The charge is a two-headed eagle which is a symbol of Byzantine and ultimately Roman origin. It symbolizes dual authority, such as that over the church and state. The motif was used by medieval rulers of Zeta - the House of Crnojevic, as well as various other European dynasties. The layout of the Montenegrin coat of arms is inspired by that of the Russian Empire, with which the ruling House of Petrovic-Njegos had close dynastic and political ties in the 19th century when the coat of arms was first adopted in its present form.
The lion passant on the inescutcheon is as a sign of episcopal authority and could have been inspired by the metaphore of the Lion of Judah. Furthermore, it bears some similarity to the motif present in the arms of Venice, which had considerable influence in the history of Montenegro. After Montenegro regained its independence from medieval Serbia, it gradually became a theocracy in order to preserve unity before numerous Turkish invasions of the country. For this reason, the authority of the church was reflected in various insignia of the age. After the establishment of the secular dynastic succession in 1851, the lion was placed beneath the eagle, while the initials of the ruler stood on the shield: notably, that of Danilo I, Prince of Montenegro, Danilo II, Prince of Montenegro and King Nicholas I of Montenegro. Curiously, Danilo I was still a prince-bishop while the standard bearing his initials was used. The modern coat of arms placed the lion d’or back on the shield, erasing that monarchic symbol. Today, Montenegro is a secular, democratic republic, so the fact that the crown of the Petrovic-Njegos dynasty was also represented created some controversy at the time of its adoption. However, this solution proved extremely popular and the coat of arms can be seen not only in schools, government offices etc., but also in many private houses, places of business and private universities and is a common display of national pride.