INTRO OF NATIONS FLAGS
National Flags, flags distinctively designed to serve as the emblems of independent countries. The design and colors of a national flag are drawn from the nation’s cultural history, and can reflect its political, historical, religious, or ethnic ties. See also Flag (symbol).
SYMBOLS, COLORS, AND DESIGNS
Many national flags were originally established to represent a king or a dynasty. On some flags the design is a plain or simple background with a significant central emblem: for example, the eagle of Albania, the dragon of Bhutan, the sun of Japan, or the sun and moon of Nepal. Modern flags that follow a similar pattern include those of Bangladesh, Cambodia, Canada, Israel, Lebanon, Mongolia, Morocco, Palau, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, and Vietnam. Religious symbols are also common. They include the crescent and star of Islam (used on the flags of Algeria, Azerbaijan, Mauritania, Pakistan, and Turkey, among others), religious inscriptions (found on the flags of Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia), and the equal-armed Greek cross (used on the flags of Greece, Switzerland, and Tonga).
The flags of many countries incorporate historic colors. These simple two- or three-striped flags, sometimes with a coat of arms, include those of Armenia, Austria, Ethiopia, Latvia, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Spain, and Ukraine. The flags of many Arab nations incorporate some or all of four colors (white, black, green, and red) representing traditional Arab dynasties. These include the flags of Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Oman, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
Other flags likewise belong to design groupings. For example, the Crusaders of the Middle Ages used crosses on their clothing for identification, each nationality selecting distinctive colors. In many cases these designs were later made into flags. All the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden) use an off-center cross against a plain background. The Union Jack, the flag of the United Kingdom, evolved from several different cross-based flags. In 1707 England’s Cross of Saint George (a red cross on a white field) was combined with Scotland’s Cross of Saint Andrew (a white saltire, or x-shaped cross, on a blue field) to create the first Union Jack. The modern version of the Union Jack was created in 1801 when Ireland’s Cross of Saint Patrick (a red saltire on a white field) was added. Australia, Fiji Islands, New Zealand, and Tuvalu include the Union Jack in their flags. The flags of Australia and New Zealand, along with those of Papua New Guinea and Samoa, also feature the distinctive Southern Cross constellation to indicate the southern geographic locations of their countries.
INFLUENTIAL FLAG DESIGNS
The blue-white-red Tricolor flag of France has proven very influential in flag designs across the globe. Its stark simplicity and bold colors sharply contrasted with the traditional heraldic flags (see Heraldry) of most of the rest of 18th-century Europe. Less than two years after the Tricolor was created in 1794, Italy adopted its own version, with green replacing blue. The Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815) and, later, the revolutions of 1848 led to distinctive tricolors in countries seeking independence or democratic, liberal, constitutional, or secular governments. The flags of Belgium, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Germany, Haiti, Hungary, Ireland, Mexico, Paraguay, Romania, and Thailand all trace their lineage, directly or indirectly, to the Tricolor.
The horizontal red-white-blue tricolor of the Netherlands inspired the white-blue-red flag of Russia. Russia’s tricolor became the basis for the national flags eventually developed in Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Slovenia.
Some Latin American flags are based on the design of the flag of Spain: horizontal stripes plus a coat of arms indicating the authority of the government. Argentina and Uruguay, among the first Spanish colonies to proclaim their independence, chose light blue and white stripes and the Sun of May, a golden sun with a human face. Most of the countries of Central America continued the tradition of blue-white-blue stripes with a coat of arms or other central design.
In northern South America, the liberators Francisco de Miranda and Simón Bolívar created a distinctive yellow-blue-red horizontal tricolor, inspiring the flags of Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela. The stripes represented the gold of the Americas (yellow) separated from bloody Spain (red) by the Atlantic Ocean (blue).
The flag of the United States served as the basis for the flag of Liberia, a country founded by freed American slaves. Other flags influenced by the Stars and Stripes include those of Chile, Cuba, Malaysia, and Panama.
Starting in the mid-20th century, a large number of countries in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and the Pacific were transformed from colonial dependencies to independent states. Many former colonies did not have a traditional national flag to use as the symbol of independence because the territory itself was the creation of colonial powers. Several new African nations therefore based their national flags on symbols, colors, and designs associated with their ruling political parties. These include the flags of Angola, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. In Asia, the flags of India, Laos, Myanmar, and the Philippines, among others, had political origins.
Most former French territories in Africa adopted the Tricolor model, but substituted the pan-African colors green-yellow-red for the French blue-white-red. This was the basis for the flags of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, and Senegal, among others. The Central African Republic honors both the French and the pan-African colors. Several former British and Portuguese territories in Africa adopted the same colors but added black, symbolic of the African people. These include Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, and Mozambique.
Many of the nations established since the mid-20th century adopted flags with designs unlike those of the already independent countries of Europe and the Americas. The number of colors used in flags increased, green and black became more popular, distinctive local symbols and geometric patterns (diagonal stripes, triangles, and disks) were favored, and nonheraldic designs were developed. Two of the world’s newer flags, those of South Africa and East Timor, are good examples of these striking new design types.