The Origins Of National Flags – Flags Explained


You’re on the podium. The whole world is watching as you are presented your medal and your national anthem starts to play. Also, your country’s flag – the nation whose
colours you represent, whose pride you embody… Is being flown in honour of your achievement. Why? Why a flag? Why not a sign with your country’s name
on it? Or a stick with some animal on top? Let’s look at the origins of national flags. National flags do not have a fixed point in
time when someone, now famous, invented them. They came about, evolving from earlier ideas. It’s most likely that flags, as we know
them, developed from the military standard. Standards probably originated in Ancient Egypt
about 3,000 years ago… …and were – amongst others – used by the
Roman Empire as part of their large armies. Roman armies had various standards, such as
the signum, the aquila,… …And the vexillum – which is where we got
the word vexillology from… …The study of flags. The vexillum was a square piece of woven fabric,
hanging from a crossbar, carried on a pole. The loss of any standard was considered an
embarrassment, the aquila, especially. Flags recognised as such, and not as banners,
probably originated in Asia,… …either India or China. It is mentioned that the founder of the Zhou
dynasty had a white flag carried before him. Chinese flags were adorned with a bird, tiger
or dragon. Likewise, as with a military standard, the
fall of a flag meant defeat. In ancient India, flags had similar importance,
being carried on chariots and elephants. …The fall of a flag, here, too, meant defeat
or at least confusion during battle. They were often triangular, with red or green,
and a figure embroidered in gold. National flags as we know them today, were
most likely originated by islamic people: In the Middle Ages called Saracens. As Islam prohibits the use of idolatrous images,
they used greatly simplified flags using black, white, green or red. These early flags found their way to Europe,
where the first national flags were adopted in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. In Europe, flags already existed in many forms,
such as banners, pennons, streamers and of course… …standards. Flags were used for many things. But the idea of a national flag was new and took hold; The Cross of Saint George being adopted as
England’s flag, in the 13th century, … …being a famous example. Later combining it with the Cross of Saint
Andrew, and the Cross of Saint Patrick,… …to form the Union Flag. Kings, countries, organisations, cities, guilds
all started to adopt flags. From this point on national flags increasingly
became part of nations’ identities. Some flags were based on heraldry, on religious
symbolism or something else entirely. The red-white-and-blue Dutch flag became synonymous
with liberty and republican government,… …due to its long war for independence from Spain. France adopted the same colours following
the French Revolution. Other countries would also adopt the three
colours to express equal principles. The Soviet Union flew a red flag with hammer
and sickle, solidifying the colour’s association… …with communism. Than there are the flags of predominantly
Muslim countries, using mostly traditional colours. And there are more families of flags. We’ll cover these and other types of flags
in future episodes. Thanks to my supporters on Patreon, who help
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