Medals of Italy

Page © 1998 Micheal Shackelford
With much kind assistance courtesy of Major Michele Giordano M.D., Italian Army, Medical Corps, Hendrik Meersschaert and Roberto D'Urso.

The kingdom of Italy, much like Germany, had been formed in the mid 19th century out of various states, some of which had Orders and awards of their own. Those of House of Savoy took on a sort of national character (similar to Prussia within the new Germany), but the others were not discontinued. Many chivalric orders had little exposure during World War I, we include them on their one Italian Orders page, since they do show up in formal photographs of war-era prominent people (both Italian and non-Italians).
Membership in the Orders was usually not restricted to nobility, but based on individual merit. The grade one received, however, was usually a function of age and status. Commanders-in-chief and Liutenant-generals are usually Grand Crosses, Major generals are Grand Officers, Brigadier generals are Commanders, Colonnels and Senior Liutenant Colonnels are Officers, Liutenant Colonnels, Majors and - very seldom - Captains and Senior Warrant Officers are Knights, etc.

- Ordine della Santissima Annunziata: one of the greatest chivalric orders of all times, comparable to the Habsburg's Golden Fleece, the Order of the Garter and the Supreme Order of Christ. While very exclusive, the collar was bestowed upon high ranking generals.

Established in 1362 by Amedeo VI of Savoy ("the Green Count"). While the founder had originally conceived an overall number of 15 members to honour the 15 "delights" of the Blessed Virgin (14 knights plus the Grand Master), in 1869 King Vittorio Emanuele II raised the number of knights from 14 to 20; but the Grand Master, the princes of his royal blood, clergymen and foreigners were supposed to be calculated as an extra to this fixed number. Untill the fall of monarchy, the Knighthood of the Holy Annunciation equalled nobility, and gave right to the title of "Excellency" and "Cousin of the King", with precedence, in all ceremonies, over the highest offices of state. The Annunziata's collar could be conferred on non-nobles, but not on non-catholics: this because of its deeply religious origins, and since the knights had many religious duties. Each collar exists in two versions: a greater one (to be used on New Year's Day, on Annunciation Day, on national holidays and in all solemn court cerimonies) and a smaller (for all other occasions). Collars were to be returned to the King after the death of a Knight. Nevertheless, during last decades many collars went missing, as the Duce's (Benito Mussolini) one. Although the medallion is worn suspended to a golden collar, a ribbon to be used on uniforms was indeed instituted by Royal Decree in 1924: it is purple (better: amaranthine) and bears a small golden badge (four-leaved clover-shaped) depicting the Annunciation "en miniature".
During the monarchy, this was to be placed above all other merits and awards. After the fall of monarchy the Italian Republican Government obviously denied acknowledgement of this order, which was never discontinued, being dynastic patrimony of the existing House of Savoy, and ist still, though very seldom, conferred.

- Ordine dei Santi Maurizio e Lazzaro. Born from the union of two ancient and different Orders which, for particular reasons, only in the XVI Century were combined under the Mastery of the House of Savoy. The Order of St. Maurice and Lazarus was awarded with some frequency among generals and colonels.

The Order of St. Maurice was established in 1434 by Amedeo VIII of Savoy (during his stay in the Ripaglia hermitage near Thonon) and so called after Maurice, the brave Captain of the Legio Tebea who was martyred in 286 a.d, altogether with his legionnaires for having refused to worship the Imperator Marco Aurelio.
From its origins, the Order of St. Maurice was an "Ordine combattente" (Combating Order) intended to fight Lutherans and Calvinists. The origins of the Order of St. Lazarus can be, on the contrary, brought back to the foundation, around 1100, of an Hospital for Leprosy in Jerusalem by a group of crusaders who called themselves "Brothers of St. Lazarus" (Lazarus was the poor leprous beggar, described in the Bible by the Evangelist St. Luke (Luke, chapter 16, verses 19-31), who became patron saint of lepers).
Under the Grand Mastery of Duke Emanuele Filiberto "Iron Head", the two orders were declared united by Pope Gregory XIII in 1572, one year after the battle of Lepanto, in order to fight the infidels; nevertheless, already during the XVI century the newborn order missed its military "raison d'etre", shifting instead towards the original hospital rule of St. Lazarus.
Brought back in favour by King Vittorio Emanuele II, the Order was sparingly conferred for distinguished service in civilian or military affairs, as an exclusive award compared with the more common Order of the Crown of Italy. Because of the fall of monarchy, the Italian Government in 1952 changed the Order (which no longer was officially acknowledged as such) in "Ente Morale" (Non-profit Corporation) and kept in function its hospitals, churches, orphanages and schools which are now under the High Patronage of the President of the Republic. As for the House of Savoy, still owner for dynastic reasons of the Grand Mastery, the pretender to Italy's Throne (Prince Vittorio Emanuele IV) is still conferring from his exile knightoods of this important Order which was never discontinued.

- Ordine Militare di Savoia (Military Order of Savoia) - Established by King Victor Emmanuel I of Sardinia in 1815 . Awarded for especially distinguished service in war.
5 classes-- worn in the usual styles -- Grand Cross, Grand Officer, Commander, Officer, Knight. The first three classes had the royal crown above the cross. The Officer class had the cross suspened from a 'trophy' of flags. The lowest class, the Knight, suspended the cross from a simple ring. The Knight class could be awarded to soldiers and sailors. The ribbon had three equal stripes of navy/red/navy.
With the fall of the monarchy, this Order was retained, but renamed the 'Order of Military Merit of Italy."

- Ordine della Corona d'Italia (Order of the Crown of Italy): established by Royal Decree on 20.2.1868 by King Vittorio Emanuele II after the annexation of the Venetian Region and the completion of Italy's unity. It was awarded to Italian and foreigner citizens, both civilians and soldiers, as a token of national gratitude for their accomplishments which could include a long military career with a 'clean' record. This Order was less exclusive than the Order of the Annunciation or the Order of St. Maurice and Lazarus.
It was divided in the usual five classes, worn in the customary ways: Knight, Officer, Commander, Grand Officer, Grand Cross. Between the cross arms were four knots of Savoy ("love knots) in gold filigree. On the obverse the cross was "chargé" by the "Iron Crown" encircled in gold and blue; on the reverse there was a black eagle with the Arms of Savoy "en coeur", encircled in red. The Order was named after the famed "Iron Crown", kept in Monza's Cathedral and allegedly crafted from a nail of the Holy Cross. The crown was used for the coronation - among many others - of Charlemagne, Napoleon I and all the Kings of Italy. With the fall of monarchy the order, being considered national, and not of dynastic property, was discontinued and replaced in 1951 by the Meritorious Order of the Republic of Italy ("Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana").

Medaglia Al Valore Militare (Military Medal for Valor) Awarded to the military for exceptional valour which did not warrant the award of the Military Order of Savoia. This medal was instituted in March 1833 by King Albert of Sardinia in three classes : gold, silver and bronze and was meant for award to army and navy personnel.
- In 1836 and 1927 similar medals were created for resp. navy and air force. When awarded, the recipient's name was written on the reverse of the medal. During World War I the words "GUERRA DI 1915-1918" (War of 1915-1918) were written above the recipient's name.
- The medal's obverse has changed a number of times : the WWI obverse bears the royal weapon of Savoia under a crown. During WWII, the "Italian Socialist Republic" the arms and crown were replaced by a Roman short sword, point upwards, on a background of laurel and oak leaves. After WWII, these were replaced by a five pointed star within a cogweel and "REPUBLICA ITALIANA" at the lower rim.

- Croce al Merito di Guerra (War Merit Cross) Awarded to members of the armed forces for war merit in operations on land, sea or in the air, after minimum one year of service in the trenches or elsewhere, in contact with an enemy.
This bronze cross was instituted by King Victor Emanuel III on 19 January 1918 and was also awarded to those who, wounded in combat, were given the Medal of the Wounded or to those who, mentioned for war merit, received a promotion.
When having performed an act of valour which was deemed insufficient for the Medal of Military Valour, the War Merit Cross could be awarded instead. From 1922 onwards a bronze sword on the ribbon designated such an award.
From its institution till 30 May 1927 1,034,924 Crosses were issued. A second award was indicated by a bronze star on the ribbon.
The reverse bears a 5-pointed star on a background of rays. The obverse has the royal cypher in the upper arm (VE III under a crown), "MERITO DI GVERRA" (War Merit) on the horizontal arms and a roman sword point upwards, on oak leaves, in the lower arm.
- During WWII, the War Merit Cross underwent a number of changes.

- Medaglia Dell Guerra 1915-1918 (War Medal 1915-1918) Awarded for participation to the 1st World War. This medal was instituted on 29 July 1920 and replaced a ribbon bar, introduced on 21 May 1916, which was awarded after 1 year service in a war zone. Additional war service years were indicated by a small silver star.
In 1920 this ribbon was replaced by the medal and a number of bars are attached to the ribbon according to the recipients war service. These bars are covered with laurel leaves and bear either a service year between 1915 and 1918 or the word Albania, followed by a service year between 1916 and 1920.
The medal's obverse bears the helmeted head of King Victor Emanuel III and around the rim is the text "GVERRA PER L'VNITA D'ITALIA 1915 1918" (War for the Unity of Italy).
The reverse depicts an upright Victory standing on shields born by 2 soldiers. Around the rim is the text "CONIATA 'NEL BRONZO NEMICO" (made from enemy bronze).

- Medaglia di Volontario di Guerra 1915-1918 (Medal for the War Volunteer 1915-1918) Awarded to those who entered the Italian armed forces as volunteers during WWI. This bronze medal was instituted on 24 May 1924 and has the crowned head of "Italia" on the obverse as well as the words "PER L'ITALIA" (For Italy). The reverse depicts a naked warrior bearing a shield and a veiled woman behind him. Around the rim the medal's title and the war's dates "VOLONTARIO DI GVERRA MCMXV-MCMXVIII".
- The same medal, bearing other dates, was also issued for the 2nd World War while another one was awarded for a number of colonial wars. The latter one has the years 1936-39 in Roman figures and the letters A.O.I. (Africa Orientale Italiana, Italian East Africa) on the reverse.
- Very often the medal is found without any dates at all which is probably a modern restrike which can be used for either World War.

- Medaglia Della Vittoria Interalleata (Medal of Allied Victory) Awarded to participants of the 1st World War. The obverse depicts a winged Victory on a triumphal chariot drawn by four lions while the reverse has a tower-like structure from which fly 2 doves. Around the upper rim is the text "GRANDE GVERRA PER LA CIVILITA" (The Great War for Civilization), in the middle the war years "MXMXIV" and "MXMXVIII" and in the exergue "AL COMBATIENTI DELLA NAZIONE ALLEATE ED ASSOCIATE" (To the combattants of the allied and associated countries).

The medal was instituted on 6 April 1922.

- Medaglia di Madri e Vedove Dei Caduti (Medal for Mothers and Widows of the Fallen.) This medal was instituted on 24 May 1919 as a token of national gratitude.
The obverse has an allegorical design showing a woman offering a laurel wreath to a dying soldier while another woman stands in the background. The reverse is completely filled with the text IL FIGLI / CHE TI NACQVE / DAL DOLORE / TI RINASCE "O BEATA" / NELLA GLORIA / E IL VIVO EROE / "PIENA DI GRAZIA " / E TECO (the son which was born out of you in pain, is reborn to you, o blessed one, full of glory and he lives as a hero. With gratitude).

Some related WWI medals :

- Turkish War Medal and Libyan Medal. While Italy's war with Turkey predates WWI. We include these two related medals here since that conflict is intertwined with the Balkan Wars that ultimately culminated in the Great War. These medals may also appear among WWI veterans' awards.
- The two medals have identical ribbons of blue and red stripes. The obverses are also identical, carrying the likeness of King Vittorio Emanuele III. The turkish campaign medal was instituted by King Vittorio Emanuele III in November 1912. The reverse of the Turkish War medal bears the inscription "GUERRA ITALO-TURCA 1911-12". The Libyan medal was instituted by King Vittorio Emanuele III in September of 1913. The reverse of the Libya Medal bears the inscription, "LIBIA".
- The two may appear together on the same uniform. The medals could be frontally distinguished by the bars of the ribbon: a "1911-12" bar for the turkish campaign, a "1912" and/or "1913", or "1912-13" bar for the libyan campaign.
- A variant ribbon has been seen a few times for the Turkish War medal. It's significance is undetermined as yet.

- Medal for the Occupation of Fiume (unofficial) In the secret Treaty of London in 1915, Italy was promised (among other things) the port city of Fiume (then belonging to Austria) if Italy would join the Allies. Italy broke with Germany and Austria and did join the Allies.
In 1919, after the war and during the Versailles 'Peace' Conference, Italy's Prime Minister was about to announce the annexation of Fiume to Italy when the other major Allied powers got wind of it and objected. In September a coup led by the poet Gabriele D'Annunzio occupied Fiume for Italy. Negotiations eventually gave Fiume to the new nation of Yugoslavia. (reverse of medal)

- "Army Crosses" Awarded after the war to members of specific Italian Armies for their participation in the Great War. While awarded by the army, recipients often had to purchase the medal itself. Some variations in the crosses exist, but the basic designs remained fairly consistent.
1st Army, (1st reverse)
2nd Army,
3rd Army,
4th Army,
7th Army, (7th reverse)
8th Army

- La Croce Oriente Balcanico. Similar to the army crosses above, this was an unofficial medal struck by the "Fassino" firm in Turin in 1924, as a memento of the expeditionary corps in the Balkans (Albania and Macedonia primarily) from December 1914 to 1919.
The ribbon has a black central stripe (one third of the overall width) flanked on both sides by five narrow stripes in red-orange-blue-orange-red. The medal was designed by the painter Adolfo Caly, and advertised in the popular magazine "Domenica del Corriere"; earnings from its sale were assigned to the Balkan Veteran's Union.

Medals still in progress of being added.

-Medal for Army Chaplains, may not be an official medal. This round bronze medal depicts a chaplin ministering to a kneeling soldier. The ribbon is yellow with thin green/white/red stripes at the edges.

- Ordine Di Vittorio Veneto. Ordine di Vittorio Veneto (Order of Vittorio Veneto): instituted on 18.3.1968 by the President of the Republic of Italy to honour all servicemen of World war I who had already earned, for their brave deeds, a War Merit Cross or, at least, had been entitled to receive one. The recipients (over 600.000, according to the Ministry of Defence) were included in the rolls after acceptance of their application addressed to the Order's Council; in 1969 the same (if officers or non-commissioned officers at war-time) were symbolically promoted to an higher rank, with an improvement of their retirement pay. Head of the Order, which came in the only class of "knight", is the President of the Republic. The cross of the Order is made of black bronze, with four equal and pointed arms ("aiguisée") embellished by laurel wreaths in relief; the obverse of the cross bears a star encircled by the inscription "ORDINE DI VITTORIO VENETO", while the reverse is decorated by an "Adrian" helmet. The ribbon is vertically divided in three equal parts: a central one in white-blue-white, flanked on both sides by six narrow stripes in green-white-red repeated two times. In many experts' opinion, the Order of Vittorio Veneto is an anomalous one, being condemned to extinction with the death of its last knight; to prevent such a sad occurence, it was recently proposed (apparently without result) to extend its knigthood to veterans up to World War II.

- Medaglia-ricordo in oro della I Guerra Mondiale (Gold Medal Commemorative of World War I): instituted by the President of the Republic of Italy on the 50th Anniversary of Victory, it was awarded in 1968 to all veterans of World War I (or of previous conflicts) who served in arms for at least 6 months before 2.8.1920. It is a small round medal in solid gold (weight: 5 grams) with a mirror finish, bearing on the obverse a small star and an "Adrian" helmet over a laurel and oak wreath, on the reverse the inscription "50° ANNIVERSARIO DELLA VITTORIA 1918 1968". The ribbon is a reduced-size one, with twelve narrow vertical stripes in green-white-red repeated four times.

"Army Corps Crosses" (2nd, 7th, )

Special thanks to Hendrik Meersscheart, Roberto D'Urso, and Dr. Michele Giordano for their help with images from their collections and background information. Return to top