Before you continue, make sure you’ve read Part 1 of our History of Flags series, as this continues exactly where it leaves off.
It’s around the same time as this that flags start making their way from the battlefield and back to the home front. Cities, states, city-states, nations, and other political and geographical designations started using flags not for the practicality of war, but for the purpose of identification.
Think about the practicality of this. If you’re a traveling troubadour, and you’re roaming the hillside, it helps to know where you are. So you see a flag that has an insignia you don’t know, but it also has contained within it, a country flag you recognize. You may not know what city you’ve come across, but you do know you’re still in whatever country you’re in. You have at least some awareness of where you are.
Imagine these ancient flags as highway and interstate signs that we have today. Though we almost all use our phones for directions, it’s safer and maybe even more effective and you should use them instead of being on your phone as you drive.
The need for identification became especially important, and eventually a requirement for ships at sea. Again, think about it. Many boats, despite unique design features, looked very similar. Only a trained eye could parse who was friend or foe quick enough to potentially save lives. As such, it became a standard maritime law that ships had to indicate their nationality.
This regulation splintered into the creation of several different flags and flag meanings specific to the sea. There was an entire language built around maritime flags. Ships were able to communicate at sea with each other through a universal flag language. That’s pretty neat.