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2021-08-24 15:33:01

Greek Flag: History and Symbols

Greek Flag: History and Symbols

Among the population, the national flag is called sky blue and white. This is one of the national symbols. In the field of the flag there are nine stripes of equal width, alternating blue and white, and in the upper left corner on a blue field there is a white cross as a tribute to the Eastern Orthodox tradition of Christianity, the dominant Greek denomination. The ratio is 2:3.

During the period since the declaration of independence, the shade of blue has changed more than 20 times, with each evolution acquiring an increasingly saturated character.

Folk tradition deciphers nine stripes as either nine syllables of the phrase "freedom or death" or nine letters of the word "freedom". There is also a fairly popular reference to the nine muses, and in general the nine often persecuted the Greeks during their national history at both the present and epic stages.

In general, white and blue are identified with the heavens and sea waves.



The origins of the current version of the national flag are lost in history, each of its elements can have great symbolic significance. But the exact continuity is difficult to establish, and there are no historically reliable records of the past before 1822.

A number of figures of historical science believe that the flag comes from the family flag of the Cretan clan of Kallergis, and that, in turn, goes back to the Romean Caesar Nicephorus II Phocas, who ruled in 963-969 AD. The use of blue and silver stripes by the Kallargis house is documented, although not a single image remains.

Antiquity and the Byzantine Empire

In the present sense, in the days of ancient Greece and the Byzantine Empire, there were no flags. Instead, there were badges of units and branches of the armed forces. For example, the Roman vexillum is a banner of Roman legionaries, crowning the top of a special spear and serving as the banner of a legion or cohort. Deep red, it was often awarded for merits and distinctions in combat or the rescue of civilians.

The Byzantines also used flags, banners and prapora to indicate military distinctions. They were decorated with ribbons, the shape traditionally approached the square. The most famous oriental symbol was the labarum – red and blue, striped, with a cross in the middle. Other flags depicted the Virgin, Christ or numerous saints, but these were personal badges of commanders, and not state or family symbols, as in England or France at that time.

The first mention of the national flag is attributed to the 60s of the XIV century, when the Spanish geographical atlas published the image of the coat of arms of the Constantinople Empire, where the red cross of St. George was combined with the tetragrammaton of the Palaiologos dynasty - with four letters "beta" at the corners.

This flag is well documented and is mentioned in the atlas as the flag of Soluni and the real Greek-Byzantine Empire. True, the cross of George was never a symbol of Byzantium and most likely pays tribute to the Genoese who occupied Galata during this period of history.

Ottoman period

Under the Ottomans, Greek navigators had to use unofficial flags, including, among other things, Byzantine eagles, crosses, and images of saints and hieromartyrs. The Sipahs, Christian mercenaries in the Sultan's service, were allowed to use their own symbol: a blue cross on a white background depicting a rider piercing a snake.

In 1640, the sultan banned this flag, replacing it with his own symbol.

Similar flags were used by other local communities.

The most similar to the "national" was the so-called Ottoman-Greek flag - it was used by Orthodox merchants, among whom most belonged to this ethnic group. He combined stripes of red – Turkish – color with blue, attributing orthodox Christians. After the Kuchuk-Kainarji Peace Treaty, the Greeks were also allowed to walk under the Russian flag.

The uprising of 1769 took place under a blue cross on a white background, which was also used in 1821, becoming the most popular flag of the movement for the liberation of Greece from the power of savages. One of the first such banners has been kept in the monastery of Evangelistas in Skiathos since 1807. Over this relic, the revolutionary leaders took the oath under the supervision of the local bishop.

Revolutionary flags

During the first Greek War of Independence in 1821-1829, dozens of flags were proposed, a great contribution was made by the Greek intellectual elite who fled to Europe, as well as local leaders and regional "juntas". In addition to the cross, among the most common symbols were the phoenix as a sign of the rebirth of the nation, the phrase "Freedom or death", a variety of saints and even fascia - bundles of twigs not yet defiled by the Mussolini regime, the sign of Philis Eteraeus - the secret society that organized the revolution.

European kings treated revolutionary movements negatively, so in order to gain the support of Christians in Europe, the uprising had to dissociate itself from the revolutionaries and declare itself as a traditional nation-state.  Local communes, revolutionary banners and similar paraphernalia were abolished, instead of which a single flag was adopted. The reason why the colors on the flag were inverted and the place of the popular blue cross on white was taken by white is shrouded in mystery.

In March 1822, the provisional government approved three flags at once:

  1. military, which is similar to the current cross with nine stripes
  2. land (cross without stripes)
  3. civil.

6 years later, John Karodistrias abolished the commercial flag, and made the naval one united. The new option immediately became damn popular.

A little earlier, in February, the symbol of the new state, still dependent on the Ottoman Empire, received international recognition: British, French and Russian ships in Nafplion, the temporary Greek capital, saluted the Greek fleet.

The first Greek king Otto supplemented the flag and coat of arms with a royal badge - a Bavarian shield with a crown in the middle of the cross. A number of flags were installed - sea, naval, land, as well as a pennant and a royal standard with an unusual proportion of 10: 7. In 1862, he abdicated the throne, and the Bavarian shield was a thing of the past.

Administrative flags of Greece (1934)

A new king a year later, prince William of Denmark was elected by referendum, taking the throne under the name of George I. Bavarian symbolism was replaced by the dynastic house of Glücksburg, who ruled Denmark.

The flag received a crown instead of a coat of arms; this version became state-owned. Flags deprived of the crown could now be freely used by private individuals – without exceptions.

In March 1924, the monarchy fell and the new republic removed the crown from the flag, setting at the same time a new proportion - 2: 3. The land version was used by civil and public service in all its diversity, and the sea flag by military and commercial sailors. After 11 years, the Greeks restored the monarchy and by decree of November 8, 1935, returned the flag of the 1914 model - with crowns.

Under Hitler, the Greeks were not up to the flags, as well as 20 years after him. Only in 1967, during the uprising and the establishment of a military dictatorship followed by the flight of the monarch, the naval flag without crowns became a common and unified symbol of Greek statehood.

Blue became very dark, and the proportions changed to 7:12, remaining unchanged until now; blue color briefly (1974-1978) brightened, and then again acquired a more saturated shade.

Byzantine Eagle, Goodbye!

The most recognizable sign of the Byzantine and Greek political tradition is considered to be the double-headed eagle. Despite its use by the Church of Cyprus and Greece, as well as by the Greek army and the National Guard of the Cypriots, after gaining independence for political reasons, the official installation of this flag as a national symbol was abandoned to emphasize the absence of imperial ambitions extending beyond the national Greek house.

In addition, after the conquest of the Turks, the bird was inherited by Moscow. Catherine II had a Byzantine or Greek project: the re-creation of the state of the Greeks and South Slavs under the scepter of her younger grandson Constantine. This idea caused enormous concern at European courts, so Otto was quick to assure that he did not want to have anything to do with St. Petersburg.

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Egor Eremeev
Current material has been prepared by Egor Eremeev
Education: Westminster University (Business & Management), London.
Egor studied and lived in the UK for 8 years and graduated from the university of Westminster. He is currently the co-founder and the director of business development at Smapse Education and personally visits foreign schools and universities, interviews students studying in those institutions.
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