submitted by Greek Iconology on 04.11.2006
Flag Ratio: 2:3 (Naval Flag 1822-1828, Sea Flag 1828-1969; 1975-1978, National Flag 1969-1975; 1978 to date)
The flag of Greece 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 country. According to popular tradition, the nine stripes represent the nine syllables of the phrase "Έλευθερία 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". 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; the canton Azure with a Greek cross throughout Argent.
The above patterns were officially adopted by the First National Assembly at Epidaurus in January 1822. Blue and white have many interpretations, symbolizing the colors of the famed Greek sky and sea (combined with the white clouds and waves), traditional colors of Greek clothes in the islands and the mainland, etc.
History of the Greek flag
White and blue have been symbolic Greek colors since antiquity with historic significance; their adoption for the new Greek state was a natural continuation from previous uses. In ancient Greece they were connected with goddess Athena and were used in Alexander the Great's army banners, while Greeks abroad were often recognized by their white clothes with blue details. They were even referred as colors connected with Greeks by Herodotus. During Byzantine times white and blue were the colors of navy and other flags, coats of arms of imperial dynasties, uniforms, Emperors' clothes, Patriarchs' thrones etc. The cross was a symbol of the empire, and was a common pattern in Byzantine flags since the 4th century.
The blue cross on a white field seems to have been the most "consistent" pattern. This design, including the four (blue) B's on the flag quarters has been a very important Byzantine symbol (the four B's represent the standard Byzantine motto, standing for Βασιλεύς Βασιλέων Βασιλεύων Βασιλευόντων, meaning "King of Kings Reigning over those who Rule", at times also interpreted as standing for Βασιλεύ Βασιλέων Βασιλέα Βοήθει, meaning "King of Kings, Save the King" - the B's often shaped in ways simultaneously representing other images). It appeared as early as (according to some sources) the 4th century, mainly as the Byzantine navy flag, apparently in "forked" shape, influencing other Byzantine emblems. It also appeared as one of the imperial flags during the last dynasty of the Empire, the Palaeologi (Παλαιολόγοι, 13th-15th centuries), featuring the blue cross and the four blue B's on a white field, as well as four small diagonal golden "beams". In that respect it differed from Palaeologid personal or dynasty flags that featured the traditional "imperial" colors, gold and/or red. Earlier, during the reign of Nicephorus II Phocas (Νικηφόρος Φωκάς, 963-969) and his successors, even those "imperial" colors had changed to blue and white. The official Army flag had become a white eagle on a blue field, while the imperial standard used the same colors, including the cross and/or blue and white stripes.
During the Ottoman rule several unofficial flags were used by Greeks, usually employing the double-headed eagle (see below) and/or the cross. A very well-known Greek fighting unit, the Spachides (a term denoting cavalry employed by the Ottoman Sultan, as these Greek units were) 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 Graikothomaniki, a flag Greek merchants were allowed to fly on their ships, combining stripes with red (for the Ottoman Empire) and blue (for the Greeks) colors.
During the Greek 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 flag during the revolution, 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, in Byzantine emblems, as local symbol (a similar 16th or 17th century flag has been found near Chania), while Greek volunteers in Napoleon's army in 1798 used a white cross on blue incorporated in the upper left corner of the French flag. A famous military leader, Yiannis Stathas, used a flag with white cross on blue, on his ship since 1800. This flag became "heroic" when it was raised as a Greek revolutionary flag in 1807 in the presence of Stathas and other leaders. A similar flag, improvized from blue and white pieces of clothes, replaced the Turkish one in Tripolis in 1821. Although Greek intellectuals in Europe (including some key figures during the revolution movement) as well as other local leaders had also designed flags with different colors, the historic blue and white combination was to be officially adopted during the first Greek National Assembly in January, 1822. Both aforementioned arrangements were adopted: white cross on blue (plain) for the national flag, and combined with stripes for the naval flag; and blue cross on white in the canton of an otherwise blue flag, for the merchant navy. In 1828 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 simultaenously with the national (plain cross) flag. During its history, it has undergone slight alterations in the shade of blue and its proportions (flag ratio), while a royal crown was incorporated in the middle of the cross during certain periods. Between 1969 and 1975 it became the sole national flag and remains so since 1978.
The origins of the cross-and-stripe pattern of today's national flag are a matter of debate. Flags with stripes had been used earlier, while a flag "with a cross and 16 stripes" has been described as an early revolution flag. It has been suggested that the 1822 pattern evolved from a much older design, a virtually identical flag of the powerful Kallergis family (who provided several key military and political figures in Greek history). The flag was based on their coat of arms, whose pattern in turn dates to one of the standards of their ancestor, Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus II Phocas. This pattern included the nine stripes alternating blue and white, and the cross on the upper left corner. 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 pre-1707 flag. However, in such cases of flags derived from much older designs, it is very difficult to prove or trace (possibly mutual) original influences. It is quite possible nonetheless, that foreign flags may have influenced the preferential adoption of the stripe-pattern, apparently already existing, as the Greek sea flag.
List, and graphics, of Greek Flags
N. Zapheiriou, "The Greek Flag from Antiquity to Present", Eleutheri Skepsis, Athens 1995 (reprint of original 1947 publication)
E. Kokkoni and G. Tsiveriotis, "Greek Flags, Signs and Emblems", Athens 1997.
I. Nouchakis, "Our Flag", Athens 1908.
Presidency of the Hellenic Republic
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