Flag of Greece
The flag of Greece (popularly referred to as the galanolefki or the kianolefki, the "blue-white") is based on nine equal horizontal stripes of blue alternating with white. There is a blue canton in the upper hoist-side corner bearing a white cross; the cross symbolizes Greek Orthodoxy, the established religion of the people of Greece and Greek Cypriots. According to popular tradition, the nine stripes represent the nine syllables of the phrase "Ελευθερία ή Θάνατος" ("Freedom or Death", " E-lef-the-ri-a i Tha-na-tos"), the five blue stripes for the syllables "Έλευθερία" and the four white stripes "ή Θάνατος". The nine stripes are also said to represent the letters of the word "freedom" (Greek: Ελευθερία). There is also a different theory, that the nine stripes symbolize the nine Muses, the goddesses of art and civilization (nine has traditionally been one of the numbers of reference for the Greeks). The official flag ratio is 2:3.
The blazon of the flag is Azure, four bars Argent; on a canton of the field a Greek cross throughout of the second. The shade of blue used in the flag has varied throughout its history, from light blue to dark blue, the latter being increasingly used since the late 1960s.
The above patterns were officially adopted by the First National Assembly at Epidaurus on 13 January 1822. Blue and white have many interpretations, symbolizing the colours of the famed Greek sky and sea (combined with the white clouds and waves), traditional colours of Greek clothes in the islands and the mainland, etc.
History of the Greek flag
The origins of today's national flag with its cross-and-stripe pattern are a matter of debate. Every part of it, including the blue and white colours (see below), the cross, as well as the stripe arrangement can be connected to very old historical elements; however it is difficult to establish "continuity", especially as there is no record of the exact reasoning behind its official adoption in early 1822.
It has been suggested by some Greek historians that the current flag derived from an older design, the virtually identical flag of the powerful Cretan Kallergis family. This flag was based on their coat of arms, whose pattern is supposed to be derived from the standards of their claimed ancestor, Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus II Phocas (963–969 AD). This pattern (according to not easily verifiable descriptions) included nine stripes of alternating blue and white, as well as a cross, assumed to be placed on the upper left
The stripe-pattern of the Greek flag is visibly similar to that used in several other flags that have appeared over the centuries, most notably that of the British East India Company's pre-1707 flag or the flag of the United States of America. However, in such cases of flags derived from much older designs, it is very difficult to prove or trace original influences.
Flags during Antiquity and the Byzantine Empire
Flags as they are known today did not exist in Antiquity. Instead, a variety of emblems and symbols (semeion, pl. semeia) were used to denote each state and were for example painted on the hoplite shields. The closest analogue to a modern flag were the vexillum-like banners used by ancient Greek armies, such as the so-called phoinikis, a cloth of deep red, suspended from the top of a staff or spear. It is not known to have carried any device or decoration though.
The Byzantines, like the Romans before them, used a variety of flags and banners, primarily to denote different military units. These were generally square or rectangular, with a number of streamers attached. Most prominent among the early Byzantine flags was the labarum. In the surviving pictorial sources of the middle and later Empire, primarily the illustrated Skylitzes Chronicle, the predominating colours are red and blue in horizontal stripes, with a cross often placed in the centre of the flag. Other common symbols, prominently featuring on seals, were depictions of Christ, the Virgin Mary and saints, but these represent personal rather than family or state symbols. Western European-style heraldry was largely unknown until the last centuries of the Empire.
There is no mention of any "state" flag until the mid-14th century, when a Spanish atlas, the Conoscimento de todos los reinos depicts the flag of "the Empire of Constantinople" combining the red-on-white Cross of St George with the "tetragrammatic cross" of the ruling house of the Palaiologoi, featuring the four Bs or pyrekvola ("fire-steels") on the flag quarters representing the imperial motto Βασιλεύς Βασιλέων Βασιλεύων Βασιλευόντων ("King of Kings Reigning over those who Rule"). The tetragrammatic cross flag, as it appears in quarters II and III in this design, is well documented, however the exact "Westernized" (quartered) arrangement that includes the Cross of St. George, appearing in the Spanish atlas, is never depicted or described in any Greek source. In the same Spanish atlas the (well documented) "plain" tetragrammatic cross flag is presented as (among other places in the Empire) "the Flag of Salonika" and "the real Greece and Empire of the Greeks (la vera Grecia e el imperio de los griegos)" (not being clear whether this implies usage of the quartered flag mainly in Constantinople). Pseudo-Kodinos records the use of the "tetragrammatic cross" on the banner (phlamoulon) borne by imperial naval vessels, while the megas doux displayed an image of the emperor on horseback.
During the Ottoman rule several unofficial flags were used by Greeks, usually employing the Byzantine double-headed eagle (see below), the cross, depictions of saints and various mottoes. The Christian Greek sipahi cavalry employed by the Ottoman Sultan were allowed to use their own, clearly Christian flag, when within Epirus and the Peloponnese. It featured the classic blue cross on a white field with the picture of St. George slaying the dragon, and was used from 1431 until 1639, when this privilege was greatly limited by the Sultan. Similar flags were used by other local leaders. The closest to a Greek "national" flag during Ottoman rule was the so-called "Graeco-Ottoman flag" (Γραικοθωμανική παντιέρα), a civil ensign Greek Orthodox merchants (better: merchants from the Greek-dominated Orthodox millet) were allowed to fly on their ships, combining stripes with red (for the Ottoman Empire) and blue (for Orthodoxy) colors. After the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca, Greek-owned merchant ships could also fly the Russian flag.
During the uprising of 1769 the historic blue cross on white field was used again by key military leaders who used it all the way to the revolution of 1821. It became the most popular Revolution flag, and it was argued that it should become the national flag. The "reverse" arrangement, white cross on a blue field, also appeared as Greek flag during the uprisings. This design had been used earlier as well, as a local symbol (a similar 16th or 17th century flag has been found near Chania), while Greek volunteers in Napoleon's army in Egypt in 1798 used a white cross on blue incorporated in the canton of the French flag.
A military leader, Yiannis Stathas, used a flag with white cross on blue on his ship since 1800. The first flag featuring the design eventually adopted was created and hoisted in the Evangelistria monastery in Skiathos in 1807. Several prominent military leaders (including Theodoros Kolokotronis and Andreas Miaoulis) had gathered there for consultation concerning an uprising, and they were sworn to this flag by the local bishop.
Adoption of the flag and historical evolution
In addition to the various cross flags, Greek intellectuals in Europe, as well as local leaders, chieftains and regional councils, designed and used flags with different colours and emblems during the early days of the Greek War of Independence. Many of these flags featured saints, the phoenix (symbolizing the rebirth of the Greek nation), mottoes such as "Freedom or Death" (Ελευθερία ή Θάνατος) or the fasces-like emblems of the Philiki Etaireia, a secret society that organized the uprising.
Because the European monarchies, allied in the so-called "Concert of Europe", were suspicious towards national or social revolutionary movements such as the Etaireia, the First Greek National Assembly, convening in January 1822, took steps to disassociate itself from the Etaireia's legacy and portray nascent Greece as a "conventional", ordered nation-state. As such not only were the regional councils abolished in favour of a central administration, but it was decided to abolish all revolutionary flags and adopt a universal national flag. The reasons why the particular arrangement (white cross on blue) was selected, instead of the more popular blue cross on a white field, remain unknown.
On 15 March 1822, the Provisional Government, by Decree Nr. 540, laid down the exact pattern: white cross on blue (plain) for the land flag; nine alternate-coloured stripes with the white cross on a blue field in the canton for the naval flag; and blue cross on white in the canton of an otherwise blue flag, for the merchant marine. On 30 June 1828, by decree of the Governor Ioannis Kapodistrias, the latter was discontinued, and the cross-and-stripes became the sole sea flag. This design became immediately very popular with Greeks and in practice was often used simultaneously with the national (plain cross) flag.
After the establishment of the Kingdom of Greece in 1832, the new king, Otto, added the royal Coat of Arms (a shield in his ancestral Bavarian pattern topped by a crown) in the centre of the cross for military flags (both land and sea versions). After Otto's abdication in 1862, the royal coat of arms was removed, only to be replaced by a simple royal crown in 1863 when the new king, George I, arrived in Greece. A square version of the land flag with St. George in the centre was adopted on 9 April 1864 as the Army's colours. Similar arrangements were made for the royal flags, which featured the coat of arms of the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg on a square version of the national flag. The exact shape and usage of the flags was determined by Royal Decree on 26 September 1867. By a new Royal Decree, on 31 May 1914, the flag with the crown was adopted for use as a state flag by ministries, embassies and civil services, while the sea flag was allowed for use by private citizens.
On 25 March 1924, with the establishment of the Second Hellenic Republic, the crowns were removed from all flags. On 20 February 1930, the national flag's proportions were established at a 2:3 ratio, with the arms of the cross being "one fifth of the flag's width". The land version of the national flag was to be used by ministries, embassies, and in general by all civil and military services, while the sea flag was to be used by naval and merchant vessels, consulates and private citizens. With the restoration of the monarchy by Georgios Kondylis on 10 October 1935, the crown was restored on the flags. The crown was again removed by the military dictatorship in 1967, following the aborted counter-coup and subsequent self-exile of King Constantine II on 13 December. The sea flag was established as the sole national flag in 1969, using a very dark shade of blue, and on 18 August 1970, the flag ratio was changed to 7:12.
After the restoration of democracy in August 1974, the land flag was restored for a while (Law 48/1975 and Presidential Decree 515/1975) until 1978.
Theories regarding the blue and white colours
Several Greek researchers have attempted to establish a continuity of usage and significance of the blue and white colors, throughout Greek history. However, their research often misinterprets primary sources, or uses them in a highly selective way, trying to synthesize a series of isolated and mutually unrelated references to the use of such colours into evidence of a continuous and conscious identification of the Greek nation with them.
Usages cited include the formation of blue and white stripes (created from placing white metal stripes on a blue surface) on the shield of Achilles, the connection of the colors with goddess Athena, Alexander the Great's army banners, blue and white flags supposedly used during Byzantine times, supposed coats of arms of imperial dynasties and noble families, uniforms, emperors' clothes, patriarchs' thrones etc. and, of course, cases of usage during the Ottoman rule.
Current Flag of Greece
In 1978 the sea flag was adopted as the sole national flag, with a 2:3 ratio. The flag is used on both land and sea is also the war and civil ensign, replacing all other designs surviving until that time. No other designs and badges can be shown on the flag. To date, no specification of the exact shade of the blue colour of the flag has been issued. Consequently, in practice hues may vary from very light to very dark. The Greek Flag Day is on October 28.
The old land flag is still flown at the Old Parliament building in Athens, site of the National Historical Museum, and can still be seen displayed unofficially by private citizens.
Army and Air Force War Flag
The War flag (equivalent to regimental colours) of the Army and the Air Force is of square shape, with a white cross on blue background. On the centre of the cross the image of Saint George is shown on Army war flags and the image of archangel Michael is shown on Air Force war flags.
In the Army war flags are normally flown by divisions, brigades, infantry and special forces regiments and infantry and tank battalions, by the Evelpidon Military Academy and by the Presidential Guard when in battle or in parade. However, flying a war flag in battle is unlikely with current warfare tactics.
Naval and civil ensigns
The current naval and civil ensigns are identical to the national flag.
The simple white cross on blue field pattern is also used as the Navy's jack and as the base pattern for naval rank flags. These flags are described in Chapter 21 (articles 2101–30) of the Naval Regulations. A jack is also flown by larger vessels of the Hellenic Coast Guard.
Units of Naval or Coast Guard personnel in parade fly the war ensign in place of the war flag.
Other uniformed services
In the past a war flag was assigned to the former semi-military Hellenic Gendarmerie, which was later merged with Cities Police to form the current Hellenic Police. The flag was similar to the Army war flag but showing Saint Irene in place of Saint George.
Since the Fire Service and the Hellenic Police are considered civilian agencies, they are not assigned war flags. They use the National Flag instead. Identical rules were applied to the former Cities Police.
It may look surprising that one of the most recognizable (other than the cross) and beloved Greek symbols, the double-headed eagle, is not a part of the modern Greek flag or coat of arms (although it is officially used by the Greek Army, the Church of Greece, the Cypriot National Guard and the Church of Cyprus, and was incorporated in the Greek coat of arms between 1925 and 1926). One suggested explanation is that, upon independence, an effort was made for political — and international relations — reasons to limit expressions implying efforts to recreate the Byzantine empire. Yet another theory is that this symbol was only connected with a particular period of Greek history (Byzantine) and a particular form of rule (imperial). More recent research has justified this view, connecting this symbol only to personal and dynastic emblems of Byzantine Emperors.
Greek scholars[who?] have attempted to establish links with ancient symbols: the eagle was a common design representing power in ancient city-states, while there was an implication of a "dual-eagle" concept in the tale that Zeus left two eagles fly east and west from the ends of the world, eventually meeting in Delphi, thus proving it to be the centre of the earth. However, there is virtually no doubt that its origin is a blend of Roman and Eastern influences. Indeed, the early Byzantine Empire inherited the Roman eagle as an imperial symbol. During his reign, Emperor Isaac I Comnenus (1057–59) modified it as double-headed, influenced by traditions about such a beast in his native Paphlagonia in Asia Minor (in turn reflecting possibly much older local myths). Many modifications followed in flag details, often combined with the cross. After the recapture of Constantinople by the Byzantine Greeks in 1261, two crowns were added (over each head) representing — according to the most prevalent theory — the newly recaptured capital and the intermediate "capital" of the empire of Nicaea. There has been some confusion about the exact use of this symbol by the Byzantines; it is quite certain that it was a "dynastic" and not a "state" symbol (a term not fully applicable at the time, anyway), and for this reason, the colours connected with it were clearly the colours of "imperial power", i.e., imperial purple and gold.
After the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire nonetheless, the double-headed eagle remained a strong symbol of reference for the Greeks. Most characteristically, the Orthodox Church continues to use the double-headed eagle extensively as a decorative motif, and has also adopted a black eagle on yellow/gold background as its official flag.
After the Ottoman conquest however this symbol also found its way to a "new Constantinople" (or Third Rome), i.e. Moscow. Russia, deeply influenced by the Byzantine Empire, saw herself as its heir and adopted the double-headed eagle as its imperial symbol. It was also adopted by the Serbs, the Montenegrins, the Albanians and a number of Western rulers, most notably in Germany and Austria.
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