What do we mean when we say that a certain design is heraldic and another is not, and that symbols have been used on shields for thousands of years without being heraldic? The answer is that for a design to be heraldic it must be hereditary. The designs used by the warriors of the Bayeux Tapestry, such as Count Eustace of Boulogne ( above ) are not the same as those of his descendants, from this we can infer that the Bayeux design was not intended to be hereditary.
The essence of Heraldry is that the symbols used become hereditary and are passed down in families from father to son. This is what differentiates them from the symbols used on the shields of warriors in previous ages and in lands other than Western Europe. Illustrations of Greek warriors depict the drawings and illustrations on their shields, and anybody who has suffered from construing the descriptions of Aeneas’ shield in Virgil or Achilles’ shield in Homer will know that those shields were also decorated. We know that the use of heraldic symbols did not prevail amongst the Greeks and Romans. The Romans had an unusual method of showing their ancestry. They would place wax, and later more permanent images, in the halls of their homes, these images being representations of their ancestors who had held public office. Among the Greeks there was a similar lack of use of hereditary symbols, although there is some evidence to suggest that some primitive form of Heraldry prevailed among the great families of the 5th century B.C. in ancient Athens.