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Information Bureau: Five Arrows

 


The five arrows remain an enduring symbol of the Rothschild name. The first appearance of a bundle of arrows representing the family was in the Austrian patent for arms of 1817 that placed the brothers on the first rung of the nobility. In 1822, the brothers advanced yet further in the ranks of the Austrian nobility, becoming barons of the Empire.

Five arrows appear on the English grant of arms for which Nathan successfully petitioned in 1818 on behalf of himself and all his brothers and their descendants. Nathan's design incorporated a lion (rejected by the Austrians) grasping in its paw a bundle of five arrows.

Many members of the family began to adopt the motif of the five arrows. It appears in letterheads, on bookplates, on porcelain, in jewellery and in countless other decorative ways. Letterheads survive from the mid 19th century which show that some individuals preferred to see the arrows pointing upwards, in spite of the official description of the arrows approved by the Austrian heralds of arms. Although this was purely a matter of personal choice, a cross-channel split of opinion began to develop! The French family and bank gradually adopted 'arrows up' for all uses of the symbol, while the English remained faithful to the 'arrows down' version. So, within the Rothschild group of business, 'arrows down' are used for N M Rothschild & Sons, its subsidiaries and companies in which it has the predominant interest; 'arrows up' for Rothschild & Cie Banque, its subsidiaries and companies in which it has the predominant interest.

But why arrows at all?

The clue is in the work of Moritz Oppenheim, the "painter of the Rothschilds". A sketch in oils depicts the story told by Plutarch of Scilurus who, on his deathbed, asked his sons - five are depicted by Oppenheim - to break a bundle of darts. When they all failed, he showed them how easily the arrows could be broken individually, cautioning them that their strength as a family lay in their unity.

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