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Current and historical flags and banners
The Flag and State Encyclopedia
The English portal of www.flaggenlexikon.de
The Flag and State
Encyclopedia is a comprehensive database of approximately 3.500
flags, which provides information about
nations, colonies and old states
and their related flags. It also provides information about the
geography, history, and
coats of arms. An alphabetical list is provided but there
is also a semiotic search engine – The
Flag-Finder – which
enables the user to search flags by their geometric features and also
find, assign and identify them.
Flags and banners of the whole world
This site shows current and historical flags and
banners from all of the officially recognized countries of the
world. It also includes current and former nations and states, merchant,
navy, head of state, secessionist regions, provincial, flags of subordinated
territories, provinces and many more.
From the crest banner
to the national flag
National flags, as we know them today, typically represent regional or
national populations, only came into being in the wake of the
Bourgeois revolutions. Previously, flags were Dynastic, representative
of Rulers. They were mostly in the form of Crest Banners. The dynastic flags
of these Rulers were often superseded by the national flags that are today
states. The handling of these flags is often determined by strict rules.
Of special importance are flags and pennants in a maritime setting.
From Heraldry to Vexillology
The (semi-)science, which is dealt with flags is called
vexillology. It has evolved out of the
heraldry. Many terms that describe a flag, have their root
actually in heraldry. The term 'vexillology' derives from the Latin word for
banner, from 'vexillum'.
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To classify correctly the results of the ascertainment of
the flag, some terms should be cleared before:
A banner is a
or a bunting bearing a symbol.
Banner of Arms:
A banner of arms is a flag whose design is the same as in
the shield of a coat of arms.
A bicolour is a flag with two equally wide, vertical or
horizontal stripes, in different colours.
Coat of Arms:
The coat of arms is the heraldic emblem of a state. Its use
is usually restricted and only allowed for government departments,
authorities and agencies.
A cockade is a colored
badge, specially for caps of soldiers and officers. A cockade displays -
mostly designed in concentric circles - the state or national colors. It is
not a state emblem in the real sense, but it denotes the bearer of the
cockade as acting in sovereign interests. For soldiers applies: the
cockade denotes the soldier as a regular combatant. A combatant is
a for fight with weapons authorized person, following international laws.
For these persons apply in the event of capture the regulation of the 3rd
Geneva Convention from 12th of August in 1949 for the handling of prisoners
of war. In previous civil wars sometimes large cockades were worn on
civilian clothes of the fighters to allow the recognition as friend or foe.
In the 17th century (Thirty Years' War, English Civil War, Northern War, conflicts in North America) a so-called "war entrepreneur" recruited serviceable soldiers for his regiment, what he ran like a commercial company and it was mostly commanded by himself, with the rank of a colonel, of course on behalf of a sovereign. Each regiment was assigned a specific colour, which its flags also had to show. Initially that could be up to 14 flags, from the middle of the 17th century that number was reduced to 4 flags per regiment. Due to the very linear order of battle, each company of a regiment aligned itself with its own flag on that company which was personally subordinated to the colonel. That one company used the unadorned colonel-flag, shown only in the regimental colour. The flags of the subordinated companies, which were also commanded by lower ranks, usually displayed an emblem in the upper left corner. In addition, the flag showed symbols such as discs, "flames" or the like this. The number of it could also show the ranks of the following company commanders, e.g. lieutenant colonel, major down to the captains. Standing, uniformed armies were formed towards the end of the 17th century. Their regiments were all recruited by "noble gentlemen of the state", who naturally wanted to show their personal coat of arms, symbols or badges on "their" colonel-flag, and they did so. Around the middle of the 18th century, the flags used by a regiment were standardized, on instructions of the respective monarchs. So there were mostly two flags, namely the body flag (royal or ducal etc.) and the regimental flag, that flag, which corresponded to the badge-colour of the regiment.
(Source: Jürgen Kaltschmitt)
The Landesfarben (colours of the country)
display the heraldic colors of a country, so those colours which can be
derived from the colors of the coat of arms or of the flag. But they are not
a national symbol. It is allowed to use the Landesfarben – even designed as
a flag - for decorative purposes by anyone, if nothing other is specified by
the law. If the Landesfarben were designed as a flag, is it often not
allowed to show them with a coat of arms, crest or something like that,
because they could be seen as a symbol of authorities.The Landesfarben
appear very often the design as national flags. Furthermore Landesfarben are
only used, if a use as a national flag is not possible, just because of the
lack of a nation. That is common, for example, in the today’s and old German
or Austrian states, countries, that have their own jurisdiction – marked by
their own flags – but they represent no nation.
The so-called colours (Landesfarben) are a relatively new phenomenon,
especially in the German inland countries. They arised in the course of the
French Revolution and especially during the following wars of liberation, as
it was necessary, to be able to recognize, the belonging to political
coalitions or military units. This has been implemented mainly by cockades.
Their design and color scheme, e.g. the sequence, was not regulated, because
it was not so important, but at least, the colours were used. Flags in the
colours played initially nearly no role, rather more sumptuous regimental
flags and so on, but also personal banners. Other colors, for example, on
uniforms, as saber-tassels, fourageres, or as pennants on lances have been
important, but they were necessary to distinguish better the regiments of a
brigade or of an army. If the introduce of the colours had not been laid
down in a special regulation, remain only hints to their forming and
implementation, maybe a color-change in the sealing-cords of authorities,
but not to forget, that subordinated authorities were supplied later, or
they exhausted old stocks. Not until cockades, sealing-cords and
medal-ribbons appeared in the same colour, could it be called a complete
introduction of the colors.
Dipping is called the flag salute in the maritime domain.
For that, the flag is hauled down to half the height of the flagpole or flag
stick, and raised again to full height.
As emblems are called all symbols of national sovereignty.
Their shape, design and use is regulated by the respective states and
authorities in quite different laws. Emblems are: the coat of arms or seal
of a state, the official flag (state flag), the national flag, the merchant
flag, the naval flag or ensign and all official flags of
state authorities. Even cockades on caps or nationality marks of armored
combat vehicles and fighter planes belong to them.
The word ensign is of English origin and means a flag or a
banner. Furthermore, it is used as a military rank of a lieutenant at sea.
Originally, the term was used for an standard-bearer. In the today's world
of flags is an Ensign a special flag that was used and is used in the area
of the British Empire. The Ensign was developed, by use of a single coloured
bunting, and place of another flag into the upper corner (upper staff
quadrant). Although ensigns were used since the 17th century, Great Britain
introduced the ensign flag system officially not until 1864. That means,
that it became officially valid and was subjected to a strict set of rules.
In this way warships had to use since 1864 a so-called "White Ensign", a
white flag (frequently with an uninterrupted red cross on it) with the
British Union Jack in the upper corner. In the non-English-speaking world is
such a flag called as naval flag. Other vessels of the government had to use
a "Blue Ensign" since 1864, a blue flag with the British Union Jack in the
upper corner. The "Blue Ensign" is in this way, even ashore, known as a flag
of the government or administrative departments. In the non-English-speaking
world is such a flag called as state flag. Merchant ships had to use since
1864 "Red Ensign", that is a red flag with the British Union Jack in the
upper corner. In the area of the former British Empire can individuals use
such a flag at sea, in the colonies only when a permit was granted for that
colony by the British Admiralty. In this way some colonies had and have no
"Red Ensign". The "Red Ensign" is in the English-speaking world also called
"Civil Ensign", a so-called "Citizens Flag", a further indication that
individuals may use such a flag at sea. In the non-English-speaking
countries the "Red Ensign" is often called as merchant flag (not quite
right). Since 1865 ships of colonial governments could use a "Blue Ensign"
with an own badge in the flying end, for distinction. The respective
governments should provide own Badges for that. The provisions of the Ensign
system are still relevant in Great Britain and its colonies. But they have
also been preserved in many former British colonies, and some of the now
independent states have even retained the British Union Jack in the upper
corner (eg. Australia, New Zealand), or they use variations in the colour
hue of the "Blue Ensign", eg. pale blue, as a sign of their independence
(eg. Fiji, or the former Southern Rhodesia). Most of the former British
colonies replaced the British Union Jack in the upper corner by their own
national flag, and /or the use of the Red Ensign is limited to merchant
ships (eg. India, Pakistan), or they completely strayed from the use of the
Ensign flag system.
A flag is a bunting with a distinctive design, which is used
as a symbol, as a signaling device, or for decoration.
The flying end is this side of the flag, facing away from
see: mourning flagging
The jack (or naval jack) is the bow flag of
warships. It is therefore hoisted on the front of a ship. Further, it may be
identical to the naval or war flag, or it is an especially for this purpose
designed flag. In some countries, a jack is common for merchantmen. The
naval jack is hoisted when the ship is anchored in the harbor. The use of
the jack itself comes from the "Geuzen", the Dutch freedom fighters of the
16th century. The Geuzen used first a jack in the modern sense, because it
seemed that the main flag of their ships was shot away during a sea battle
with the Spanish fleet. Thus, the replacement was already planned.
As leech is called the to the flagpole facing side of a
flag. Often is meant with that the white hem of the flag in which the line
A merchant flag is a flag for the merchant ships of a state,
that often resembles the state or national flag. The right for the use of
the merchant flag is awarded by the flag certificate of that State in which
the vessel is registered, and it must be used by every in the register of
merchant ships registered ship. Thus the merchant flag can only be used by
vessels that are not warships, governmental or auxiliary vessels or yachts.
The peculiarity is here, that a ship is not an extraterritorial area, and it
belongs as a merchant vessel to a private owner and it does not represent a
state itself. Thus, the use of a national or even a state flag is usually
prohibited. The merchant flag was once created, to give individuals the
necessary possibility to express their nationality at sea. The announcement
of the nationality is particularly necessary at the arrival and departure of
ships in harbors. In the English-speaking world the merchant flag is called
"Civil Ensign", but this has furthermore some special features in the use
Half-mast is a gesture of mourning. For that is the flag,
it up, to set back on half-mast or half-pole. If this is not possible, the
flag will be added at the top (at the leech) with a black ribbon.
The national flag is an emblem of a state. Some states allow
it use by its citizens, without limitation, others allow it only on some
national and international holidays and memorial days. In some states is the
use of the national flag reserved for state departments and authorities. The
use of the national flag by seagoing private vessels, boats and yachts, what
means private marine vessels, which may leave the territorial waters, is
specifically regulated by the respective states. Thus, often only the
national flag should be displayed here, when it is allowed by the
government. Sometimes - not quite right - the national flag is also called
as state flag.
The naval flag is the official flag of the
battle ships and boats of the naval forces of a state. The
for the naval forces operating auxiliary vessels use in many states a
An official flag is the reserved for use by government or
departments. It is often called as state flag.
look: state flag, look: naval official flag
Official Flag at Sea:
The official flag at sea is reserved for
ships, vehicles and buildings of the state’s maritime authorities. Sometimes
there exist separate flags for high seas and inland waters.
As pennant is called a triangular flag.
The postal flag is a special flag. In the times in which the activities of the postal and mail services had beren one of the sovereign tasks of a country, the postal flag was a flag, which was often similar to the national flag. On land it marked at least the location of a post office and higher offices. At sea it marked mail ships, sometimes carried as jack (bow flag). On merchant ships, it could show whether there was mail on board. Most postal systems are now privatized worldwide, so that it is no longer a sovereign task, but a commercial venture that is no longer marked by a special flag. In addition, the most frequented mail route today is air freight. For the reasons mentioned above, you will hardly come across the postal flag in the seafaring at sea nowadays.
A rank flag is the flag of the commander of a warship or of
the commander of a military naval unit. The rank flag is set on the mast of
the ship on which the commander resides. As a rank flag is also called a
flag, whose use is reserved for military commanders. e.g. flag for admirals
A standard is actually a square flag. It came originally
from flags of mounted troops, but is since the beginning of the 19th century
in many countries a rank flag of heads of state and princes.
The state flag is the national emblem of a state, whose use
is exclusively reserved for government departments (the so-called official
flag). In some states ships in the civil service use also the state
flag, other states have special flags for this purpose (see
official flag at sea). In some countries has the state flag the same
appearance like the national flag.
A swallowtail-flag is a flag whose flying end is triangular
cut. Swallowtails are a specific design of military and official flags,
especially of commandsigns and insignias. A special form of the swallowtails
shows in the middle of the incision a "tongue".
A tricolour is a flag with three equally wide, vertical or
horizontal stripes, in three different colours.
When James I. (1567-1625), King of Scotland from 1567,
united the crowns of Scotland and England in personal union after the death
of Queen Elizabeth I. in 1603, a new flag was created for this kingship,
which united the flags of England and Scotland. The flag of England is white
with a to the edge reaching red cross in the center (St. George's Cross) and
the flag of Scotland is dark blue with a with a to the edge reaching white
diagonal cross in the middle (St. Andrew's Cross). These two symbols were
effectively combined. This flag was called "Union Jack" at least since 1633.
This name is probably derived from the short form of the name of King James
I. (= Jack). In 1541, the English King Henry VIII. became King of Ireland
too, and from 1649 the Heraldry of Ireland was incorporated in the Union
Jack, initially with the harp crest, from 1801 with the diagonal red cross
of Saint Patrick. Thus, the current national flag of Great Britain came into
being, which has retained the name "Union Jack" until today.
As upper corner (upper staff quadrant) is called the from
the general design often differing top corner at the leech.
As war flag is often called the naval flag,
what means the official flag of combat ships and boats of the naval forces
of a state. The war flag can also be a single flag that is used by all
branches of the armed forces, like Navy,
Army and Air Force.