Houbraken Translated


Volume 2, page 60-69

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The Corinthians the image of Neptune seated on an island between two seas.

The Turks in olden days had their army ensigns painted with the sword of Ali, which they called Zulfiqar. As appears from what Joachim Camerarius takes from Johannes Leunclavius, who relates there: That the fable mentions that when Ali ibn Abi Talib drew his Zulfiqar from the sheath, it divided into two, each part eighteen ells long, and Ali, using this sword against the Gauren (as they called the Christians with contempt) mowed them down to the right and left, like the mowers the grass of a field. Sure, the writer did not need to add that it was a fable, for his work would have been cut out for him to have a Westphalian farmer believe it. We do not refer to it with that intention but only to indicate that this standard grew out of this.

The Lacedonians the letter A or a dragon.
The Thessalonians a horse.
The Cappadocians a scale surrounded by seven crosses.
The Macedonians a pin club between two horns.
The Lybians three hares.
The Medes three crowns or two bars lined diagonally.
The Boeotians a Sphinx.
The Cimbren had a wild oxe, or bull, and the

this (when someone was paid off with money to remain silent when he ought to speak) this turn of phrase arose: The oxen have bitten off his tongue, or the owl prevents him from speaking.


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Thracians Mars, the god of war, on their ensigns.

At the time of Pompey the Roman army banners featured a lion in emulation of the Armenians,* which was also taken over by the first inhabitants of these lands, the Gauls and Saxons. Later on a lion with shield† became the common field sign of the Counts of Holland, about which brother Jan van Leiden said: ‡ That is to have been given by Pippin, King of France and Dirk of Aquitaine, the ancestor of Dirk I, Count of Holland, in remembrance of this ancestry.

The Trojans carried a swine on their field banners.
The ancient Goths a female bear.
The Alans, when they conquered Spain, a cat.
The Scythians dragons and other terrible creatures and the Romans under Trajan the same. I have no other proof for all this other than that Franciscus Junius, Samuel van Hoogstraten, Willem Goeree and others told me this, without closer provenance. Even so I assume that they borrowed it all from ancient authors, and not at all that they invented it.

They who have sniffed their way through the ancient records

* The Armenians sometimes also carried a ram on their field banners.
† Lion) Red on a gilded shield, azure blue tongue and claws.
‡ Chronicles: Book 6, Chapter 6. Pieter Schrijver in his introduction to Beschryvinge van alle de graven van Holland, page 61, and Simon van Leeuwen, Korte Besgryving van het Lugdunum Batavorum nu Leyden, page 420.


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know that no people knew and honoured the demi-gods in such great numbers as the ancient Romans, as they were brought over from abroad by the conquerors. No one will doubt my saying when he sees that the images of Serapis and Isis are not just stamped on the coinage of Antoninus Pius called Caracalla, who has also been in Egypt, but also that Julianus introduced the image of his face in the guise of Serapis and Isis to all banners and standards so as to (as Sozomen says) by ruse and fraud to incorporate them as part of the veneration of the image of the emperor (which could not be omitted without scandal) and also have the Christians, be it aware or unaware, worship Serapis, Isis and the other demigods, that is to disguise a bipartite intention, be it by worship of demigods or slight of Imperial honour. See the illustration of the coin with the inscription DEO SERAPIDI to the god Serapis, shown in Oudaan page 254 in Plate 2.

Seeing that the Romans were inclined to take over such customs from other peoples, this also explains why one discovers such a multitude of depictions and marks on their army banners.

The Persians already had the eagle† amongst their military decorations in ancient days, as Xenophon indicates about Cyrus and Curtius in the life of Darius. It was with the Romans the common and important military sign. Gajus Marius (says Pliny)

† Eagle) or a bow and bundle of arrows.


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charged the Roman legions with the eagle during his second tenure as burgomaster. Before that it was the most important along with four others, such as the wolf, the Minotaur,* the horse, and the wild boar, which preceded all else. A few years before that only the eagle was carried by the army’s leading component and the others ensigns left in the army bulwarks.

The Constantinians, both father and son, carried the Greek letters X and P intertwined on their army banners, as may be seen in the accompanying print 1, meaning the name of Christ. Joachim Oudaan points this out on page 505 of his Roomsche Mogentheyt, as does Ludolf Smids on p. 26 of his Graafelyke Sinnebeelden, to counter those who have wanted to deduce the appearance of the cross of Christ from this.

That the Romans under Constantine carried the name of Christ on their military banners instead of the old imperial standards is confirmed by Prudentius, where he says:

Carried the purple banner, interwoven with shining gold,
As sign
of the name of Christ, written in the centre.

This change originated in the rumour of Constantine’s celestial vision, which the Spaniards later changed to the images of saints and painted their standards and banners with our Lady, St. George, or some other saint.

* They say that the Minotaur or the bull child of Pasiphaë, which dwelled in the maze of Dedalus, was one of the Roman military ensigns to indicate that even the deliberations of the commanders must be inscrutable.


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See p. 344 of Willem Goeree’s De kerklyke en weereldlyke historien, who also observes that Constantine renamed the city of Byzantium and named it after himself and located the second chair of the empire there. And the imperial eagle was henceforth two-headed, on account of the two realms in the East and West. Thus the eagle has always remained in use as the most important banner and standard of the Roman emperors and kings, not just to Count William II, son of Floris IV, who was crowned as roman king in Aachen in 1248, whom his native city of Leiden keeps in memory up to the present with two commemorative stones, on one of which the count’s arms, a lion with a shield is depicted on one and the imperial arms, a double eagle, on the other, and again to this day.

The Romans carried not only eagles but also right hands, wolves, Minotaurs, horses, swine, dragons, moons and faces of emperors and commanders on their standards.

The military ensigns (says Arianus) are eagles and portraits of rulers, with the banners, all of gold, stretched on silver-plated spears, and Tacitus reports that the ensign carrier, having torn away the portrait of Galba, threw it on the ground. In another fashion (says Joachim Oudaan, shown with the accompanying Roman coins 2 and 3) one again sees these military ensigns with, above the upper diagonal stripe on circle like a ball, Laurier wreath or right hand projecting. One could take the circle above the diagonal strip for the portrait of the same emperors while the lower circles could have been painted with further portraits of lesser military commanders,



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or with the upper round ball they may perhaps have wanted to depict a world
globe, to which these words of Isodorus may allude: They say that Augustus had a sphere placed at the top of the military ensigns because the peoples of the entire world were subject to him. If it is a laurel wreath that appears at the top of the spear, it is an emblem for generation of honour and reward, which is followed by Loyalty, depicted by the right hand, to which end on the coin of Macrinus, with the inscription FIDES MILITUM, loyalty of soldiers, Loyalty is seen with these two signs, the right hand and the wreath, that is of Loyalty and Reward. See 4.

In earlier days under Romulus, before the Roman monarchy had expanded to such size and splendour, they tied a handful of hay to a spear and used that as a banner or military standards. This is not only confirmed by Vulturius [ = Gerard Geldenhouwer] but also by Ovid, where he says: That respect for the hay was then as great as later for the military standards with eagles.

also said: That Romulus, having assembled a host of people, divided these into groups of a hundred men of which each group was accompanied by a leader who had raised a hand full of hay on a spear, after which the followers were named Manipulares, handful, which is confirmed by the top poet Ovid with these words:

Pertica suspensos potabat longa maniplos,
Unde Maniplaris nomina miles habet.


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That is:

A long lance carried the wheat raised up
With hands full, thus the soldier is named after that sign.

On a Roman coin on p. 116 of Joachim Oudaan’s Roomsche Mogentheid, we find depicted a swine or a sow with four piglets (of which we here show 5), in addition to a coin of Vespasian, in which Judea is depicted standing under a palm tree, the arms crossed, to indicate her powerlessness, with the inscription JUDAEA DEVICTA. Judea vanquished.

It could be true that the Romans carried the swine on their army banners (as taken over from the Trojans). Still it appears to me that they only had it depicted on their banners after they had conquered the Jewish region, to spite those peoples. For how grievous that was for them and what revulsion they had for that sign became apparent when Vitellus set out against the Arabs, when they had emissaries beg him not to march through their lands under the sign of the swine. Thus the Romans (as should be observed by a painter) carried the swine on their army banners only for a while, like the old Batavians did with the cat until they, released from the Roman yoke, they again lived in freedom (of which the cat is an emblem).

It should also be mentioned that in times of peace the Romans were wont solemnly to decorate the mentioned standards and army ensigns with wreaths.


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Which had Claudianus say, according to this translation:

The army ensigns bloom
With flowers, and foliage appears to grow around the lance.

And thus one sees on a coin of Titus Vespasian that a victory image (coin 6) shows the banner decorated with a wreath. About which Oudaan notes that that this ceremony used to be observed for the ensigns not only in peacetime but that they were also anointed on high feast days , which he confirms with the inscription on an old chunk of marble (adduced on p. 529 of his Roomsche Mogentheid) on which one can read CORONIS. INLATIS. SIGNISQUE. UNCTIS. That is: Wreaths hung up and military ensigns anointed. And since painters also often take biblical material for their subjects, we have also shown the banners and field ensigns of the XII tribes of Israel (to fill the background of our print illustration, following the drawings shown by Willem Goeree on page 428 of part IV of his Mosaïze historie), and it order that the same carried under their main banners

1 Main banner.

2 Main banner.


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3. Main banner.


4. Main banner.

And if you want to know the colours of the banners so as to distinguish them from the others, Samuel van Hoogstraten did research about that on p. 156 of his Zichtbaere Werelt.

The courageous and belligerent Maccabees, a noble family originating from the tribe of Levi, set out (after the entire state of the Jews seemed to perish due to Antiochus) to oppose that violent figure in public war to save the Jewish cause from perishing. The first to put his hand to this was Mattathias, supported by five brave sons, of which Juda was probably the most heroic commander. They carried the letters M. C. B. I. on their military banners, being the opening letters of the Hebraic words of Exodus 15 verse 11. Oh Lord, who is like thee under the Gods? Which is how they came by the name of Maccabees. See p. 69 of Willem Goeree, De Kerklyke en Weereldlyke Historien.

With this we shall end. But should we come to notice that our diligence concerning this topic gives satisfaction to art practitioner, we will likely expand on such matters (seeing that this has only, as the proverb says: skirted around things).

Certainly if a painter might believe that such accomplishments are of no use and that


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it is all the same what the world believes about them, he would look as much a fool as the Corinthian history writer who is ridiculed by Lucian because he had hardly placed a foot outside Corinth nor had even seen a battle painted on a wall, but nevertheless proceeded to the description of military incidents without pertinent preparation: The eyes deserve more belief than the ears, so that I write what I have seen, not what I have heard. And he had seen everything so precisely, said Lucian, that he claimed that the dragons of the Parthians were great beasts that were bred in Persia, a little above Iberia: that they were used to lift them up high with spears or long sticks to frighten approaching soldiers from afar, and that they were wont to sick the same on their enemies in the heat of battle, of which many were devoured and others squeezed to death by them.

As far as I’m concerned, I judge such to be most useful competences (to evade all ridicule) for those who have joined the practice school of Pictura, especially to be trained in the depiction of histories. If they ignore my sound advice or can’t be bothered to read this, I may as a consequence rightly regret the trouble of so much research.

We have repeatedly complained that the time of birth of some commendable Dutch


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