On April 11, 1857, the Russian Emperor Alexander II set standards for the depiction of the National Emblem of the Russian Empire, which existed without major changes until the onset of the Soviet regime in 1917, and was brought back to life in the 1990s.
The oldest heraldic symbol, the eagle, appears on the emblems of Austria, Germany, Iraq, Spain, Mexico, Poland, Syria, USA, and other countries. However, the two-headed eagle was only preserved in the emblems of Russia, Serbia, and Albania.
The two-headed eagle, the centerpiece of the Russian National Emblem, was first adopted in the 15th century, by Prince Ivan III, after his marriage with the Byzantine princess Sophia Paleologue. It used to be a state symbol of the late Byzantine Empire, spanning both East and West, and marked Moscow’s claims to be the last stronghold of the Orthodox, and heir to the fallen Roman Empire (hence the expression “Third Rome,” applied to Moscow, and all of Russia in general).
Over the years, the national emblem had undergone a number of transformations. In the 15th century, the eagle acquired an escutcheon depicting St. George slaying the dragon on its breast. Eventually, St. George became the patron saint of Moscow. From 1654 on, the eagle was pictured with a scepter and orb in its claws.
In the early 19th century, no canons were established on how to depict the emblem, and a general emblem reform of 1857 took care of that. The eagle's appearance was changed, mirroring German patterns, while St. George was made to look to the left, in accordance with the rules of Western heraldry, and the full set of Great, Medium, and Minor emblems was laid down and approved. Later that year, the Senate issued a decree regulating the emblem use.
In 1918, the Soviet Government discarded all of the Imperial insignia, replacing the eagle by the legendary Soviet emblem: the Globe, along with spires of wheat, and a hammer and a sickle on top. It was not until the 1990s when the two-headed eagle made its way back as Russia’s state emblem. Today, the imperial crowns stand for the unity and sovereignty of Russia. The orb and scepter were preserved, regardless of the objections of the Communist party, as the traditional heraldic symbols of power and authority. The modern emblem of Russia was installed by decree in 1993, to symbolize the continuity of the Russian history.