The coat of arms of Belgium bears a lion or, known as Leo Belgicus (Latin for the Belgian lion), as its charge. This is in accordance with article 193 (originally 125) of the Belgian Constitution: The Belgian nation takes red, yellow and black as colours, and as state coat of arms the Belgian lion with the motto UNITY MAKES STRENGTH. A royal decree of 17 March 1837 determines the achievement to be used in the greater and the lesser version, respectively.
|Coat of arms of Belgium|
|Armiger||Philippe, King of the Belgians|
|Adopted||17 March 1837|
|Crest||A helmet with raised visor or crowned with a Royal Crown of Belgium|
|Blazon||Sable, a lion rampant or, armed and langued Gules with two crossed sceptres (a hand of justice and a lion) or behind a shield. The grand collar of the Order of Leopold (Belgium) surrounds the shield|
|Supporters||Two lions guardant proper each supporting a lance Gules point or with two National Flags of Belgium (Tierced per pale Sable, or and Gules.|
|Compartment||Underneath the compartment is placed the ribbon Gules with two stripes Sable charged with the motto|
|Motto||French: L'union fait la force|
Dutch: Eendracht maakt macht
German: Einigkeit macht stark
|Orders||Order of Leopold|
|Other elements||The whole is placed on a mantle Gules with ermine lining, fringes and tassels Or and ensigned with the Royal Crown of Belgium. Above the mantle rise banners with the arms of the nine provinces that constituted Belgium in 1837. They are (from dexter to sinister) Antwerp, West Flanders, East Flanders, Liège, Brabant, Hainaut, Limburg, Luxembourg and Namur|
The shield is emblazoned: Sable, a lion rampant or, armed and langued gules. It is surmounted by a helmet with raised visor, with mantling or and sable and the royal crown in lieu of a crest. Behind the shield are placed a hand of justice and a sceptre with a lion. The grand collar of the Order of Leopold surrounds the shield. Two lions guardant proper support the shield as well as a lance with the national colours black, yellow and red. Underneath the compartment is placed the motto L'union fait la force in French or Eendracht maakt macht in Dutch, or Unity Is Strength in English. The riband of the motto is red, with black stripes on either side. The lettering is golden. Since the Royal Decree of 1837 never received an official translation, the use of the Dutch version of the motto is customary rather than official. The whole is placed on a red mantle with ermine lining and golden fringes and tassels, ensigned with the royal crown. Above the mantle rise banners with the arms of the nine provinces that constituted Belgium in 1837. They are (from dexter to sinister) Antwerp, West Flanders, East Flanders, Liège, Brabant, Hainaut, Limburg, Luxembourg and Namur.
The greater arms are used only rarely. They adorn the great seal that is affixed to laws and international treaties.
Since the province of Brabant was split into Flemish Brabant, Walloon Brabant and Brussels in 1995, the greater arms no longer reflect the present territorial divisions of the state. The changes made to the arms of the Flemish provinces as a result of this decision are not reflected in the great seal either.
The lesser coat of arms (as used by the Belgian federal government, on passport covers and the official sites of the monarchy and of the government) consists of the shield, the royal crown, the crossed sceptres, the collar of the Order of Leopold and the motto.
The newly independent Kingdom of Belgium decided to base its coat of arms and flag on the symbols used by the short-lived United Netherlandish States. These came into being after the Southern Netherlands threw off Austrian rule. It existed as an independent polity from January to December 1790. The Duchy of Brabant had taken the lead in the so-called Brabant Revolution, the insurrection against Emperor Joseph II, and afterwards dominated the United Netherlandish States. Therefore, the Lion of Brabant (sable, a lion rampant or, armed and langued gules) came to stand for the entire federation.
This was not without precedent. In the course of the Dutch Revolt the provinces rebelling against the rule of King Philip II adopted a common seal in 1578 showing the Leo Belgicus wearing a crown and holding a sword and a sheaf of arrows. The crown stood for sovereignty, the sword for the war against Spain and the arrows for the concord and unity among the rebellious provinces. At first the lion of the (Dutch) Republic of the United Provinces had the Brabant colours or on sable. It was only when most of Brabant was reconquered by Spain in the 1580s and Holland came to dominate the Republic, that the colours of the Dutch lion (or and gules) became the definitive tinctures of the arms of the United Provinces. The Dutch Revolt likewise provided the motto "Unity Makes Strength". The inscription of the seal of 1578 reads Concordia res parvae crescunt (through unity small things grow), a quote taken from Sallust's Jugurthine War. Soon Dutch sources used the translation Eendracht maekt magt. The United States of Belgium of 1790 used the Latin version In Unione Salus. Their motto was in turn taken over and translated into French by the Kingdom of Belgium in 1831. It was only in 1958 that it was decided that the official Dutch translation should read Eendracht maakt macht.
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