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    World Flags
    Flag (source: Encyclopedia Britannica 1911 Edition)

    FLAG is a piece of bunting or similar material, admitting of various shapes and colours, and waved in the wind from a staff or cord for use in display as a standard, ensign or signal. The word may simply be derived onomatopoeically, or transferred from the botanical " flag "; or an original meaning of " a piece of cloth " may be connected • with the 12th-century English "flage,"meaning a baby's garment; the verb " to flag," i.e. droop, may have originated in the idea of a pendulous piece of bunting, or may be connected with the O. Fr. flaguir, to become flaccid. It is probable that almost as soon as men began to collect together for common purposes some ki:'d of conspicuous object was used, as the symbol of the common sentiment, for the rallying point of the common force. In military expeditions, where any degree of organization and discipline prevailed, objects of such a kind would be necessary to mark out the lines and stations of encampment, and to keep in order the different bands when marching or in battle. In addition, it cannot be doubted that flags or their equivalents have often served, by reminding men of past resolves, past deeds and past heroes, to arouse to enthusiasm those sentiments of esprit de corps, of family pride and honour, of personal devotion, patriotism or religion, upon which, as well as upon good leader-ship, discipline and numerical force, success in warfare depends. History.—Among the remains of the people which has left the earliest traces of civilization, the records of the forms of objects used as ensigns are frequently to be found. From their carvings and paintings, supplemented by ancient writers, it appears that several companies of the Egyptian army had their own particular standards. These were formed of such objects as, there is reason to believe, were associated in the minds of the men with feelings of awe and devotion. Sacred animals, boats, emblems or figures, a tablet bearing a king's name, fan and feather-shaped symbols, were raised on the end of a staff as standards, and the office of bearing them was looked upon as one of peculiar privilege and honour (fig. 1). Somewhat similar seem to have been the customs of the Assyrians and Jews. Among the sculptures unearthed by Layard and others at Nineveh, only two different designs have been noticed for standards: one is of a figure drawing a bow and standing on a running bull, the other of two bulls running in opposite directions (fig. 2). These may resemble the emblems of war and peace which were attached to the yoke of Darius's chariot. They are borne upon and attached to chariots; and this method of bearing such objects was the custom also of the Persians, and prevailed during the middle ages. That the custom survived to a comparatively modern period is proved from the fact that the " Guns," which are the " standards " of the artillery, have from time immemorial been entitled to all the parade honours prescribed by the usages of war for the flag, that is, the symbol of authority. In days comparatively recent there was a " flag gun," usually the heaviest piece, which emblemized authority and served also as the " gun of direction " in the few concerted movements then attempted. No representations of Egyptian or Assyrian naval standards have been found, but the sails of ships were embroidered and ornamented with devices, another custom which survived into the middle ages. In both Egyptian and Assyrian examples, the staff bearing the' emblem is frequently ornamented immediately below with flag-like streamers. Rabbinical writers have assigned the different devices of the different Jewish tribes, but the authenticity of their testimony is extremely doubtful. Banners, standards and ensigns are frequently mentioned in the Bible. " Every man of the children of Israel shall pitch by his standard, with the ensign of their father's house " (Num. ii. 2). " Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, terrible as an army with banners?" (Cant. vi. ro. See also Num. ii. 10, x. 14; Ps. xx. 5, lx. 4; Cant. ii. 4; Is. V. 26, X. 18, lix. 19; Jer. iv. 21). The Persians bore an eagle fixed to the end of a lance, and the sun, as their divinity, was also represented upon their standards, which appear to have been formed of some kind of textile, and were guarded with the greatest jealousy by the bravest men of the army. The Carian soldier who slew Cyrus, the brother of Artaxerxes, was allowed the honour of carrying a golden cock at the head of the army, it being the custom of the Carians to wear that bird as a crest on their helmets. The North American Indian-s carried poles fledged with feathers from the wings of eagles, and similar customs seem to have prevailed among other semi-savage peoples. The Greeks bore a piece of armour upon a spear in early times; afterwards the several cities bore sacred emblems or letters chosen for their particular associations—the Athenians the olive and the owl, the Corinthians a pegasus, the Thebans a sphinx, in memory of Oedipus, the Messenians their initial M, and the Lacedaemonians A. A purple dress was placed on the end of a spear as the signal to advance. The Dacians carried a standard representing a contorted serpent, while the dragon was the military sign of many peoples—of the Chinese, Dacians and Parthians among others—and was probably first used by the Romans as the ensign of barbarian auxiliaries (see fig. 3). wY The question of the signs militaria of the Romans is a wide and very important one, having direct bearing on the history of heraldry, and on the origin of national, family and personal devices. With them the custom was reduced to system. " Each century, or at least each maniple," says Meyrick, " had its proper standard and standard-bearer." In the early days of the republic a handful of hay was borne on a pole, whence probably came the name manipulus (Lat. manus, a hand). The forms of standards in later times were very various; sometimes a cross piece of wood was placed at the end of a spear and surmounted by the figure of a hand in silver, below round or oval discs, with figures of Mars or Minerva, or in later times portraits of emperors or eminent generals (fig. 3). Figures of animals, as the wolf, horse, bear and others, were borne, and it was not till a later period that the eagle became the special standard of the legion. According to Pliny, it was Gaius Marius who, in his second consulship, ordained that the Roman legions should only have the eagle for their standard; " for before that time the eagle marched foremost with four others—wolves, minotaurs, horses and bears—each one in its proper order. Not many years passed before the eagle alone began to be advanced in battle, and the rest were left behind in the camp. But Marius rejected them altogether, and since this it is observed that scarcely is there a camp of a legion wintered at any time without having a pair of eagles." The vexillum, which was the cavalry flag, is described by Livy as a square piece of cloth fastened to a piece of wood fixed crosswise to the end of a spear, somewhat resembling the medieval gonfalon. Examples of these vexilla are to be seen on various Roman coins and medals, on the sculptured columns of Trajan and Antoninus, and on the arch of Titus. The labarum, which was the imperial standard of later emperors, resembled in shape and fixing the vexillum. It was of purple silk richly embroidered with gold, and sometimes was not suspended as the vexillum from a horizontal crossbar, but displayed as our modern flags, that is to say, by the attachment of one of its sides to a staff. After Constantine, the labarum bore the monogram of Christ (fig. 5, A). It is supposed that the small scarf, which in medievaldays was often attached to the pastoral staff or crook of a bishop, was derived from the labarum of the first Christian emperor, Constantine the' Great. The Roman standards were guarded with religious veneration in the temples at Rome; and the reverence of this people for their ensigns was in proportion to their superiority to other nations in all that tends to success in war. It was not unusual for a general to order a standard to be cast into the ranks of the enemy, to add zeal to the onset of his soldiers by exciting them to recover what to them was perhaps the most sacred thing the earth possessed. The Roman soldier swore by his ensign. Although in earlier times drapery was occasionally used for standards, and was often appended as ornament to those of other material, it was probably not until the middle ages that it became the special material of military and other ensigns; and perhaps not until the practice of heraldry had attained to definite nomenclature and laws does anything appear which is in the modern sense a flag. Early flags were almost purely of a religious character. In Bede's description of the interview between the heathen king lEthelberht and the Roman missionary Augustine, the followers of the latter are said to have borne banners on which silver crosses were displayed. The national banner of England for centuries—the red cross of St George—was a religious one; in fact the aid of religion seems ever to have been sought to give sanctity to national flags, and the origin of many can be traced to a sacred banner, as is notably the case with the oriflamme of France and the Dannebrog of Denmark. Of the latter the legend runs that King Waldemar of Denmark, leading his troops to battle against the enemy in 1219, saw at a critical moment a cross in the sky. This was at once taken as an answer to his prayers, and an assurance of celestial aid. It was forthwith adopted as the Danish flag and called the " Dannebrog," i.e. the strength of Denmark. Apart from all legend, this flag undoubtedly dates from the 13th century, and the Danish flag is therefore the oldest now in existence. The ancient kings of France bore the blue hood of St Martin upon their standards. The Chape de St Martin was originally in the keeping of the monks of the abbey of Marmoutier, and the right to take this blue flag into battle with them was claimed by the counts of Anjou. Clovis bore this banner against Alaric in 507, for victory was promised him by a verse of the Psalms which the choir were chanting when his envoy entered the church of St Martin at Tours.