The History of Flags

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We all know flags have been around for a great amount of time but how exactly did they come about? They’ve become one of the most common forms of symbolism for societies across the globe and can be understood across any language. If you’re interested in flags or enjoy advocating for your views, you may want to better understand their history.

Read on to discover the history of flags and shop our wide range of flags for your favorite cause at BestFlag.

What is a Flag?

 Starting with the basics – a flag is a piece of fabric, traditionally attached to a supporting device on its shortest side that is used to represent, symbolize, or decorate. This definition separates a flag from a banner, despite their similarities.

Fun fact: If you have a fascination for flags, you may already know that the study of flags is known as ‘vexillology’. This comes from the Latin word “vexillium” meaning flag or banner.

The Difference Between a Flag and a Banner

The two terms are often used interchangeably but are actually defined by their opposing feature. This is because a banner is almost always secured by its longest side and is typically not made of a soft fabric.



The History of Flags

Now that you’ve got the basics down pat, we’ll explain how flags originated and how they’ve since evolved across the globe. Their history is quite heavily linked with the most common types of flags we still see today.

Flags in War

Historians suggest that flags unsurprisingly began to appear in war applications. However, early war flags were simply a predecessor to the flags we think of nowadays. This is because they were shaped more like longer dragon kites than the modern rectangular shape. In medieval times, flags were flown high to identify knights with their army in a battle field. This is because the marks on knight’s shields could only be properly identified up close which wasn’t very helpful amidst the chaos of war.

Nowadays for most countries, every branch of military has a unique flag, in which different units of the military also have their own unique flags.

Flags in Geography

Following their medieval use in battle, flags made their way back to the home front of cities, states, nations and other geographic locations. Travellers didn’t have the benefit of google maps way back when, and instead could use flags to better understand their whereabouts. Perhaps travellers would come across a city insignia they didn’t recognize, but would notice their partnering country flag – giving some awareness of their location when accurate maps were hard to come by.

Political movements of the time also began to design their own uses of flags in the community. This was a turning point for flags being used not only for war but as a wider form of identification.

Flags at Sea

As the need for identification became more important, it eventually expanded to the seas and soon became a requirement. Despite unique design features, most boats looked incredibly similar from afar meaning only a well-trained eye could tell friend from foe. This is why it became maritime law for ships to indicate their nationality.

This paved way for the creation of several different flag meanings specific to the sea. There was an entire language built around maritime flags, enabling ships to communicate universally.

Flags and Nationalism

Beyond geographic location, the rise of nationalism in the 18th century saw all sovereign states introducing their own national flag by the 19th century. This was an important note in history as our modern understanding of flags is centred around countries and regions. Over time, thousands of unique national and state flags have been developed, frequently taking inspiration from each other’s designs.

A small division of national flags are civil flags – different versions of national flags flown by civilians on non-governmental buildings. Comparative to these are international flags which act as an identifier for several nations as a group. For instance, the United Nations or other bodies like the Olympics. Flags are also used in religion, to identify the governing body or even the religion itself – both by civilians and organisations.

Custom Flags

Custom flags have become a popular part of communities and advocates hoping to represent themselves best. Whether it’s an organisation, a community group or simply just to show support for others – if there’s not a flag for it already, you can make one.

Lucky for you, making your own flag is far easier than it was in medieval times. At BestFlag, you can create yours using our online flag designer. This allows you to upload an existing design or even create your own using the designer tools.

Find Your Flag

As you can see, we’ve entered into the era of custom flags – designed to tell your story best. The journey has been a long one full of history and societal movements, which is why these identifiers are still so significant in our modern day life. If you have a cause you’re passionate about, shop our range of flags and create your own at BestFlag.


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