In Ancient Rome the warriors were rewarded for their heroic deeds with a round piece of metal, usualy representing the sun god or some other deity, to be worn on their armor, covering the heart.
The theory was that this early version of a medal would protect their hearts from the blows of an enemy's swords and arrows, thereby prologing their lives and enabling them to perform more heroic deeds, which would then naturally lead to their winning laeger and larger medals.
This metal disc was called a falera, the root of the Russian word faleristika, the science of orders and medals.
This word has no exact equivalent in English.
By definition, an order makes its recipient a knight of that order, and thus, traditionally, a nobleman.
The difference between an order and medal is fairly straightforward.
Generally, medals are struck and awarded for specific event, such as battle, campaign or observance; there is a medal for participants of the Battle of Britain, a commemorative medal for the Centenary of the Battle of Borodino, one for servicemen and servicewomen from the European theater of operations during the Second World War, and so on.
An order is defined more broadly: it is usually intended to reward individuals for a wider, less distinct range of services in military or civilian life with no particular time frame.
Every order has its own constitution, which clearly defines its recipients' character and frequently their background requirements, conduct, and sometimes theire dress, and a register into which the names of the knights and dames are inscribed.
The first Imperial Russian order was instituted in 1698 by Peter I the Great, the first Russian ruler with the title of emperor.
Prior to that time, tsars and, before them, grand princes of Rus and other Slavic provinces had rewarded war heroes, generally their army commanders, with money, land, palaces, serfs, and titles of nobility, all of which, excluding the last, were quite a drain on the state treasury.
Later, a less expensive decoration in the form of a small portrait of the tsar, usually studded with diamonds and worn on the tunic of uniform, was devised.
During his first trip through Europe, Peter saw the decorations that other nations were bestowing on their military heroes and decided to introduce this custom into Russia.
On his return in 1698, he devised a decoration composed of three parts: a badge of the order, a star, and a ribbon; this remained the standard fornthe first (highest) class of all Russian orders until their abolition in 1917.
Peter named his order in honor of the apostle Andrew, the patron saint of Russia.
The badge consisted of a Russian imperial double-headed eagle made of gold and black enamel, overlaid with a figure of St Andrew crucified on an X-shaped, blue enamel cross bearing the Latin initials SAPR (Saint Andrew, Patronn of Russia) on the ends.
Attached to a gold and red enamel crown by a simulated ribbon of blue enamel, the badge was worn on the left side at the waist, suspended from a wide, light-blue silk ribbon worn over the right shoulder.
The eight-pointed star, worn high on the left side of the chest, was made of platinum with a red enamel central medallion repeating the double eagle and crucified saint, surrounded by a blue band with the motto "За Веру и Верность" ("For faith and fidelity").
On ceremonial and state occasions, the ribbon was replaced by a chain of seventeen enamel links worn around the neck, with the badge suspended in the center.
For his coronation, every tsar after Paul I, who ascended the throne in 1796, ordered an exclusive version of the order made entirely of diamonds.
Upon that tsar's death, his order was dismantled and a new one was made for his successor.
At the 1896 coronation of the last tsar, Nicholas II, the claps on his diamond chain opened accidentally at the precise moment he approached the altar, and the chain fell to the floor.
While only those very few standing close to the tsar saw this happen, every one of them was sworn to the strictest secrecy: Nicholas, a very superstitious man, believed this was a bad omen.
This particular diamond badge and chain are on display today at the Diamond Fund in the Kremlin Museum.
Significantly, Peter I did not bestow his new order on himself first: he extended that honor to general-admiral Theodore Golovin, his supreme field commander.
The second knight of the Order of St Andrew was hetman Mazeppa, a Cossack leader, whom Peter decorated, or so some historians bilieve, more for political reasons than for his exceptional service to Russia.
Peter's move was in vain: after a particularly costly defeat of the Russian forces during the Russo-Swedish wars, Mazeppa defected to the victorious king Charles XII of Sweden.
Infuriated, Peter ordered the Imperial Mint to strike a silver medal weighing thirty-six pounds, with Judas' face in relief on the front and of thirty pieces of silver (Judas' reward for betraying Jesus) in relief on the reverse.
Peter officially instituted this medal as the Order of Judas and ordered his troops to bring Mazeppa to him in chains; he intended to hang the new order around Mazeppa's neck personally before having him drawn and quartered, but the traitor died abroad before the sentence could be carried out.
It was only in 1703, almost five years after its founding, that Peter himself became the seventh knight of the Order of nSt Andrew for personally leading a unit of elite marine guards in capturing of two Swedish battle ships in the Neva river delta near St.-Petersburg.
In a fitting turnabout, it was now general-admiral Golovin who conferred the chain, badge, and star of the order on his sovereign.
Every male child of Russian royal blood (grand duke) received the Order of St Andrew at the time of his baptism, thereby automatically becoming a knight of the first class of every other Russian order, except of the Order of St George, a strictly military award not included in the hierarchy of Russian Imperial orders.
A knight of the Order of St Andrew was theoretically entitled to wear the stars of all five other orders (St Andrew, St Alexander Nevsky, the Order of the White Eagle, St Vladimir, and St Stanislaus) on the left side of his dress uniform (the star of the Order of St Anne, first class, was worn on the right side), but tradition dictated that no more than three Russian stars, one under the other, were to be worn on the left side.
Knights of St Andrew wore that order's star on top, the square St George star directly underneath (if they were entitled to; the St Alexander Nevsky star if not), and the St Vladimir star below that.
Visiting foreign heads of state were usually awarded the Order of St Andrew and reciprocated by investing the tsar with their nation's highest order or medal.
The constitution of the Order of St Andrew stipulated that it was to be awarded for both military and civilian deeds, but only to general officers and aristocrats of the highest class.Every Russian field marshal and generalissimo received one; many aristocrats who made significant contribution to Russia, or who were simply favorites of a ruling monarch, also became knights of the order.
Their children, while not entitled to wear the order, then became hereditary noblemen and noblewomen.
The Order of the Apostle St Andrew remained Russia's highest decoration until the February 1917 revolution.
The provisional government changed the design of the badge, omitting the imperial crown.
After the revolution in October of the same year, communist regime did away with all imperial orders, medals, and decorations.
In 1714, to honor of his wife Catherine, later empress Catherine I, Peter the Great created the Order of St Catherine, to be awarded to a very limited number of noblewomen (originally twenty-eight).
The order's design included a light red ribbon with an interrupted silver edging, worn over the right shoulder; an oval badge with four projecting rays studded with diamonds, suggesting a cross, with the icon of St Catherine in a medallion in the center; and an eight-pointed star with a round red enamel center and a cross made of diamonds.
The motto of the order "За Любовь и Отечество" ("For love and the fatherland") surrounded the medallion.
This order was bestowed on grand duchesses on the day of their christening, on foreign princesses who married Russian grand dukes, and on a limited number of Russian and foreign noblewomen, usually the empress' ladies-in-waiting.
There was only one natable exception in the female membership of the dames of the Order of St Catherine: observing that Alexander, the son of one of his principal aides, count Menshikov, was very shy and humble, Peter the Great thought the boy displayed the qualities most desirable in a woman, and, mostly as a joke, made him a "knight" of the order.
Since no one ever contradicted a member of the imperial family, especially not Peter the Great, the boy's name was duly entered into the Register of the Dames of the Order of St Catherine, and he was forced to wear the red ribbon, much to his consternation, but to the great amusement of the other courtiers.
Some historians believe that displaying the St Andrew ribbon over the cribs of boys and the St Catherine ribbon over girls' cribs led to the tradition of blue for boys and pink for girls.
While the constitution of the Order of St Andrew specified knights, it did not exclude dames, and empress Catherine II the Great almost always wore the blue ribbon in preference to the order of St Catherine; she even had her portrait painted in it.
Shortly before his death in 1725, Peter conceived a new order to be awarded strictly for military merit as he felt the Order of St Andrew was too broad in scope.
He decided to name the new order in honor of St Alexander Nevsky, the thirteenth-century Russian military commander who defeated the Teutonic knights at the battle of the Neva (hence his honorary title, meaning of the Neva, used instead of a last name).
But Peter died before he could institute this new order, and it was left for his widow Catherine to bring his plan to fruition.
Catherine I instituted the Order of St Alexander Nevsky, which remained one of the highest decorations in Russia until 1917, though it was not what Peter had originally intended.
At the wedding of her daughter, Anne, to Karl-Friedrich of Holstein, Catherine awarded it to almost all of the male guests.
It wasn't until 1769 that Catherine II signed the imperial decree for the Order of St George the Victorius to be awarded strictly for military and naval campains.