Having a coat-of-arms as your car’s badge has been popular for decades. There’s lots of good ones out there, with interesting details — Cadillac’s little ducks, for example — but only one has what appears to be a dragon-snake swallowing some poor bastard: Alfa Romeo.
Alfas are generally really lovely cars, and they invite close, lurid inspection. Which means that many of us have likely taken a good long look at an Alfa’s badge and thought to ourselves, with the introspection of a philosopher, “What the fuck?”
Let’s just break down what the badge looks like here: it’s a bisected circle. The left half of the circle contains a white field with a red cross, and the right side has a large, stylized serpentine snake/dragon like beast, with a red… something in its mouth. Before I really paid attention, I had thought this object represented some manner of stylized flames or tongue, but closer inspection and a little research reveals exactly what it is: a human being.
Let’s get the meaning of the the boring left half out of the way first: according to most sources, the white field with the red cross dates from the Crusades. The red cross was a standard used by Milanese soldiers (Alfas were originally built in Milan, you see) following Giovanni of Rho to the Holy Land. The white background came from the white undergarments they were forced to wear under their armor to protect themselves from the intense heat and sun of the Middle East.
Does that imply they normally didn’t wear anything under their armor? Because that sounds insane.
That’s the left half, and it generally makes sense. It’s not too exciting, but how exciting does your logo have to be when right next to it a dragon is chomping away at some guy?
And about that dragon: it appears to be what’s known as a Biscione, which is pretty much what you see there: a large, serpent-like snake or dragon, eating a human figure. That human figure, interestingly, is usually either a baby or an adult Moor or Muslim, likely from its Crusade-era roots.
The Biscione is normally associated with the House of Visconti of Milan, Alfa’s home city. Even after the Viscontis lost power sometime around 1447, the Biscione remained as a symbol of Milan, and can be found in many places throughout the city.
It’s not exactly clear exactly how or why the dragon/snake motif was created in the first place. One legend suggests that it’s in reference to a dragon who was tormenting Milan at the beginning of the fifth century and was finally killed by Uberto, Squire of Angera. Uberto is also considered to be the start of the Visconti family. As you may guess, this particular origin story is suspected by many of being, just maybe, made up.
There’s also the theory that the Viscontis just thought a big dragon eating a guy made you look badass, and that’s hard to argue with.
Things get a little weirder when you dig deeper and find that it’s possible the dragon isn’t eating anyone at all, but rather orally birthing a human baby. Or maybe just vomiting up a kid — the distinction between giving birth out of your mouth and puking something up is really a pretty fine line, if you ask me.
I’m not sure what Alfa’s official company line is on the identity of the little doomed figure being eaten (or birthed) by that dragon. They’re kind of screwed either way with the two common interpretations: say it’s a Muslim and they risk alienating a huge market, and if they say no, no, everyone calm down, it’s just a baby, it’s hard to see things getting much better.
Still, if you don’t dwell too much on just who that poor dragon-lunch is, it’s a pretty fantastic looking logo, even in today’s highly stylized and streamlined form. I wouldn’t mind seeing some more blatant dragon-eating-people motifs on their cars, either. I’m thinking maybe something nice and detailed and big that can go on the hood of a 4C, to make a sort of Italian Firebird?
Think about it, Alfa. You’re already the only car maker with a guy being eaten on their badge — why hold back now?