Countries & Cultures - Flags



Flags are a universal means of identification. They can represent very complex beliefs, faith or organisation in a simple picture, or they can simply serve to convey information clearly and quickly with ease. Each country has its own flag identifiying it apart from others. Often there is a rich history to the flag and its components that deserves a website in its own right!

Here we hope to show common uses of flags and their meanings/ ideas behind them.

Flag Origins

Opinions differ on how the flag originated. Many trace its beginnings to a carved pole carried by primitive races in battle or before chiefs. The pole displayed the tribal totem at the top.

The ancient Egyptians are said to have topped a staff or spear with the figure of the animal they held most sacred. The Greeks carried a pole on the end of which were pieces of armor or a single letter. American Indians had pikes bedecked with feathers from eagles' wings. The Vikings made use of a raven and the Saxons of a white horse. Romans had shafts ornamented with circles and discs and surmounted at first by holy beasts and then, from 100 B.C., by the figure of an eagle.

The purpose of this original kind of "flag" is explained by totemism, one of man's earliest forms of religion. The pole symbolized and, it was believed, actually carried into battle the people's ancestral spirit, their totem and god, just as the ancient Israelites had done with the Ark, the seat of their God. Its presence was a source of power and an aid to victory. It gave courage to the warriors who fought under it and put fear into the enemy. Therefore it was viewed with awe and considered sacred.

Held aloft, the staff identified the forces, marked the position of their leader and served as a rallying point. Gradually it developed into a banner or standard. But its role remained the same. It did so merely in a more elaborate manner, and colors were added to the totem figure.

Thus, when the Israelites had escaped from Egypt, each of their tribes identified itself by an ensign, as referred to in the Book of Numbers. Though the Bible does not give a detailed description, allusions suggest that, for instance, Judah's sign was sky-blue with the emblem of a lion, Zebulun's white with a ship, and Manasseh's jet-black with the figure of a unicorn.

Finally, streamers or tassels were tied to the banner. This was done, not as may be imagined, as an ornament but, fluttering in the wind, they were meant to indicate and enforce divine will in battle. It is thought that from this bunting the present-day flag developed.

The story of how a piece of colored cloth came to represent a nation begins with the ancient belief in omens and magical practice. The wind mystified primitive man. Its power evaded his grasp in every sense. Those who dared the open sea in their light craft learned to fear its force which could either hasten their advance or spell disaster. Anxiously, therefore, man watched the wind and tried to detect in its direction an omen for good or evil.

But as the wind was invisible, this was an almost impossible task - until he realized that the smoke of fire could expose it to view.

Man began to observe the smoke with awe and to imagine that the way it moved indicated, and then actually effected, the will of the gods. If the smoke blew towards the foe, it was an augury of his imminent flight and defeat. Significantly, the Welsh word for a bonfire means "sure omens."

Some ingenious mind then realized that far superior to smoke was a piece of cloth, fluttering in the breeze from a pole, to show which way the wind was blowing. After a time, the cloth was regarded as a magical means of determining the outcome of a battle. Activated by the wind, it symbolized and could bring victory. For that reason it was carefully guarded and became the first target of attack. Its capture or fall caused confusion, if not defeat.

Flags in their present form were invented by the Chinese. It is known that the founder of the Chou dynasty in the 12th century B.C. had a white flag carried in front of him. Yet national flags did not appear in Europe till the 12th century A.D. They were introduced by the Crusaders on their return from the Holy Land, where they probably had adopted them from their Saracen foes who, in turn, had copied them from the Indians. No doubt, these had appropriated them from China.

As one huge Christian army, the Crusaders found a banner most useful in identifying themselves from their heathen opponents. Fighting in the name of Christ, their choice of the cross as an emblem was a foregone conclusion. But coming from every country of Christendom, they also had need to distinguish themselves from each other. For that purpose the Knights employed the various forms of the cross, linked with their individual patron saint, and a combination of contrasting colors.

From the Knights who had fought in the Holy War, their countries took over and developed the flag as a national emblem

Half Mast

The flying of a flag at half-mast is an international sign of mourning. Tradition demands that the flag should first be hoisted to the top of the mast, stay there for a moment, and then be lowered.

The custom had its origin in early naval battles. At first it was possibly not just the defeated vessel's flag which had to be lowered, but its top sail. The beaten foe had to haul down his flag (halfway) so that the victor's colors could take its place and show his superiority.

It was with this background that in later years the lowered flag became a mark of respect, especially to one of superior station. The practice developed, also, of passing ships dipping the ensign as a gesture of courtesy. The original practical purpose to make room for another flag above was completely forgotten.

That is how, finally and far removed from its first martial context and naval warfare, the flying of a flag at half-mast became a token of respect to the dead, expressing the homage people wished to pay to a worthy departed.

Notes: Although flag pole is a common phrase no one flies a flag at half-pole. In British English it is, I think without exception, half-mast, and in American English, although Webster lists half-staff, half-mast is the main entry. So, since a mast is on a ship it's of nautical origin.

When are Flags Flown at Half Mast?

by Richard Olsen

In the United States the flag is flown at half-staff, by order of the President, to honor the memory of high ranking government officials upon their death. Duane Streufert

James Dignan, Nathan Augustine, T.W. Hall and Anton Sherwood all mention that flags are flown at half mast in memorial of the dead by schools, corporations, fire stations, government institutions and individuals.

My understanding is that the flag is theoretically not flown at "half" mast, but one flag's depth down from the masthead (in practice, it's often more than that) to allow for the "invisible flag of death" to be flown at the top of the mast. The idea goes back to mediaeval times, I think.

The same protocol applies in New Zealand for deaths of the head of state and other Royal Family members, the Governor General, the Prime Minister and other Ministers of the Crown. The days on which the flag is half masted (day of death, day of funeral, days in between) vary according to the status of the deceased. ANZAC Day (our Memorial Day equivalent) is another half-mast day (usually morning only). Of course, many official and private organizations also half mast the flag in respect of deaths of other people of special significance to them. Stuart Park

In Denmark flying half-mast is *the* appropriate thing to do at funerals and on some holidays (Good Friday comes to mind). Ole Andersen, 13 December 1997

How Far Down the Flagpole is "Half Mast"?

by Richard Olsen

This is originally a naval term, referring to the pole or area on the mast of a ship where the flag is flown under way. This area is about three flag widths tall above the ship's main structure to allow for the occasional two-flag display (the US flag always on top) and room for lowering the flag to half mast. Because the mast area and the pole at a ship's stern are short, half mast is one flag width below the top. A flag pole is not a mast, so the flag should not be flown half- way up a tall pole. It is properly raised briskly to the block (top) and lowered slowly one flag width to the "half-mast" position. This makes it clearly not "two-blocked" and signals respect, but still keeps the flag high enough to prevent fouling and the sloppy appearance of a "half-pole" position, especially if the flag is very large. The flag, even at half mast, should be fully visible and flying freely and proudly in the wind

Flag (Politics)

A piece of cloth, usually with a design, used as an ensign, standard, or signal, or to mark a position, commonly attached at one end to a staff or halyard. Flags have been used since ancient times, and some symbols are universal; a white flag signals a truce; a yellow flag the presence of infectious disease. A nation signifies its mourning by flying its flags at half-mast.

Take Down a Peg

"To take down a peg" is an 18th century British naval expression. It referred to the practice of pegging flags at different heights, commensurate with the rank of whoever was to be honored or the esteem in which he (or the nation) was held. The higher a flag was flown, the more deference it showed. Therefore, to be lowered a peg - on the flagmast - displayed publicly a lowering of respect.



The cross of St George is the flag of England, not the Union Jack. It is a red cross on a white field. The Church of England uses the cross of Saint George with the shield of arms of its diocese in the canton, although in practice many, when they fly the flag at all, fly the plain cross.

Roy Stilling



The St.Andrew cross is one of the oldest national flags of all, dating back at least to the 12th century.

Roy Stilling

The history of the Scottish saltire may be summarised as follows:

  • c.1180: The first use of the St. Andrew's Cross in Scotland - but as a religious, not a national, emblem (the seal of the Chapter of St. Andrew's cathedral).
  • 1286: The first appearance of the figure of St. Andrew on his cross as a national emblem (the seal of the guardians of Scotland).
  • 1385: The first evidence of the use of the cross, without the saint, as a national emblem - but this was on soldiers' uniforms raher than as a flag (an act of the Scottish parliament).
  • Late 15th Century: Several references to flags with a St. Andrew's Cross, but it is not known whether it was the only emblem on such flags.
  • 1503: The first certain use of a plain St. Andrew's Cross flag - but the field was red, not blue (the Vienna Book of Hours).
  • 1542: The first certain illustration of the St. Andrew's Cross on a blue field as we have it today (armorial of Sir David Lindsay).

It would therefore be better to say that the flag dated from the 16th Century.

Kenneth Campbell Fraser



The DDraig Goch (red dragon) flag is the national flag of Wales, and has been officially recognised as such since the 1950s. By the way, the white-over-green field is the livery colours of the Tudors, the Welsh dynasty that once sat on the English throne.

Roy Stilling

Conventional wisdom is that the "draco" standards of the Romans were adopted by the Britons, probably as a metal (possibly real gold) head with a windsock type of body made of silk. In the mouth was a whistling type device that would make sounds as it was waved with vigor. Supposedly used by King Arthur, certainly used by the Wessex lords in the 700s, the emblem has been used by Britons right up to the present time. Y ddraig goch ddyry cychwyn! (The Red Dragon Gives Impetus!)

Dave Martucci

"Y ddraig goch ddyry cychwyn!" does have another meaning, which is why, according to an article in the current Flagmaster, it lasted for only six years as part of an "honourable augmentation" to the Welsh Emblem.

It was explained that in ancient times Welsh poets made requests for special favours in a particular verse-form, the cywydd gofyn. Evans Jones had found such a cywydd in which the phrase, "Y ddraig goch ddyry cychwyn" appeared for the first time. It was a peasant's request to a wealthy neighbour for the service of the neighbour's bull to mate with the peasant's cow. The "red dragon" which was to give impetus, I leave to your imagination.

Here is a brief summary of what Perrin in British Flags and Giles- Scott in The Romance of Heraldry have written about the dragon.

A dragon was the Standard of a Roman cohort which was a tenth of a legion. After the Romans left Britain it was used by both the Britons and the Saxons. A golden dragon was the principal war standard of the Saxons of Wessex, and was carried by them at the battle of Burford in 752. In the eleventh century battles the king positioned himself between his personal standard, which was the rallying point and the dragon standard which was carried by a standard bearer chosen for his strength and prowess. After the battle of Hastings the dragon standard was adopted by the Normans. No record of its use in Scotland after the battle of the Standard in 1138,where it was borne as the Scottish royal standard. A dragon standard was taken on the Third Crusade by Richard I in 1191. A dragon was borne by the English army at the battle of Lewes in 1216 and later Henry III had a dragon standard made to be placed in the re-built Abbey at Westminster. Used by Edward I, Edward III at the battle of Crécy 1346, Henry V at the battle of Agincourt 1415, and at the battle of Bosworth in 1485, after which it was carried in state to St Paul's Cathedral. Henry VII displayed the red dragon of Cadwallader, from whom he claimed descent, on the Tudor colours of white and green. Until this time it was probably golden. The supporters of the English royal arms were a lion and a dragon, but the latter was replaced by a unicorn for Scotland by the Stuarts. The dragon reappeared briefly as a supporter of the arms of the Commonwealth under Cromwell.

David Prothero

Northern Ireland


The red hand of Ulster comes from a legend from one of Ireland's many legendary invasions. The leader of a war party promised a prize to the first man to touch land with his right hand; so the winner, a left-handed man, cut off his right hand and threw it onto the shore.

James Dignan

This was a civil flag for Northern Ireland, but the status of this was abolished when the Belfast Stormont assembly was closed down in 1973. Thereafter, the Union Flag was made official for all purposes in Northern Ireland.

Stuart Notholt

Union Flag


Britain's Union Flag - usually wrongly called the Union Jack - records in its name and fusion of three different emblems, the growth of one kingdom out of the successive union of three crowns.

The original English flag was white and bore the plain red cross of St. George, the country's patron saint. He was a 3rd century Christian soldier who had preferred death by beheading to denouncing his faith. The red cross recalled his martyrdom by Roman hands at Lydda, in Palestine. When the English Knights joined in the Crusades, they identified themselves by the saint's symbol. On their return, the religious emblem eventually became the national flag.

The choice of St. George as a patron has been linked with the tradition that during the Crusades, the saint's apparition rescued the English from the fury of their Moslem foes. His sudden appearance on the battlefield threw the Mohammedans into confusion and flight. Thus the English recognized and acknowledged him as their patron. King Edward III adopted his name as a battle cry, and his emblem became the English flag.

St. Andrew was one of the 12 Apostles. A simple fisherman, he, too, suffered martyrdom. The story is told that because he had converted a Roman Consul's wife to Christianity, her husband had him flogged and afterwards crucified. The cross used for the execution was shaped like the letter X, which explains how this became the saint's symbol and is still called St. Andrew's cross.

His association with Scotland dates back to the tradition that in 368 A.D., a monk transferred some of his relics from Constantinople to Scotland, to be buried there on the east coast, on the very spot where the city and cathedral of St. Andrew's now stand.

The story is further told that when the Picts and Scots were attacked by the Saxons, they called on St. Andrew for help. Looking upward, they noticed a strange formation of clouds. It seemed as if their white vapor had formed itself into the shape of a cross, backed by the blue sky. This appeared to the anxious watchers as an assurance of victory and a manifestation of the saint. Spurred on, they joined in battle and defeated the foe. After their victory, they adopted St Andrew's cross as their emblem, with the specific colors of cloud and sky. It was the birth of the Scottish flag.

When James Stuart came from Scotland in 1603 to ascend the English throne as James I, the two kingdoms were united. The immediate problem was which flag to hoist on the king's ships. English sailors resented the Scottish colors and the Scots scorned the cross of St. George.

A compromise was the answer and it led to the creation of the first Union Flag. In 1606, a royal decree declared that the ships of the Kingdom of Great Britain "shall bear on their maintops the red cross, commonly called St. George's cross, and the white cross, commonly called St. Andrew's cross." In 1707, after the Act of Union of England and Scotland, Queen Anne sanctioned this combination.

The white border which surrounds St. George's cross is due not to aesthetic or decorative reasons. It expresses deference to both original flags. Even in their union, they were meant to remain distinct. The rules of heraldry demanded that two colors must never be placed on top of each other, or even touch each other. They must be separated by a strip, no matter how narrow.

Neither the year nor place of St. Patrick's birth is known. It was toward the end of the 4th century somewhere in Britain or Gaul. At 16, pirates captured him and sold him as a slave to Ireland. After serving there for six years, he managed to escape to France. However, a vision, so it is said, made him return to the island to rid it from snakes and convert its pagan people to the Christian faith. In pursuit of his task he miraculously overcame the magic and cunning opposition of the Druids.

Because he died an old man from natural causes, no cross was linked with his name at first. The red saltire on a white ground, which eventually became his emblem, dates only from the 12th century and was adopted from the heraldic device of an Irish family.

When the Parliament of Ireland was joined with that of Great Britain in 1801, what was then recognized as the cross of St. Patrick was duly incorporated in the Union Flag. Thus the Union Flag recollects in its distinctive markings and colors the inspiring story of three great saints and the traditions of three ancient races which, step by step, grew into one United Kingdom.

The popular but erroneous description of Britain's flag as the Union Jack can be traced back either to naval tradition or to the historic union of Scotland and England.

James I was the first common ruler of the two kingdoms. He signed his name the French way, Jacques, which, spelled phonetically in its English pronunciation, was Jack. Colloquially, people nick-named his new flag the Union "Jack." The term therefore perpetuates the name of a specific king and one of the great moments of British history.

Correctly, however, a Jack relates only to the sea. It is a small flag used by naval vessels for signaling. It received its name because it was hoisted on a mast known as the jack-staff. Thus, in the view of some, the Union Jack refers merely to a flag of comparatively small dimensions used at sea.

Use of the Flag

The "Union Jack" isn't even the national flag for use by Her Majesty's loyal subjects in England. There is no official national flag of the UK. The Union Flag is the flag of the United Kingdoms, not of "the nation." The government has made it clear that there it has no objection to Her Majesty's subjects flying the Union Flag on land, but a shipowner can get hauled into admiralty court for using it aboard ship.

Nick Artimovich

Whilst the Union Flag has never been officially adopted by law as the national flag of the UK, it has become so by usage (which can count for a lot in the British constitutional / legal system) and, as you say, the government has stated it is the correct flag for use by British citizens.

Afloat though, the Union Flag has been reserved by the government for specific, military purposes. It is the official jack of the Royal Navy (strictly speaking the only time it should be called the Union Jack - but again usage differs) and it is the flag of rank for an admiral of the fleet. These are the reasons why it is illegal for a civilian ship to fly it. Similarly civilian ships may not fly the English Cross of St George, as that is the flag of an admiral. As far as I know, the Cross of St Andrew and the Red Dragon flag have no military significance so the Scots and Welsh ought to be able to fly their national flags afloat.

Roy Stilling

The flag should always be flown with the broad white stripe 'to the top'. Flying the flag the other way round (upside down) is considered to be a sign of distress

UK Ensigns

H. Gresham Carr Flags of the World, 1961, pp 121-8

Flags Flags Flags

History and use of the ensigns

In origin there were three naval squadrons, of the Red, White and Blue, and they took these colours from those of the Union Jack. The division was made in the 1680s IIRC. Because the Red Ensigns of England and Scotland had already been established as merchant flags a Red Ensign with the Union in the canton became the merchant flag of Great Britain upon Union in 1707. This led to potential confusion - was that ship a merchantman or a member of the Red Squadron?

In 1864 it was decided to end this anomaly. Henceforth the White Ensign was reserved to the Royal Navy, the Blue Ensign undefaced to the Royal Naval Reserve and defaced with the appropriate departmental or teritorial badge to government service, and the Red Ensign to the "Merchant Navy" (as the term is in Britain).

Now, as colonies became dominions they began to acquire navies. These all wore the White Ensign, but wore their appropriate territorial Blue ensign as a jack. The only geographical usage of the Red White and Blue that I know of, and which might be the source of this idea, was in the masthead pennant. Before 1864 this was St. George's Cross in them hoist and a fly of the Squadronal colour. After 1864 the home Royal Navy used the white pennant and colonial naval units used the blue. The red pennant was used briefly by the Royal Indian Marine between 1921 and 1928.

Stars & Stripes


Officially, the first flag of the United States was adopted by the American Continental Congress in Philadelphia on June 14th, 1777. It was based on the report of a special committee, submitted by John Adams. Congress then resolved: -

"That the flag of the United States be 13 stripes, alternate red and white; That the Union be 13 stars, white and in a blue field, representing a new constellation."

George Washington explained the flag's features to the people in stirring words. He said: "We take the stars from heaven, the red from our mother country, separating it by white stripes, thus showing that we have separated from her, and the white stripes shall go down to posterity representing liberty."

There are various views on the flag's beginnings and to whom the credit should go for its final design. Not even the names of members of the committee have been preserved. In spite of sworn affidavits as to the accuracy of one certain claim, this has now been accepted as a legend.

Probably several people were responsible for the new flag, although Francis Hopkinson, a delegate to Congress and signatory to the Declaration of Independence, considered himself entitled to a reward as the originator. His claim was rejected because, as was pointed out to him, he "was not the only person consulted."

The fact is that the American flag is the result of a long evolution and in each of its parts has its own story. What was regarded as the first distinctly American flag was flown on Prospect Hill on January 1st, 1776, by the American forces besieging Boston. Unmistakably it was meant to proclaim by 13 red and white stripes that Union of that number of seceding colonies, yet paradoxically it still carried in the canton the British crosses of St. George and St. Andrew.

It was a strange combination. While the 13 stripes told the world of the colonies' united revolt against the mother country, the inclusion of the Union Jack reminded the people of their allegiance to Britain. Indeed, it took almost a whole year after the Declaration of Independence to remove any obvious likeness to the British flag. The two crosses in the canton were replaced by 13 stars.

Several theories have been brought forward as to the origin of the stars. They were preceded, so it is said, by the picture of a rattlesnake with 13 rattles and the motto, "Don't tread on me!" No one knows whether the stars were taken from the flag of Rhode Island or from the coat of arms of the Washington family.

The story is told that in June, 1776, George Washington with two other men called on Betsy Ross, a widowed seamstress renowned for her needlework, at her upholstery shop in Philadelphia. They showed her a rough draft of the suggested flag and inquired whether she could make one. Betsy convinced her callers that it was advisable to use five-pointed stars instead of the proposed six- pointers because these could easily be made by a single clip of the scissors.

Washington is said to have suggested that the stars should be arranged in a circle, to emphasize the full equality of the states. Actually, there was no definite rule about the arrangement of the stars at first. Earliest samples show a circle of 12 stars, with the 13th occupying the center.

After the preliminary discussion, a sketch of the new model, prepared by an artist, was duly submitted to Betsy, who in no time sewed America's first national flag.

No contemporaneous independent report supports the claim which was made only by Mrs. Ross herself to her family. Though her descendants repeated the assertion and even supplied sworn statements, many now regard the claim as only a legend. Nevertheless, the house of Betsy Ross at 239 Arch Street in Philadelphia has become a national shrine to her memory.

riginally it was intended to add a new stripe and star for each state joining the initial 13. By 1818, their number had grown to 20, and it became obvious that the method adopted was impractical. Consequently, Congress resolved to revert to the original 13 stripes, but to indicate the admission of new states by adding a star for each. That procedure has been followed ever since



Design of the flag

The Australian flag is composed of three parts:

The Union Jack (British flag) in the top left corner,

The 'Star of Federation' in the bottom left corner, and

The Southern Cross, taking up the right half of the flag.

The Union Jack shows that the first colonisation by Europeans was by Britain. In case you didn't know, Australia started as a penal colony. The Star of Federation is a seven pointed star. They came to the number seven, by giving each state (six in all) a point on the star, and having one more point for Australia's territories (of which there are several). There are two mainland territories, and several overseas, including two in Antarctica. The Southern Cross is a constellation that can be seen from all of Australia's states and territories.

giuseppe bottasini

History of the flag

A competition was held to find the flag that would be adopted by the new nation of Australia late last century (Australia became a nation on 1 January 1901). Thousands of submissions were received, but something very interesting occurred: six of the flags received (no two from areas close to one another) were virtually identical. Not only had the same design been received six times independently from different parts of the country, but it looked good too. The flags differed only in small details (the number of points on the various stars, the size of the Union Jack, etc). The committee looking at the flags eventually decided on a flag that was not exactly the same as any one of the six, but similar to all of them. The prize money was shared between the six contestants. The flag was not actually adopted offically until 1952.

rick brockway



The Maple Leaf flag

The Canadian National Flag was adopted by the Canadian Parliament on October 22, 1964 and was proclaimed into law by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (the Queen of Canada) on February 15, 1965. The Canadian Flag (colloquially known as The Maple Leaf Flag) is a red flag of the proportions two by length and one by width, containing in its centre a white square, with a single red stylized eleven-point maple leaf centred in the white square.

The colours red and white used in the Canadian flag are the same as those colours used in the Union Flag (of the UK). Red and white are the national colours of Canada since 1921 (when they were proclaimed by King George V on the recommendation of the Canadian Governmant). The heraldic description of the Canadian National Flag is : Gules on a Canadian pale argent a maple leaf of the first.

peter cawley



In brief we can accept that the colours are basically those of Paris as used on the day of the storming of the Bastille, mixed with the royal white. It is thought that the Marquis de Lafayette was responsible for inventing the red, white and blue cockade which soon became compulsory for revolutionaries in 1789. We don't have to believe that the combination arose because the king placed a red-blue cockade in his hat next to a royal white one, but combinations of revolutionary and royal emblems were common at that time. The flag was created in 1790 but with the colours the reverse of what they are today, i.e. with red at the hoist, and revised in 1794 to the modern form. The 1790 flag existed only as part of the jack and ensign of the navy. The flag went out of use with Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo, but was brought back in 1830 (again by Lafayette) and has remained in use ever since. Although significances have been attached to the colours these are all spurious and invented after the fact. The red and blue of Paris were the livery colours of the coat of arms and natural ones for use by the militia.

William Crampton

The blue-white-red of the French revolution comes from the combination of the royal white with the Parisian red and blue (the latter derived from the arms of Paris, and in use since the middle ages); the colors were combined for the first time when the king visited Paris on July 17, 1789, a few days after the taking of the Bastille. La Fayette is often credited with the idea. The new cockade symbolized the reconciliation of the king with the city. It quickly became the cockade of the revolution. The three colors in vertical stripes were first used as a canton on naval flags in 1790, and extended to the whole field in 1794; meanwhile, in 1794, crosses disappear and various arrangements of the tricolor are used by the army; Napoleon standardizes first in 1804 to a white field chape-chausse of red and blue, and in 1812 to the modern French flag. In 1804 took place the distribution of new flags to the regiments, and it is at that time that the near-religious rituals surrounding regimental flags were adopted.

François Velde



The German flag consists of the colors of the coat of arms (shield) of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation (a.k.a. the First Reich) --a black eagle, with red beak and claws, on a gold field.

The red, at least, doesn't mean anything; it's usual to paint the claws red, unless the beast itself is red or on a red field. The Belgian tricolor has a similar origin: the dukes of Brabant bore a gold lion with red claws and tongue on a black field.

Anton Sherwood

The black-red-gold was not taken from the coat of arms of the Holy Roman Empire of German Nation. That's only a rumour, but admittedly it seems to be logical.

We have only to go back to 1813, into the time of the Liberation War against Napoleon. It was not only a war for independence, but also for German unification, after the breakdown of the Roman Empire in 1806. During the war there was a free corps called "Luetzowsche Jaeger" (Luetzow's riflemen), which soldiers - especially students - became pioneers of the national movement. They wore - by chance - black tunics with red facings. From these colours the first flag of the student movement after the war was inspired: Gules, a fess Sable, an Oak Leaf Or. Shortly afterwards the gold was given an equal rank, to make the flag similar to the French tricolore, a symbol of the revolution and of a new begin. Similar to the tricolore, the flag was then called "Dreifarb" (triple- coloured). But black-red-gold should not only stay as colours of a student movement; it should become the German national colours. Therefore it was necessary to find a good reason for black-red- gold. A clever student from Jena declared, that these were the old imperial colours. All fellows agreed, because by this way the colours were given an acceptable historical background. And if you want, you can make a relation between this flag and the old imperial coat of arms. But this relation is only a happy accident.

(According to: Hans Hattenhauer: "Deutsche Nationalsymbole", Munich 1984)



The stripes were found in a different order in the early (pre- independence) days.

James Dignan

The oldest known reference to the use of the three colours (green, white and orange) as a nationalist emblem dates from September 1830 when tricolour cockades were worn at a meeting held to celebrate the French revolution of that year - a revolution which restored the use of the French tricolour. The colours were also used in the same period for rosettes and badges, and on the banners of trade guilds. There is also one reference to the use of a flag 'striped with orange and green alternately'. However, the earliest attested use of a tricolour flag was in 1848 when it was adopted by the Young Ireland movement under the influence of another French revolution. Speeches made at that time by the Young Ireland leader Thomas Francis Meagher suggest that it was regarded as an innovation and not as the revival of an older flag.

Vincent Morley



The flag is for national, government and military use in land and for government use at sea. For private use at sea there is an ensign similar to the national flag, but carrying a shield on the white strip with the four symbols of the so-called "Sea Republics" (Repubbliche Marinare) of Italian tradition: first quarter Venice (St. Mark's winged lion holding a book), second Genoa (a red-on-white cross), third Amalfi (Maltese white cross on dark blue) and fourth quarter Pisa (peculiar-shaped white cross on red). Navy carries the same flag, but the lion holds a sword instead of a book and the whole shield is crowned. These flags are official since 9th November 1947.

alessio bragadini



Religious symbols make up the flag of the modern State of Israel. The Star of David, its center piece, both leads back to Jewry's glorious past and points to a Messianic future.

The praying shawl, in which the pious Jew wraps himself during worship, suggested the flag's blue and white colors. In the synagogue, those hues reminded the faithful of a pure life and a God-centered existence. Blue, by its association with the sky, immediately suggested Heaven.

There was no difficulty in re-interpreting those colors for a national flag. The white was to be symbolic of the purity of the new life the Jewish people, when returned to their ancient homeland, were meant to lead - a life of social justice, unsullied by arrogant nationalism. The blue was to remind the new citizens, and those whom they chose as leaders, that their country should be based on God's law and be worthy of a people called into existence with one aim in mind - to serve God.

The Israeli flag was designed almost exactly half a century before the establishment of the State. In 1895, Theodor Herzl, Zionism's great dreamer who wrote the blue-print of the new State, already had felt the need for a flag. "We need one," he then wrote. "If we desire to lead men, we must raise a symbol above their heads." He claimed that with a piece of cloth as a banner, even if fixed to a mere broomstick, he would be able to lead the Jewish people back into the Holy Land.

In 1897, the first World Zionist Congress met at Basle. One of the 240 delegates, who came from many countries, was David Wolffsohn. He was responsible for the arrangements and it was he also who designed the first Jewish flag. "Let us take the praying shawl from its bag and unfold it before the eyes of Israel and the eyes of all nations," he said.

When the Conference met, it did so under the sign of the new banner. Quickly this captured the imagination of Jewish people everywhere and came to express their aspirations to return to the Holy Land.

When during World War II, in 1944, Nazi armies threatened the Middle East, a Jewish fighting force was created in Palestine as part of the British army. On the occasion, Winston Churchill suggested consulting the king, as "I cannot conceive that this martyred race, scattered about the world and suffering as no other race has done at this juncture, should be denied the satisfaction of having a flag."

Two months later, Churchill was able to announce to the British Parliament the formation of the Jewish Brigade Group. With it, for the first time in history, the Jewish flag gained official recognition.

When the State of Israel was born in 1948, as everyone had expected, the Zionist banner was proclaimed Israel's official flag



Russia's white-blue-red flag was influenced by that of the Netherlands, a country visited by Peter the Great in 1699 when he wished to learn about ship building. Originally the civil ensign, the tricolour was officially recognized for use on land on 7 May 1883. Under the Bolsheviks, the flag was suppressed. It began to re- surface in 1990, and was officially adopted as the state flag on 21 August 1991, three days after the hardline attempted coup against (USSR) President Gorbac^ëv. A day later, Russian President Boris Elcin waved the flag from on top of a tank as the coup collapsed. An enormous white-blue-red cloth was paraded through the streets of Moscow and the flag was raised over the building of the Russian Supreme Soviet. On 25 December, it was also hoisted over the Kremlin. The next day, 26 December 1991, the formal legal termination of the USSR and its symbols took place.

stuart notholt

The white-blue-red is based on the coat of arms of the duchy of Moscow, which is red with Saint George, wearing white armor and a blue cape, riding a white horse, holding a blue shield, defeating the dragon.

anton sherwood

The rider is said to be St. George from 1730. The dominant colors are in effect red, blue and white. The white-blue-red flag was used till the fall of Kerenski's government, in November 1917. The same happened to the two-headed eagle, without the imperial crown.

giuseppe bottasini



In El Popola Cinio 2184 (an esperanto magazine published by the Chinese Government for abroad propaganda), I found an article about the national emblems. The text is quite bombastic and even politically biased, but nonetheless quite useful:

The red color is said to symbolize revolution and the five stars (four smaller pointing to the larger) the "great unity of the chinese people under the guidance of the C.C.P."; the yellow symbolizes "light on the red background". No reference to any of the two explanations for the stars: neither the official (peasantery, proletariate, army and "progressive capitalists" -- under C.C.P.) nor the alleged (tibetans, uyghurs, mongols and manchus under the Han chinese)... An interesting sentence states that "The modest and majestic yellow not only harmonizes itself with the red, but also symbolizes the yellow race of the chinese nation".

antonio martins