According to Serbia's 2002 census the main religion is Serbian Orthodox (85%); the remaining being Catholic (5.5%), Protestant (1.1%) and Muslim (3.2%). Small wonder that the Christian cross is central to the country's coat of arms.
The curved shapes in the four quarters depict heraldic firesteels, which are iron or steel plates used for striking a spark. Such implements were kept with flint and tinder in a musketeer's tinderbox.
In a religious context, the firesteel is a dish to hold oil or some other fuel lit to illuminate a church icon.
In the Serbian Cross, the four firesteels can represent the revolutionary fighter's battle for independence, or they can represent light rays of glory.1
The four 'C' shapes, two of which are reversed, recur in many Serbian emblems. The Cyrillic 'C' transcribes to 'S' in the Latin alphabet and are an acronym of Samo Sloga Srbina Spasava (Only unity saves Serbia) or Sveti Sava - Srpska Slava (Saint Sava - Serbian Patron).
Those same four shapes have also been interpreted as a Greek β to form an acronym of the imperial motto of the Palaiologos dynasty, the last ruling dynasty of the Byzantine Empire: Basileus Basileon, Basileuon Basileuonton (King of Kings, Ruling Over Kings). The two silver eagles in the current Serbian coat of arms are based on the Palaiologos emblem.
The schema of a cross between four objects has figured on Byzantine coins since the 6th century. It is derived from the labarum of the first Christian Roman emperor, Constantine the Great who, incidentally, was born in Naissus, Illyria, now known as Nis, Serbia.
Despite Serbia's fascinating history of often uncomfortable political and religious changes, the country has been the birthplace of some other notable people. Nikola Tesla, pioneer of electricity, was born there and more recently the nation has produced some pretty awesome tennis players. (Any similarity between the Serbian Cross and the layout of a tennis court is coincidental. Maybe!)
Although Serbs account for just 0.1% of the world's population, the country produces 20% of one of the world's best nutrients: rubus idaeus, more commonly known as raspberries. The red background of the Serbian cross, however, doesn't represent raspberries, rather it's simply from the red/blue/white Pan-Slavic tricolour, symbolising freedom and revolutionary ideals.
Since the early 1990s, when Socialist Yugoslavia broke apart, many of the pseudo-heraldic forms were abandoned. Some of the pre-socialist Austro-Hungarian heraldic concepts were revived and modernized to help each region establish its new identity.
The "Four C's" theme continues in many regional flags of Serbia, as does the Pan-Slavic tricolour. Another colour common in Serbian crosses is yellow or gold, but this has no standard meaning. Click a flag below for a little more information about each one.
Other regional flags in Serbia feature different crosses, without the "Four C's" theme: