Saturday, July 7, 2007

General Heraldry & Vexillography Links

Heraldry on the Internet by James P. Wolf.

Heraldica by François Velde.

Heraldry by Countries by François Velde.

International Civic Heraldry, by Ralf Hartemink.

Baronage Press

Buthlaw's Armorial

Heraldry (Helm's Genealogy Toolbox), by Matthew L. Helm

Armorial Gold Heraldry Services: Heraldry Clipart.

Heraldry Today

H้raldique europ้enne by Arnaud Bunel.

Behind the Shield - the Story of Heraldry a thematic philatelic exhibit by Nahum Shereshevsky.

Rec.Heraldry FAQ

Entente Cordiale for Chivalric and Heraldic Traditions.

Heraldic Clipart links compiled by James P. Wolf.

Heraldry: A Selected List of References (Library of Congress)

European Heraldic Handcrafts

History & Heraldry, by Helen Scott.

Little Heraldry Book, by Tempus Peregrinator.

Family Crest Vintners (personalised wine labels)

Vexillography: the Design of Flags, by Dave Martucci.

Heraldry and Coat of Arms Web Ring.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Maritime Flags

Flags are particularly important at sea, where they can mean the difference between life and death, and consequently where the rules and regulations for the flying of flags are strictly enforced. A national flag flown at sea is known as an ensign. A courteous, peaceable merchant ship or yacht customarily flies its ensign (in the usual ensign position), together with the flag of whatever nation it is currently visiting at the mast (known as a courtesy flag). To fly one's ensign alone in foreign waters, a foreign port or in the face of a foreign warship traditionally indicates a willingness to fight, with cannon, for the right to do so. As of 2006, this custom is still taken seriously by many naval and port authorities and is readily enforced in many parts of the world by boarding, confiscation and other civil penalties.

In some countries yacht ensigns are different from merchant ensigns in order to signal that the yacht is not carrying cargo that requires a customs declaration. Carrying commercial cargo on a boat with a yacht ensign is deemed to be smuggling in many jurisdictions.
There is a system of international maritime signal flags for numerals and letters of the alphabet. Each flag or pennant has a specific meaning when flown individually.

As well, semaphore flags can be used to communicate on an ad hoc basis ship to ship over short distances.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007


A flagpole or flagstaff can be a simple support made of wood or metal. If it is taller than can be easily reached to raise the flag, a cord is used, looping around a pulley at the top of the pole with the ends tied at the bottom. The flag is fixed to one lower end of the cord, and is then raised by pulling on the other end. The cord is then tightened and tied to the pole at the bottom. The pole is usually topped by a flat plate called a "truck" (originally meant to keep a wooden pole from splitting) or by a ball or a finial in a more complex shape.

Very high flagpoles may require more complex support structures than a simple pole, such as guy wires, or need be built as a mast. The highest flagpole in the world, at 160 metres (525 feet), is that at Gijeong-dong in North Korea, the flag weighing about 270 kilograms (600 pounds) when dry. The world's biggest regularly hoisted flag, however, is the Brazilian national flag flown in the Square of the Three Powers in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil. This flag weighs about 600 kilograms (1300 pounds) when dry and measures 70×100 metres (230x330 feet). It can be seen from all parts of Brasilia and its flagpole is the tallest structure in the city.

The tallest free-standing flagpole in the world is the Aqaba Flagpole in Aqaba, Jordan, with a total height of 132 meters (430 feet). The Raghadan Flagpole, also in Jordan, is the second tallest free-standing flagpole in the world. It reaches a height of 126 meters (410 feet) and hoists a flag that measures 60×40 meters (200x130 feet); it is illuminated at night and can be seen from 25 km (16 miles) away.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Principles of flag design

Flag designs exhibit a number of regularities, arising from a variety of practical concerns, historical circumstances, and cultural prescriptions that have shaped and continue to shape their evolution.

First among the practical issues confronting a vexillographer is the necessity for the design to be manufactured (and often mass produced) into or onto a piece of cloth, which will subsequently be hoisted aloft in the outdoors to represent an organization, individual, or idea. In this respect, flag design departs considerably from logo design: whereas logos are predominantly still images to be read off a page, screen, or billboard, flags are alternately draped and fluttering images to be seen from a variety of distances and angles. The prevalence of simple bold colors and shapes in flag design attests to these practical issues.

Flag design is also a historical process in which current designs often refer back to previous designs, effectively quoting, elaborating, or commenting upon them. Families of current flags may derive from a few common ancestors as in the cases of the Pan-African colors, the Pan-Arab colors, the Pan-Slavic colors, and the national flags inspired by the flag of Turkey.

Certain cultures prescribe the proper design of flags, through heraldic or other authoritative systems. In certain cases, prescription may be based on religious principles; see, for example, Islamic flags. As a discipline, vexillology is beginning to promote design principles based on a body of research on flag history and design. Prominent examples are Ted Kaye's five Good Flag Bad Flag principles published and endorsed by the North American Vexillological Association:
Keep It Simple: The flag should be so simple that a child can draw it from memory.

Use Meaningful Symbolism: The flag’s images, colors, or patterns should relate to what it symbolizes.

Use 2–3 Basic Colors: Limit the number of colors on the flag to three, which contrast well and come from the standard color set.

No Lettering or Seals: Never use writing of any kind or an organization’s seal.
Be Distinctive or Be Related: Avoid duplicating other flags, but use similarities to show connections.

Sunday, July 1, 2007


Vexillology is the scholarly study of flags. The term was coined in 1957 by the American scholar Whitney Smith, the author of many books and articles on the subject. It was originally considered a sub-discipline of heraldry, and is still occasionally seen as such. It is also sometimes considered a branch of semiotics. It is formally defined in the FIAV (Fédération internationale des associations vexillologiques) constitution as "the creation and development of a body of knowledge about flags of all types, their forms and functions, and of scientific theories and principles based on that knowledge." A person who studies flags is a vexillologist, and by extension, a person who designs flags is a vexillographer.

The word "vexillology" is a synthesis of the Latin word vexillum and the suffix –ology meaning "study of". The vexillum was a particular type of flag used by Roman legions during the classical era. Unlike most modern flags which are suspended from a pole or mast along a vertical side, the square vexillum was suspended from a horizontal crossbar along its top side, which was attached to a spear.

Vexillologists are active in dozens of national associations under the umbrella of FIAV (Fédération internationale des associations vexillologiques). Every second year, FIAV organizes the International Congress of Vexillology (ICV 2005 was in Buenos Aires, Argentina; ICV 2007 will be in Berlin, Germany. Internet activity of vexillologists is centered on the Flags of the World website and mailing list.

Saturday, June 30, 2007


Graham Bartram, Chief Vexillologist of the Flag Institute, and Secretary-General for Congresses of FIAV

William Crampton, founder of the Flag Institute

Marc Leepson, author of Flag: An American Biography

Michel Lupant, current president of the FIAV

Ottfried Neubecker, most important German vexillologist, author of the German navy Flaggenbuch of 1939

George H. Preble, author in 1872 of the influential, if lore-filled, History of the American Flag

Rudolf Siegel, author of the influential book Die Flagge, published in 1912

Whitney Smith, founder of the Flag Research Center, editor of the Flag Bulletin, and coiner of the word "Vexillology" in 1957

Friday, June 29, 2007

Railway flags

Railways use a number of colored flags. When used as wayside signals they usually use the following meanings (exact meanings are set by the individual railroad company):

red = stop
yellow = proceed with care
green or white or blue = proceed.

A blue flag on the side of a locomotive means that it should not be moved because someone is working on it (or on the train attached to it). A blue flag on a track means that nothing on that track should be moved. The flag can only be removed by the person or group that placed it.
At night, the flags are replaced with lanterns showing the same colors.

Flags displayed on the front of a moving locomotive are an acceptable replacement for classification lights and usually have the following meanings (exact meanings are set by the individual railroad company):

white = extra (not on the timetable)
green = another section following
red = last section

Additionally, a railroad brakeman will typically carry a red flag to make his or her hand signals more visible to the engineer.

Railway signals are a development of railway flags.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Swimming flags

In Australia, New Zealand, Philippines, and the United Kingdom a pair of red/yellow flags is used to mark the limits of the bathing area on a beach, usually guarded by surf lifesavers. If the beach is closed, the poles of the flags are crossed. The flags are colored with a red triangle and a yellow triangle making a rectangular flag, or a red rectangle over a yellow rectangle. On many Australian beaches there is a slight variation with beach condition signalling. A red flag signifies a closed beach (or, in the UK, some other danger), yellow signifies strong current or difficult swimming conditions, and green represents a beach safe for general swimming. Blue flags may also be used away from the yellow-red lifesaver area to designate a zone for surfboarding and other small, non-motorised watercraft.

Reasons for closing the beach include:

no lifeguards in attendance
waves too strong
dangerous rip

A surf flag exists, divided into four quadrants. The top left and bottom right quadrants are black, and the remaining area is white.

Signal flag "India" (a black circle on a yellow square) is frequently used to denote a "blackball" zone where surfboards cannot be used but other water activities are permitted.

Monday, June 25, 2007


Emilio Aguinaldo, designer of the flag of the Philippines

Luis and Sabino Arana, designers of the Ikurriña (the flag of Basque Country, Spain)

Graham Bartram, designer of the flag of Tristan da Cunha and others

Manuel Belgrano, designer of the flag of Argentina

Ron Cobb, designer of the American Ecology Flag

John Eisemann, designer of the flag of the U.S. state of Ohio

Stephen Greeter (fictional), played by a chess piece in the fumetto Terror Island

Robert G. Heft, a designer of the 50-star canton for the American flag

Adolf Hitler, designer of the Reichskriegsflagge and his personal standard of Nazi Germany

Francis Hopkinson, designer (according to some historians) of the American flag
Sharif Hussein, designer of the flag of the Arab Revolt

Lu Hao-tung, designer of the Blue Sky with a White Sun flag of the Republic of China

John McConnell, designer of the Earth flag

Fredrik Meltzer, designer of the flag of Norway

Raimundo Teixeira Mendes, designer of the flag of Brazil

William Porcher Miles, designer of the battle flag of the Confederate States of America

Francisco de Miranda, designer of the flag of Venezuela

Friedensreich Hundertwasser, designer of the Koru Flag among others

Christopher Pratt, designer of the flag of the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador

Betsy Ross, designer (according to legend) of the American flag

Gerard Slevin, former Chief Herald of Ireland reputed to have helped design the flag of the
European Union

Whitney Smith, designer of the flag of Guyana and other flags

George Stanley, designer of the flag of Canada

Robert Watt, designer of the Flag of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Zeng Liansong, designer of the flag of the People's Republic of China

Flags in Sports

Because of their ease of signalling and identification, flags are often used in sports.
In American and Canadian football, referees use flags to indicate an error has been made in game play. The phrase used for such an indication is flag on the play. The flag itself is a small, weighted handkerchief, tossed on the field at the approximate point of the infraction; the intent is usually to sort out the details after the current play from scrimmage has concluded. In American football, the flag is usually yellow; in Canadian football, it is usually red.

In auto and motorcycle racing, racing flags are used to communicate with drivers. Most famously, a checkered flag of black and white indicates the end of the race, and victory for the leader. A yellow flag is used to indicate caution requiring slow speed and a red flag requires racers to stop immediately. A black flag is used to indicate penalties.

In Association football (soccer), linesmen carry small flags along the touch lines. They use the flags to indicate to the referee potential infringements of the laws, or who is entitled to possession of the ball that has gone out of the field of play, or, most famously, raise the flag overhead to indicate an offside offence. Officials called touch judges use flags for similar purposes in both codes of rugby.

In addition, fans of almost all sports wave flags in the stands to indicate their support for the participants. Many sports teams have their own flags, and, in individual sports, fans will indicate their support for a player by waving the flag of his or her home country.

In Gaelic football and Hurling a green flag is use to indictate a goal while a white flag is used to indicate a point

In Australian rules football, the goal umpire will wave two flags to indicate a goal and a single flag to indicate a point.

For safety, dive flags indicate the locations of underwater scuba divers.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Religious flags

Flags can play many different roles in religion. In Buddhism, prayer flags are used, usually in sets of of five differently colored flags. Many national flags and other flags include religious symbols such as the cross, the crescent, or a reference to a patron saint. Flags are also adopted by religious groups, and flags such as the Jain flag are used to represent a whole religion.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Shape and Design

Flags are usually rectangular in shape (often in the ratio 2:3 or 3:5), but may be of any shape or size that is practical for flying, including square, triangular, or swallowtailed. A more unusual flag shape is that of the flag of Nepal, which is in the shape of two stacked triangles.

Many flag merchants prey on unwary buyers by offering incorrect flags, such as with the wrong proportions, crudely drawn, or one-sided. Some reference materials alter the flag proportions so they look uniform, such as decades of editions of the annual World Almanac and Book of Facts.
Many flags are dyed through and through to be inexpensive to manufacture, such that the reverse side is the mirror image of the obverse (front) side. This presents two possibilities:
If the design is symmetrical in an axis parallel to the flag pole, obverse and reverse will be identical despite the mirror-reversal.

If not, the obverse and reverse will present two variants of the same design, one with the hoist on the left, the other with the hoist on the right. This is very common and usually not disturbing if there is no text in the design.

Some complex flag designs are not intended for through and through implementation, requiring separate obverse and reverse sides if made correctly. In these cases there is a design element (usually text) which is not symmetric and should be read in the same direction, regardless of whether the hoist is to the viewer's left or right. These cases can be divided into two types:
The same (asymmetric) design may be duplicated on both sides. Such flags can be manufactured by creating two identical through and through flags and then sewing them back to back, though this can affect the resulting combination's responsiveness to the wind. Depictions of such flags may be marked with the symbol , indicating the reverse is congruent to (rather than a mirror image of) the obverse.

Rarely, the reverse design may differ, in whole or in part, from that of the obverse. Examples are the national flag of Paraguay, the flag of the U.S. state of Oregon, and the historical national flag of the Soviet Union. Depictions of such flags may be marked with the symbol .

Common designs on flags include crosses, stripes, and divisions of the surface, or field, into bands or quarters — patterns and principles mainly derived from heraldry. A heraldic coat of arms may also be flown as a banner of arms, as is done on both the state flag of Maryland and the flag of Kiribati.

The flag of Libya, which consists of a rectangular field of green, is the only national flag using a single color and no design or insignia.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

National flags

One of the most popular uses of a flag is to symbolize a nation or country. Some national flags have been particularly inspirational to other nations, countries, or subnational entities in the design of their own flags. Some prominent examples include:

The flag of Denmark is the oldest state flag still in use. This flag, called the Dannebrog, inspired the cross design of the other Nordic countries: Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Faroe Islands, Åland, and Scania.

The Union Flag (Union Jack) of the United Kingdom. British colonies typically flew a flag based on one of the ensigns based on this flag, and many former colonies have retained the design to acknowledge their cultural history. Examples: Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, Tuvalu, and also the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and Ontario, and the American state of Hawaii:

The Tricolor of The Netherlands is the oldest tricolour, first appearing in 1572 as the Prince's Flag in orange–white–blue. Soon the more famous red–white–blue began appearing — it is however unknown why, though many stories are known. After 1630 the red–white–blue was the most commonly seen flag. The Dutch Tricolor has inspired many flags but most notably those of Russia, India and France, which spread the tricolor concept even further, as can be seen below. The Flag of the Netherlands is also the only flag in the world that is adapted for some uses, when the occasion has a connection to the royal house of the Netherlands an orange ribbon is added.

The national flag of France, also called the Tricolore, which inspired other nations to adopt differenced tricolours in sympathy with the revolutionary spirit with which the flag was designed in 1794. Examples among many: Costa Rica, Ireland, Italy, Romania, Mexico.

The flag of the United States, also nicknamed The Stars and Stripes or Old Glory. In the same way that nations looked to France for inspiration, many countries were also inspired by the American Revolution, which they felt was symbolized in this flag. Examples: Cuba, Liberia, Chile, Uruguay, and the French region of Brittany.

The flag of Russia the source for the Pan-Slavic colors adopted by many Slavic states and peoples as their symbols. Examples: Slovakia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia.

Ethiopia was seen as a model by emerging African states of the 1950s and 1960s, as it was one of the oldest independent states in Africa. Accordingly, its flag became the source of the Pan-African colours. Examples: Togo, Senegal, Ghana, Mali.

The flag of Turkey, which was the flag of the Ottoman Empire, has been an inspiration for the flag designs of many other Muslim nations. During the time of the Ottomans the crescent began to be associated with Islam and this is reflected on the flags of Algeria, Azerbaijan, Comoros, Malaysia, Mauritania, Pakistan, Tunisia, and of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
The Pan-Arab colors, green, white, red and black, seen on the flags of Jordan, Kuwait, Sudan, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, Western Sahara, Yemen and on the Palestinian flag.
The Soviet flag, with its golden symbols of the Hammer and Sickle on a red field, was an inspiration to flags of other communist states, such as East Germany, People's Republic of China, Vietnam, Angola, Afghanistan and Mozambique.

The flag of Venezuela, created by Francisco de Miranda to represent the independence movement in Venezuela that later gave birth to the "Gran Colombia", inspired the individual flags of Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia, all sharing three bands of color and three of them (Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela) sharing the yellow, blue and red.

The flag of Argentina, created by Manuel Belgrano during the war of independence, was the inspiration for the United Provinces of Central America's flag, which in turn was the origin for the flags of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

History of Flags

Although flag-like symbols were used in some ancient cultures, the origin of flags in the modern sense is a matter of dispute. Some believe flags originated in China, while others hold that the Roman Empire's vexillum was the first true flag. Originally, the standards of the Roman legions were not flags, but symbols like the eagle of Augustus Caesar's Xth legion; this eagle would be placed on a staff for the standard-bearer to hold up during battle. But a military unit from Scythia had for a standard a dragon with a flexible tail which would move in the wind; the legions copied this; eventually all the legions had flexible standards — our modern-day flag.
During the Middle Ages, flags were used mainly during battles to identify individual leaders: in Europe the knights, in Japan the samurai, and in China the generals under the imperial army.

From the time of Christopher Columbus onwards, it has been customary (and later a legal requirement) for ships to carry flags designating their nationality;[verification needed] these flags eventually evolved into the national flags and maritime flags of today.[verification needed] Flags also became the preferred means of communications at sea, resulting in various systems of flag signals; see International maritime signal flags.

As European knights were replaced by centralized armies, flags became the means to identify not just nationalities but also individual military units. Flags became much more elaborate,[verification needed] and were seen as objects to be captured or defended. Eventually these flags posed too much danger to those carrying them, and by World War I these were withdrawn from the battlefields, and have since been used only at ceremonial occasions.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

War flags

Several countries (including the United Kingdom and the former Nazi Germany) have unique flags flown by their armed forces, rather than the national flag.

Other countries' armed forces (such as those of the United States or Switzerland) use their standard national flag. The Philippines' armed forces may use their standard national flag, but during times of war the flag is turned upside down. These are also considered war flags, though the terminology only applies to the flag's military usage.
Large versions of the war flag flown on the warships of countries' navies are known as battle ensigns. In war waving a white flag indicates surrender.

Saturday, May 5, 2007


A flag is a piece of woven cloth, often flown from a pole or mast, generally used symbolically for signalling or identification. The term flag is also used to refer to the graphic design employed by a flag, or to its depiction in another medium.

The first flags were used to assist military coordination on battlefields and flags have evolved into a general tool for rudimentary signalling and identification, especially in environments where communication is similarly challenging (such as the maritime environment where semaphore is used). National flags are potent patriotic symbols with varied wide-ranging interpretations, often including strong military associations due to their original and ongoing military uses. Flags are used in messaging, advertising, or for other decorative purposes, though at this less formal end the distinction between a flag and a simple cloth banner is blurred. The study of flags is known as vexillology, from the Latin vexillum meaning flag or banner.