History of Flags


Flags first developed on the battlefield, with symbols being painted on shields so that opposing sides could identify friend or foe. Leaders began carrying poles with symbols on so that in the heat of battle their side could see where they were. These evolved to having a piece of fabric tied to them and the flag was born. A metal depiction of a flag was recovered in Iran that dates from 3000BC and it is believed they were in use at least 1000 years before that. The Romans are the earliest recorded fabric flag users, fastening them to their spears.

The word "Flag" is believed to be derived from the old Saxon word "fflaken" which means to "float in the air". The symbols the Knights used for identification were sometimes used to adorn suits of armour too and hence the "Coat of Arms" came in being.

The flag of Denmark is accredited with being the national flag with the longest continuous use. It is based on the cross of Christianity and legend has it that the original fell from the sky during a battle in 1219 and was adopted by the King. It became so famous it was adopted by many Scandinavian countries and even the Shetland and Orkney islands until they all developed their own. Flags at this time were rarely about nationality, more about bloodlines, cities or religious beliefs.

The flag of the Netherlands is the oldest known 'Tricolour' or three colour flag. The area was known for producing cloth in red, white and also blue. Maps used to delineate this region using those colours and they were eventually adopted officially into a flag.

With the rise of shipping, flags became important communication devices and new regions, city states and nations created their flags for use at sea. The Union Flag of the United Kingdom was originally a naval flag, it's nickname "Union Jack" deriving from its use on the 'Jackstaff' of Naval Warships.

The use of a flag as a national symbol rather than a naval communication is a relatively modern occurrence, with many citing the French and American revolutions as a significant influence. Today they are even adopted by commercial businesses that trade across international borders, ironically mimicking the maritime use that saw flags boom.