Independence War Decorations of Gran Colombia

The history of Colombia is linked up with that of Ecuador, Venezuela and the Viceroyalty of Peru. Decorations and war medals issued prior to 1831 are seldom distinguished amongst the four countries. Information on several of the 19th Century medals may be classed with those of several countries.

The Medal for Bajo Palace 1811 was awarded for the first battle for independence in New Granada on March 28, 1811. The obverse features three crosses and a mountain range, at the base of which is a building with a radiant sun above (based on the arms of Popayan, the capitol of the Colombian Department of Cauca). The reverse depicts a mountain range from the coat-of-arms of the City of Cali, Colombia. Unfortunately, no image of the medal could be located.

Coat-of-Arms of Cali Colombia

Cross for Cartagena 1814 was created April 1, 1816, by Ferdinand VII, the King of Spain, for the men of the army and navy who took part in the siege of Cartagena in 1814. It was awarded in gold for the officers and silver for troops. It is a green-enameled cross with triple-pointed arms with ball tips on the central points. The obverse medallion features the gold head of the King, encircled by a white band inscribed, A SU REY FERNANDO CONSTANCIA Y FIDELIDAD. The reverse white medallion is inscribed, VENCEDORES DE CARTAGENA DE INDIAS. The ribbon is of three equal stripes of red in the center and green on either side. A South American made variation has the obverse inscription, PREMIO A LA FIDELIDAD.

Spanish Cross for Cartagena

The Military Order of the Liberators 1813 AKA the Cross of the Liberators was created in Caracas, Venezuela by Simon Bolivar on December 27, 1813 to pay tribute to the feats of those, who devoted themselves to the service of freedom in at least three battle victories, fighting without truce, without fatigue and without discouragement. This order was given by the Liberator Bolivar, himself, when in his opinion the recipient made heroic sacrifices in defense of the Fatherland.

Original Military Order of the Liberators

The order is a seven-armed (for the seven Venezuelan provinces: Caracas, Cumana, Barcelona, Barinas, Margarita, Merida and Trujillo), blue enamel star with finial ball tips and with a green enamel laurel wreath surrounding a gilt central disk. This is all mounted on a blue enamel disk. The central gilt disk is inscribed, LIBERTADOR DE VENEZUELA. The reverse has the name of the Liberator/Recipient. The medal is suspended from a solid yellow ribbon by a green enamel laurel wreath. The popularity of this Order led to a number of private pieces being made with varying degrees of quality (as can be seen) by jewelers and silversmiths both in Colombia (Nueva Granada) and Venezuela.

Privately Made Variations of the Military Order of the Liberators

Cross for Boyaca 1819 was authorized by the Popular Assembly, meeting in Bogota on September 9, 1819, for the Colombian troops, who fought against the Spanish royalist forces, led by General Barreiro on August 7, 1819. The battle insured the independence of the country. General San Martin said that the Battle of Boyaca was the Waterloo for the Spanish forces in Colombia, and resulted in the freedom of New Granada and Venezuela from Spanish domination.

The Type 1 jeweled cross in gold outlined in diamonds was reserved for Bolivar, General Francisco de Paula Santander, General Jose Antonio Anzoategui and General Carlos Soublette. The decoration is in the shape of a polished gold, irregular Spanish shield with a lower portion wider than that of the upper portion. At the center is a Cross Pattee in diamonds with the inscription, BOYACA, above in high relief. Below this are a crossed sword & olive branch. The planchet is surrounded by 19 diamonds and a semi-circle of five diamonds are attached to the ribbon mounting device.

Jeweled Cross for Boyaca (Type 1)

The Type 2 cross Is a 25 x 20 mm gold (for officers) oval medal with a Cross Pattee in the center, bordered by a contoured chain and inscribed in high relief, VENCEDOR DE BOYACA, around the upper edges of the medal with a crossed sword and olive branch below. The reverse is plain. The Type 2 cross has a triangular mounting device for its solid green ribbon.

The Type 3 features a green enamel cross in the center with the curved inscription, BOYACA, in high relief above and a crossed saber and olive branch below, all surrounded by a blue enamel circle. An example is in the National Museum of Colombia.

Cross for Boyaca Type 2 and Type 3

The rare Medal of Bolivar features the bust of Bolivar, encircled by the inscription COLOMBIA A SU LIBERTADOR on the obverse and the reverse SIMON BOLIVAR ILUSTRE GENERAL SABIO LEGISLADOR CUIDADANO INTEGRO LIBERTADOR Y PADRE DE LA PATRIA on seven straight lines. It is 40 mm and composed of 30.5 grams of silver. Although there are many Bolivar tribute medals, this specific one is listed as an early decoration of Colombia.

Medal of Bolivar

The Medal for Cundinamarca 1820 was authorized by a decree of January 6, 1820, in gold for officers and silver for junior officers and troops. It is a 25 mm circular medal, bearing on the obverse, within a laurel wreath, the five straight line inscription, LIBERTADOR DE CVNDINAMARCA. The reverse is plain and the ribbon is bright red. A variant of the same size omits the wreath.

Medal for Cundinamarca

There is also a jeweled version in gold with the laurel wreath enameled in green and trimmed with emeralds.

The Order of the Sun of Bolivar (1821-1825) was bestowed on Simon Bolivar, the Liberator, by San Martin at Guayaquil on July 26, 1822.

The Order was originally instituted by General Jose de San Martín upon reaching Lima, to recognize those who had distinguished themselves in the campaign against the Spanish Royalists. It was discontinued four years later. The Order of the Sun was re-established in 1921 by Peru and is the country’s most senior Order.

Order of the Sun of Bolivar and the Modern Peruvian Order of the Sun

The special jeweled Order features a gold sun center set with diamonds and is surrounded by three concentric lines of 9, 18 and 31 diamonds. Inscribed, EL PERU, at the top and A SUS LIBERADORES, below. The Order is completed by 40 rays (20 large rays with 12 diamonds each alternating with 20 smaller rays with nine diamonds each).

The modern Order of the Star of Carabobo was created in a single class to recognize members of the Venezuelan army for distinguished services. It may also be granted to members of other branches of the Venezuelan Armed Forces and to the civilian population for significant contributions to the army. The second Battle of Carabobo took place on June 24, 1821 and resulted in a decisive defeat of the Spanish Royalist forces that decisively launched the independence of Venezuela.

Order of the Star of Carabobo on Original and Type 2 Ribbon

The Order is in the shape of a silver star with arms of four different lengths and 32 silver-points at regular intervals. The two longest arms appear at the three and nine o’clock positions. The arms are superimposed on three concentric rings around a central medallion with a decorated border. The obverse circular central medallion bears the arms of the Venezuelan army. The reverse circular central medallion is inscribed, ESTRELLA DE CARABOBO. The original ribbon is of three equal parts, dark blue – red – dark blue. The current ribbon is in the national colors.

The Shield (Escudo) for Carabobo 1821 was authorized on July 20, 1821 following the battle, which occurred on June 24, 1821, in gold and silver thread. It is a 34 x 31 mm oval cloth shield to be sewn on the sleeve, bearing an impressed inscription, VENCEDOR EN CARABOBO ANO DE 1821.

Escudo for Carabobo

Battle of Cartagena 1820-21 would see Cartagena suffer a prolonged siege. By mid-1820, patriot forces had succeeded in taking most of the territory along the Magdalena River. They now set their eyes on expelling the Spanish from Cartagena. Much as Spanish General Pablo Morillo had concluded when he took the city in 1815, during the first Siege of Cartagena, a direct assault was impossible. Cartagena would suffer a protracted siege, this one even longer than the first in 1815.

Patriot forces under Venezuelan General Mariano Montilla approached and surrounded the city on July 14, 1820. However, the city’s port stayed open as the patriot fleet under Admiral José Prudencia Padilla was focused on taking the cities of Riohacha and Santa Marta to the north. The Spanish commander, Miguel de la Torre y Pando tried to negotiate with both Montilla and Bolívar, but both refused. He even vainly had a force sally forth thinking they could reach Bolívar in Barranquilla to negotiate in person. In addition to losing a battle and being forced to retreat, he later found out that Bolívar was not even in Barranquilla.

In late November, Bolivar and Morillo did agree to a six-month truce. The truce, however, worked in favor of the patriots as royalist desertions increased, and Padilla's fleet was able to position itself off Cartagena's coast. When hostilities resumed in April of 1821, Cartagena found itself cut off from both land and sea. Fortunately for Cartagena's residents, the Spanish had large stores of provisions and the population was spared mass starvation.

In May, Padilla's fleet occupied the Bahia de los Animas (Bay of Souls). On the night of June 24, during Saint John’s Eve, Padilla launched a surprise attack under the cover of darkness. His forces approached the docks near where the two giant sculptures of Pegasus stand today. They succeeded in taking the docks, just a stone’s throw from the city’s main gate. With Spain in a period of internal turmoil, the loyalist garrison at Cartagena finally accepted their fate in October. On October 10, 1821, the Spanish surrendered the city, more than a year after the siege began and nearly 10 years after Cartagena’s original declaration of independence.

There are indications of a battle medal, but no information could be located.

Medal for Pichincha 1822 was authorized on June 18, 1822 by the Colombian authorities for the Peruvian troops following the battle of Pichincha near Quito, Ecuador, May 24, 1822. The medal is a 30 x 25 mm oval gold or silver star with eight arms. The obverse bears the curved inscription, LIBERTADOR DE QUITO, forming a semi-circle above the sun rising over three mountain peaks. Below this is the straight-line inscription, PICHINCHA. The reverse is inscribed, GRATITUD DE COLOMBIA A LA DIVISION DEL PERU, with two laurel branches in the center. The ribbon is the tri-color of Colombia, red, blue and yellow.

The jeweled version of the Medal of the Liberators of Quito, also known as, the Decoration of Pichincha de Bolivar, was created by the engraver Victor Torrealba. It is a star of 12 rays featuring the rising sun over the mountains of Ecuador at the center of the obverse. Six rays are set in nine brilliants (circular cut diamonds) and the remaining six with six brilliants. with its arms joined by a laurel wreath of emeralds. In the center, two large emeralds represent the mountains and a ruby represents the rising sun. The design is encircled by eleven large brilliants. The reverse is smooth with an inscription surrounded by a laurel wreath. It is suspended from a rectangular gold clasp by a red ribbon. In total, the medal has 135 gems (99 diamonds, 35 emeralds and one ruby. The decoration has been in the custody of the Central Bank of Venezuela since 1974, along with other jeweled decorations of the Liberator Bolivar.

Colombia Medal for Pichincha

Decoration of Pichincha de Bolivar

The Battle of Lake Maracaibo 1823, AKA the Naval Battle of the Lake, was fought on July 24, 1823 on Venezuela's Lake Maracaibo between fleets under the commands of patriot Admiral Jose Prudencio Padilla and royalist Captain Angel Laborde. The engagement was won by the patriot forces, and was the last battle of the Venezuelan War of Independence and the larger Spanish American Wars of independence. The patriot ships were part of the armed forces of Gran Colombia led by Simon Bolivar.

A medal and a variant for the engagement do exist. The medal is inscribed, AL VALOR DE LA ARMADA DE LA COLOMBIA, and the variant is inscribed, AL VALOR Y CONSTANCIA A NO DE 1823. Unfortunately, no examples could be located.

Sesquicentennial of the Naval Battle of Maracaibo 1823-1973

The Sesquicentennial of the Naval Battle of Maracaibo 1823-1973 commemorative medal features two concentric circles on both the obverse and reverse. The inner circle of the obverse depicts a scene from the Naval Battle of Lake Maracaibo painted by Gustavo Machado Guzman. The outer circle is inscribed, YEAR VENEZUELAN MARITIME REAFFIRMATION around the upper half and BOLIVAR MANRIQUE PADILLA BELUCHE JOLY around the lower half.

The inner circle of the reverse depicts a scene from the naval battle based on a Guzman lithography. The outer circle is inscribed, SESQUICENTENNIAL OF THE NAVAL BATTLE OF MARACAIBO 1823 – 1973.

Naval Medal for the Battle of Lake Maracaibo was instituted by Colombia on September 8, 2001. The new medal recalls the glory of the famous naval battle. Awarded in a single class, the open obverse of the 55 x 40 mm elliptical polished gold medal reflects the outline of the State of Zulia (one of 23 Colombian states and whose capital is Maracaibo) in hammered gold on the left side and a representation of the patriot flagship, the Brig Independiente, on the right side. The surrounding edge is inscribed, BATALLA NAVAL DEL LAGO MARACAIBO on the upper portion and, 24 DE JUNIO DE 1823 on the lower portion. The reverse is plain.

Modern Naval Medal for the Battle of Lake Maracaibo

The Colombian Medal for Ayacucho 1824 was authorized by Marshall Sucre on December 19, 1824, at the General HQ at Huamanga Province in Northern Ayacucho, for Colombian troops taking part in the Battle of Ayacucho, in Peru on December 9, 1824. It was issued in gold for the officers and silver for troops. The obverse center features within a laurel wreath, the line from a song, COLOMBIA A SUS BRAVOS EN EL PERU. The reverse depicts the plain of Ayacucho with a crossed sword and rifle, encircled by the four straight line inscription, AYACUCHO 9 DE DIC DE 1824. Per the decree, the reverse should have read, VENCEDOR EN AYACUCHO 9 DCICIEMBRE ANO 14.

Reverse of the Colombian Medal for Ayacucho for Officers

Such modifications by the engravers of the era were not uncommon. The decoration is also referred to as the Ayacucho Medal of (Gran) Colombia to differentiate it from the many other medals for Ayacucho even though information on this award can be found researching the decorations of Venezuela.

Jeweled Medal for Ayacucho

The decree also authorized the medal with precious stones (jeweled) for generals. The jeweled Liberator's Medal for Ayacucho is one of a series of Liberation Jewels, created by Victor Torrealba. The Battle of Ayacucho, on December 9, 1824, was the last major clash of the land campaigns against Spain and it both sealed Peru's independence and also marked the end of the Spanish colonial rule in South America. Simon Bolivar and Antonio Jose de Sucre received multiple honors from Peru, among the highest, the titles of Liberator and Grand Marshal of Ayacucho, respectively. Included among these honors, was this jeweled medal.

Although Sucre's authorization specified jeweled medals for the generals, there is no definitive description of the jeweled version of the medal. The central shield, mounted over two flags, is inscribed, AYA-CU-CHO on three straight lines and the surrounding laurel wreath design is covered in diamonds. The medal pictured was in the possession of General Antonio Guzman Blanco (1829-1899) and later donated to the National Museum.

The Cross and Escudo (Shield) for Junin 1824 can be found described under the awards of Peru, although the Congress of Colombia decreed on February II, 1825, that special honors and insignia for the Battle of Junin be accorded to General Bolivar and Grand Marshall Sucre, and awarded similar pieces to those of Peru. At the same time, decorations were also awarded to the troops from Colombia taking part in the victory at Junin on August 6, 1824.

The Congress of Peru by a decree of March 29, 1828, awarded the Cross for Junin to officers, who took part in the cavalry battle. It is a gold five-armed double-pointed ball-tipped decoration, surmounted by a laurel wreath suspension and resting on a similar wreath woven through the red and white-enameled arms. The obverse central medallion is inscribed BATALLA DE JUNIN. The reverse is stated to feature two crossed swords united by two flags. The example shown below, repeats the inscription on the obverse, BATALLA DE JUNIN. Variations of the cross also contain the simple obverse inscription, JUNIN. Two additional variations of the cross, one 33 mm, the other 18 mm, bear the central inscription, UNIN (no J), on each side, but are otherwise similar in design.

Officer's Cross for Junin

Cloth Escudos (Shields) on a red background with gold thread, were awarded to the troops

Escudos for Junin and Ayacucho

The Medal of Honor 1825 was created in honor of the Liberator, Simon Bolivar, by the Congress of Colombia. In 1819, Bolivar defeated the Royalist Pablo Morillo at Boyaca. Two years later, his victory in Carabobo secured Venezuela's independence and in 1922, along with Sucre, he liberated Ecuador, which was incorporated into Gran Colombia.

The 54 mm-round, silver medal features two angels (male and female) with an indecipherable inscription around the border on the obverse and signed in the exergue. The reverse is inscribed on seven straight lines, A SIMON BOLIVAR LIBETADOR DE COLOMBIA Y DEL PERU CONGRESSO DE COLOMBIA ANO DE MDCCCXXV. This is framed by a laurel wreath tied at the base.

Medal of Honor

Medal for Tarqui 1829 was awarded by General Sucre on February 27, 1829 to the Colombian troops, who were victorious over the Peruvians and Bolivians at the battle of Tarqui on February 26, 1829. The obverse of the gold or silver oval medal bears the inscription, VENGADORES DE COLOMBIA EN TARQUI, around the edge with a rifle and lance in the center framed by laurel leaves.

Silver Medal for Tarqui

Centennial Cross of Boyaca 1919 was created to honor the centennial anniversary of the Battle of Boyaca in 1819. The original cross was created August 8, 1919, by Decree No. 1667 and awarded to the officers and men of the Army of Colombia. It was a 50 mm, cross Patonce with blue enamel panels and a green-enamel laurel wreath suspension loop. The Type 1 obverse featured the flag of the Republic, enameled in colors, encircled by a gold band inscribed CENTENARIO DE BOYACA. The reverse of the Type 1 is inscribed, 1819-1919.

The Type 2 (1922-1927), features the portrait in relief of Simon Bolivar facing left, encircled by a blue enamel ring inscribed in gilt letters, COLOMBIA CENTENARIO DE BOYACA. The arms of the obverse have blue enamel insets. The reverse arms of the cross are not enameled and the central blue enamel disk is inscribed on three straight lines, 1819 7 DE AGOSTO 1919. Manufactured by J. H. Werner of Berlin, only between 25 and 50 examples were produced.

The cross was awarded in silver (officers) and bronze (troops), but in 1922, a gold version was authorized and was permitted to be awarded to eminent non-Colombians. The Type 1 ribbon was light blue. The Type2 ribbon utilizes the national colors.

Centennial Cross of Boyaca Type 2 (1922-1927)

The Order of Boyaca is the highest peacetime decoration of Colombia. The order is awarded for exceptional service to distinguished Colombian military officers and civilians as well as foreign citizens of friendly nations. It traces its origins to the to a Cruz de Boyaca that was awarded to the generals, who led their forces to victory in the Battle of Boyaca, 1819 and the 1922 modifications to the Centennial Cross of Boyaca.

Since 1922, the Order has undergone revisions and expansions into its current form, with the biggest change happening in 1922 when civilians became eligible for award of the Order. In 1927, the bronze third class was discontinued. The first class of gold was to be awarded to ministers, diplomats and generals, both native and foreign. The second class of silver to lesser officials.

Design: The Order is basically a 43 mm four-armed, blue enamel Maltese cross, with the center of the obverse featuring a bust of Simon Bolívar surrounded by a blue enamel circular border containing the gilt inscription, ORDEN DE BOYACA. The reverse center is inscribed, REPUBLICA DE COLOMBIA on a blue enamel medallion. Beginning in 1950, military and the civilian awards were distinguished by use of different ribbons, but later the distinction was abolished. At present there is no physical distinction between military and civilian awards.

In order to promote the Order by exaltation and ensure its prestige, a decree of July 10, 1952 established that August 7 as the Day of the Order of Boyaca This would be the date on which the grantees must congregate in order to: (1) pay tribute to the Liberators, Martyrs and Procurers of the Independence; (2) to exalt the national glories and (3) to consecrate the memory of the deceased members of the Order. On August 16, 1954, all existing provisions of the Order were codified and the Statutes were amended permanently. Finally, on October 30, 1980, the degree of Grand Collar of the Order of Boyaca was created and reserved exclusively for Heads of State.

The Order is currently awarded in the following eight grades:

The Grand Collar (Gran Collar) is awarded exclusively to Heads of State and to the President of Colombia upon his election.

Grand Collar

The Grand Cross Extraordinary is awarded to former Heads of State, Elected Presidents and Colombian Cardinals. The Grand Cross is awarded to Cardinals, Ambassadors, Ministers of State, Marshals, Generals of the Armed Forces, Lieutenant Generals, Admirals, or individuals of equivalent rank.

Grand Cross and Plaque

Commander, Officer & Caballero (Knight)

The Grand Officer is awarded to Envoys Extraordinary, Ministers Plenipotentiary, Archbishops, Major Generals, Brigadier Generals, Admirals, Vice Admirals, or individuals of equivalent rank.

The Silver Cross is awarded to individuals and organizations in recognition for tenure and length of service.

The Commander is awarded to Resident Ministers, business owners and managers, Bishops, Colonels, Lt. Colonels, Majors, Captains, Commanders, Lt. Commanders or individuals of equivalent rank.

The Officer is awarded to Charge de affairs, ad interim business managers, Counselors, First Secretaries, Consul Generals, Captains, Lieutenants, or individuals of equivalent rank.

The Caballero or Knight is awarded to Second and Third Secretaries, Consuls and Vice-Consuls, Attaches to embassies and legations, Lieutenants, Second Lieutenants, Lieutenants (junior grade), Ensigns or individuals of an equivalent rank.

Note: Due to the unfolding and shifting political boundaries of the era, information on the medals discussed herein can be found by researching Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.

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