Behind the Badge: Why Alfa Romeo’s Logo Features a Snake Eating a Guy
There are boring automotive logos–like the completely uncreative Kia badge – and there are clever ones – like the many hidden messages in Toyota’s emblem. Then there are a couple automotive logos that are just…weird.
Have you ever taken a close look at Alfa Romeo‘s badge, specifically the right portion showing a giant snake devouring a man? It’s not a tongue, nor flames, nor a sword. What in the world is that about?!
Many people have asked that exact question, and today we have an explanation of the meaning behind the bizarre Alfa Romeo logo.
The Left Half of the Alfa Romeo Logo
When Alfa (A.L.F.A. for Anonima Lombarda Fabbrica Automobili) Romeo was founded in 1910, draughtsman Romano Cattaneo came up with the company’s logo based on a crest he saw in Milan above the door of Castello Sforzesco. Being that the company was founded in Milan, a symbol representative of the city seemed appropriate. Designer Giuseppe Merosi helped turn the idea into Alfa Romeo’s official emblem. Apart from some minor tweaks with the wording, gold trim, and wreath appearance over the years, the design has remained fairly consistent.
The left side of the emblem is a red cross over a white background–a medieval Christian symbol. During the Crusades, Milanese soldiers associated with Giovanni of Rho donned a red cross and white undergarments beneath their armor. Giovanni of Rho is known for leading an army to the Holy Land and for erecting a cross on the walls of Jerusalem during the first crusade.
This image could be considered the Cross of St Ambrose or St. George’s Cross. But what about the snake?
The Right Half of the Alfa Romeo Logo
The right side, a giant serpent/dragon gobbling up a red man, is the symbol of the influential Visconti family of 11th century Milan. The image is known as a Biscione and has become a symbol for Milan, being seen many places around the city. The crown is supposedly from when Viscontis became dukes in the 15th century.
Where the symbol itself comes from and what it means has been a subject of ongoing debate. Here are some leading theories:
- It refers to a local legend of a dragon which tormented the land in the fifth century and was slaughtered by Uberto, Squire of Angera.
- It’s the crest used by archbishop Ottone Visconti when leading crusaders into battle against Saracens (Syrians/Muslims) during the first crusade, a Biblical symbol of divine protection.
- It’s the crest on the shield of the nomadic Saracen knight Visconti defeated, which he took with him as proof of his victory.
- The serpent represents the House of Visconti’s itself, a symbol meant to seem intimidating to others.
- The serpent is orally giving birth to a human being, coming out a “new man, purified and renewed,” just as the creature itself is one of renewal through skin-shedding (according to Alfa Romeo representatives).
- It represents the snakes Lombards wore around their necks for good luck.
The most accepted interpretation today is that the man being devoured is a Saracen or Moor (a Muslim) which is being defeated during the Christian Crusades. However, some claim the human figure isn’t a certain ethnicity but merely a child–which is…even weirder.
Enjoy learning about the weird Alfa Romeo logo? Check out the rest of The News Wheel’s “Behind the Badge” series to learn about other auto brands!
Aaron is unashamed to be a native Clevelander and the proud driver of a Hyundai Veloster Turbo (which recently replaced his 1995 Saturn SC-2). He gleefully utilizes his background in theater, literature, and communication to dramatically recite his own articles to nearby youth. Mr. Widmar happily resides in Dayton, Ohio with his magnificent wife, Vicki, but is often on the road with her exploring new destinations. Aaron has high aspirations for his writing career but often gets distracted pondering the profound nature of the human condition and forgets what he was writing… See more articles by Aaron.