Recent research has shown that the bearing of arms originated in the Crusades where it served to identify the bearer -something like our I.D. cards of today. We cannot be 100 per cent sure when the first, real coats-of arms as such appeared but there is a broad agreement that the first emerged during the first and second Crusades.
Although it likewise cannot be proven, it is more or less logically assumed that a coat-of-arms was an invention of the arms industry. Someone had the idea of protecting his head by wearing a helmet during a battle only afterwards to find out that he no longer knew whether he was fighting friend or foe. After all, he could not see their faces. So, the warrior took the largest area available to him – i.e. his shield – and painted it with symbols and emblems to identify himself. If it did happen in this way, then it must have been several hundred years before the Crusades. There is evidence however, that signs and symbols were marked on shields, spears and horses in the first Crusade, even though these symbols cannot be considered to be coats-of-arms.
It is still not clear what direct role the Crusades played in the establishment of coats-of-arms.
The issue was dealt with by Prof. Dr. Paul A. Fox in his work “Kinship Networks: Towards a new understanding of the Origins of Heraldry”. To quote: “Early heraldry was found to occur exclusively in a small interconnected group of families who were integrally involved with the Crusading movement” – with everything seemingly revolving around the Anjou lineage