History of World Flags

The flags are considered to be one of the most common and identifiable objects in human civilization. Learning about the history of world flags can certainly prove beneficial to make the best use of them.

Among the few things that remained a part and parcel of the evolution of human civilization for hundreds of years, flags are one of the most recognizable objects. They are a powerful symbol that can evoke complex emotional feelings in human minds – patriotism, pride, belongingness, nostalgia, anger, and so on. They are also a good representation of a particular culture, place, and time; offering a plethora of usage opportunities in both commercial and social spheres. All the nations in the world have a banner of their own, along with many different militaries and civil organizations – small or large.

So, today, let’s find out the origin and the history of world flags below, along with the ways you can use them.


Origin of Flags

Historians agree that it’s the military that originated the flag to identify the friends and the foes. On the battlefield, they have also been used as a signaling object to declare war, peace, and surrender. Since the beginning of the 17th century, sailors also started using banderoles as a means of identification; their importance is shown by some incidents occurred at sea, as the well-known USS Panay incident, when the American gunboat Panay was attacked by the Japanese, who claimed that they did not see the US flag painted on the deck of the Panay.

While the Dannebrog of Denmark is the oldest national flag that has been in use for some 700 years, it wasn’t until the beginning of the 18th century that the majority of European nations started to adopt a national banner of their own. The Union Jack, identifying the United Kingdom, however, originated before that, back in 1603. Today, almost all nations, states, military forces, as well as different political and social organizations like the United Nations have a flag of their own.

Common colors and symbols in Flags

Many of the national banderoles share a common symbolism about their colors.

A color that is oftentimes used in national banners is red: it usually evokes the blood spilled by the militaries, patriots, and common people of that nation during wars or revolutions, as in the flags of Italy and Cuba. Red, along with some widely recognizable symbols, is also present on the banners of nations that became independent under a communist government, such as Angola and Vietnam.

White can symbolize peace in general (as for Lebanon), or the harmony between two people or two religions, as in the flags of India (green for Muslims, light orange for Hindu) and Ireland (green for Catholics, orange for Protestants).

Many banners show colors that recall the natural elements that are typical of the territory of a particular nation. The flag of Brazil has a blue circle representing its sky and a green rectangle that is a symbol for the Amazon rainforest. Also, Finland has the color blue on its streamer, representing its sky and its many lakes, while white, the other color on the banderole, recalls the snow that covers its land for many months during the year. As for Jamaica, we have the green of its lush vegetation and the yellow of the sun.

Process and Protocols of Flags

The basic design of a national banner is often mentioned in the constitution of a nation, with a separate law usually describing the detailed proportion and the protocols of each of the flags. Therefore, any changes in design need to be passed by the legislative or the executive bodies of a nation.

The protocols of each of the national streamers are usually anointed in great detail, with many guiding principles for the appropriate use and display of it. In general, the flag must be displayed in a position of honor, with the national one getting the upper hand if flown with any other.  For these reasons, the height of the flagpole chosen must be tall enough to display all necessary flags that are needed. For more information, you can check
In many laws, there are some punishments and fines for the failure to maintain the protocols.

Some diplomatic incidents have occurred because of flags. At the 2012 Olympic Games in London, the North Korean female football team refused to play the match against Colombia, because the flag shown on the big screen was not the North Korean one, but that of its neighboring country South Korea; at the 2016 Olympic Games, the national banners of China that were displayed during the awards ceremony had the smaller stars aligned in the wrong way, causing a negative reaction by the Asian nation.
But incidents can occur even inside of a nation, as in France: in 2018, during the traditional ceremonies for July 14th, one of the PAF airplanes activated the wrong smoke device, producing a red stripe instead of the right blue one.

Nowadays, it is the technology that can hide diplomatic snares: in 2019 Michael Richard Pence, Vice President of USA, wrote a tweet to thank the President of Ireland (whose flag is green, white and orange) for his warm welcome but put the flag of Côte d’Ivoire instead (which is orange, white and green). Even Google must always watch its step: in 2015, on the occasion of a national festivity of Italy, Google homepage was decorated with the colors of the Italian Tricolor, but put horizontally, resulting in more similar to the Hungarian flag.

Usage of World Flags

There are many different usages of flags, both on land and at sea; with different protocols dictating its use in civil, state, and military purposes. The general masses are also allowed to display the national banner, albeit by following the appropriate procedure. The general usage includes sports, celebrations, solidarity with others, social and commercial events, trade fairs, etc. Flags are also used in many international events to identify the representatives of different nations. For more information, please visit