Knights going to the first crusade saw designs incorporated into the weaponry and uniforms of the Arab and Byzantine soldiers, and adopted this practice themselves. Before, only kings and member of the noble class could posses and show coats of arms, but gradually it was acceptable for knights to do the same.
Symbolic designs held significant meaning. Few people in medieval society could read or write, and a family's coat of arms often stood for an official stamp or signature.
Eldest sons would inherit the family coat of arms, while younger sons could alter the design slightly for their own families. But rules on heraldry were very specific. Shields could be partitioned only in certain, specific ways. Fixed sets of patterns and colors would be adopted by families and later, by towns swearing loyalty to a lord or kingdom. Real and mythological animals graced the shields of many, from bears, lions and deer, to griffins, sea creatures and dragons. Some families later added a motto to the coat of arms as a rallying cry.