Beasts and Monsters

In heraldry there are many charges from the animal kingdom, as well as mythical creatures. Those animals which appear as they are in reality are called beasts whilst those animals which come from myth are described as monsters. Heraldry in Malta, features a few monsters, or mythical creatures, but quite a large array of beasts. Not only are these creatures used as charges on a shield, but are also used as crests upon the shield or even as supporters found behind or on either side of it.

A quick look at a number of Maltese family shields, and one could notice large beasts such as reindeers, lions, camels and cattle, as well as smaller animals such as rabbits and hedgehogs. As displayed in the Gatt/o and Bonanno family coats of arms, domestic animals are also used as charges, such as dogs and cats. All these beasts are found in a number of different attitudes (postures), some of which are restrictively used for that particular beast. Not only this, but small insects are also used as charges such as bees and flies.

Unlike the common beasts, monsters are not very common in heraldry in Malta. The dragon (eg. Drago), griffin (eg. Agius and Castelletti), and phoenix (eg. Felice) appear to be three of only a few mythical creatures found in heraldry in Malta with regards to Maltese family coats of arms. Other creatures such as mermaids and satyrs may also be found in the few surviving public manuscripts revealing Maltese heraldry’s considerably large room for further study.