, 13 March 1999

The National Emblem is a trident. The first image of a trident appeared in the 1st century AD. When Ihor, Prince of Kyivan Rus' from 912 to 945AD, sent ambassadors to sign a treaty with the Byzantine emperor, they sealed the document with a trident. As the official emblem of the Kyivan princes, the trident was stamped on coins, seals; it was depicted on porcelain and in frescoes. It is thought that the trident represented the division of the world into three spheres: the earthly, the celestial, and the spiritual as well as the union of the three natural elements of air, water and earth. The trident was endorsed as the official emblem of Ukraine; the blue and yellow flag as the national flag of Ukraine by the Supreme Rada in 1992.
Dov Gutterman, 10 July 2000

Meaning of trident is a big mystery. There are ~100 hypothesis, but nobody knows the answer. 
Victor Lomantsov, 10 July 2000

From Ukraine Heraldry site:
Article 20 of Constitution.
The main element of the Great State Coat of Arms of Ukraine is the Emblem of the Royal State of Volodymyr the Great (the Small State Coat of Arms of Ukraine).
The Great State Coat of Arms of Ukraine shall be established with the consideration of the Small State Coat of Arms of Ukraine and the Coat of Arms of the Zaporozhian Host, by the law adopted by no less than two-thirds of the constitutional composition of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.
Dov Gutterman, 20 November 2000

Ukrainian Motto (in Ukrainian) is Volja. Zlagoda. Dobro.
Victor Lomantsov, 26 August 2002

According to a political essay posted at, "Zlagoda" means "Accord."
John Ayer, 31 August 2002

I got an official meaning of the motto from a Consular Embassy of Ukraine in Tokyo Japan: "Volia, Zlagoda and Dobro" are "Freedom, Mutual Understanding and Goodness".
Nozomi Kariyasu, 2 September 2002

According to Album 2000 [pay00] – Simplified Coat of Arms, i.e. the trident symbol in shield, notably darker blue then the blue stripe of the national flag, as it appears on various other flags.
Željko Heimer, 10 May 2003

Ukraine still hasn't approved the Great State Coat of Arms. Image shows a project only, which the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament) rejected two years ago.
The Small State Coat of Arms of Ukraine was designed by A.Grechylo, O.Kokhan and I.Turetskyi and adopted on February 19, 1992. The shield of the Small Coat of Arms has a gold bordure (width of bordure = 1/4 width of Trident's line). Blue colour of the field of the Coat of Arms is similar to the blue colour on the State flag.
Andriy Grechylo, 16 July 2004

Mikhail Revnivtsev reported today the acceptance of the draft law concerning the great Coat of Arms of Ukraine by the cabinet of ministers, which now would be submitted to the Parliament (Verkhovna Rada) for adoption. In the words of the Prime Minister, Yulia Timoshenko, the new great Coat of Arms "contains all history of the Ukraine like in the drop of water". Also submitted were the draft laws on the flag and national anthem.
See:, and
Description of the final version of the Great Coat of Arms of the Ukraine:
Princely crown – symbol of sovereignty.
Stylized sun tent – taken from the knightly Arms of the medieval period.
Kalina (cranberry) berries and wheat stalks – symbolizing the wealth of the Ukrainian soil.
Galician lion – crowned with the crown of Prince Danilo, taken from the Arms of Galicia-Volhyn Principality, symbolizes West Ukraine.
Zaporozhian Cossack – Cossack with the musket, taken from the Arms of the Zaporozhian Army (Voysko) of XVI-XVIII centuries, symbolizes East Ukraine.
The ribbon in the Ukrainian national colors – blue and yellow.
Until now, the Ukraine was using officially only the small Coat of Arms (tryzub). The new, final version of the great Coat of Arms differs slightly from the earlier proposals in fine details.
Chrystian Kretowicz, 25 July 2009

The simplified pattern is still the official coat of arms. An attempt to make a greater coat of arms is still in the works. However, here are the specifications if you want to make your own art (click for download or see PDF).
Zachary Harden, 6 September 2023 (by e-mail)

Construction Sheet

[Ukrainian arms construction sheet] image by Željko Heimer

I guess that this is no news to many of us, but it seems that we do not have appropriate drawing of the Ukrainian coat of arms construction sheet. The construction is determined in 1992 presidential decree introducing the arms. It is available here. Based on these Decree I prepared a construction sheet and the usual gif. I believe that there is no particular colour scheme associated with the COA and the blue and golden are used as it is most convenient.
Željko Heimer, 15 March 2016

Former Ukrainian Arms

[Ukrainian arms] image by Željko Heimer, 22 september 1996

I can add that the emblem of Ukraine that is used now is the trident (without the shield) surrounded with an uvar wreath of leaves of unknown species. I had an official paper of the Ukrainian embassy in Zagreb, but I can't find it now. The emblem was there black on white. As you pointed out, the details of the state arms of Ukraine are not yet determined (BTW, neither are the Russian ones), so this might be just a temporary solution. On the other hand, this might be similar to the French emblems used instead of the state coat of arms.
Željko Heimer, 8 September 1996

I have seen several versions of the arms of Ukraine in various books. One book (Norwegian translation of Talocci) depicts it as a red trident on a blue shield. In Karl-Heinz Hesmer's Flaggen und Wappen der Welt it is shown as a golden trident surrounded by 10 golden disks on a shield of light blue. Could the version you describe be the one they now use on coins, with the trident surrounded by branches of wheat and oak?
Jan Oskar Engene, 8 September 1996

I haven't got any good explanation what kind of leaves would that be in the wreath. They resemble coffee beans, but that is certainly not the case. However, this highly simplified design is, IMHO very attractive.
Željko Heimer, 22 September 1996

The trident with wreath is no longer the state emblem, though that particular version was used in 1918–1921 and widely in the Ukrainian diaspora. Željko Heimer's reference to "coffee beans", while quite humorous, is nonetheless well-taken: That emblem, designed in 1918 by noted Ukrainian designer Yuriy Narbut, features a stylized wreath of no particular origin. It was not meant to symbolize any flora in particular.
Petro Matiaszek, 13 March 1999