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A Brief History of Flags

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Those of us who display flags as signs of pride might not know very much about their history. The history of flags serves to make their symbolic meaning even stronger. 

We’re going to take a look at why flags are such important parts of culture, giving you some insight into where they came from, the different types of flags, and more. 

So, let’s take a look at the history of flags. 

A Beginner’s Guide to The History of Flags

When you start to ponder the significance of flags, you realize that they’re integral parts of national and communal life. For example, school children pledge allegiance to the flag. 

The national flag is never supposed to touch the ground. National flags are dedicated to the flag and all it represents. It’s interesting to scale back the scope a little bit and realize that flags have been used since ancient times. 

The earliest known usage of flags or “flag-like” banners was in ancient military applications. Historians cite ancient Egypt and Assyria as the first known civilizations to use flags in warfare. 

Those civilizations existed more than four thousand years ago up until about twenty-five hundred years ago, and the original date of flags is not precisely known. That said, flags were used to denote different sections of military organization in the midst of battle. 

Battles, then, were muddy, confused, and intermingled groups of opposing factions fighting it out in what would’ve looked like a crowd. A clear representation of separate groups would have been very useful. 

Flags as We Know Them

The insignia-laden cloth flags that we know today were first used in the Indian Subcontinent some 2500 years ago. Flags denoting the royalty were to be treated with the same respect that someone would treat the royalty themselves. 

This is the point when the flag as a symbol began. Flags have the uncanny ability to represent something that encompasses a lot more than the image on the cloth. Treating royal flags as though they were royalty is a great way to remind the population of the hierarchy, for better or worse. 

That usage spread through the Islamic world and made its way into Medieval Europe, where flags were prominently used to denote military ranks. Fast forward a hundred years or so and humans enter the “age of sail.” 

This was the period of time when naval strength had a strong correlation to national power. Tradelines were established, and a lot of wealth got generated through merchant ships traveling vast distances. 

Ships appropriated the use of flags during this time as well. There’s the classic image of the skull and crossbones for pirate ships, but it’d be more common to see a ship with a Dutch or English flag. 

National Flags

The use of the national flag overlaps with the usage of different flags in military battles. The earliest-known national flag is that of Denmark, which originated in 1478. 

It’s the oldest flag still in use. Interestingly, though, the use of national flags wasn’t commonplace until the early 18th century. National flags seem like they should be a normal piece of any country’s culture, but it’s only been in the last few hundred years that countries use them. 

Part of the reason that flags developed a strong sense of meaning is their use in declarations of independence and civil war. Differing factions, separated by only their ideologies, needed ways to distinguish themselves from their counterparts. 

The period of time between the 1600s and 1900s was rife with political conflict, rebellions, and independence from tyrannical rule. Occupational rule of empires and tyrants was very common before that point, and opposition to that oppression required group-minded symbols. 

The use of a flag as a symbol of freedom or separation speaks to the ideals of certain groups. Think about The Star-Spangled Banner and its recollection of the American Revolutionary war. 

Modern Flag Usage

On top of usage as national emblems and military representations, flags get used for a lot of different things now. Different social groups have flags to represent themselves. Sports teams wave banners and flags at almost all of their events, and high schools have flags to symbolize their group pride. 

Not only do flags wave at mass gatherings and national buildings, but they’re also in front of our homes and businesses. It’s not uncommon to see someone who waves various flags at once, representing all of that person’s identities and passions. 

There are also a lot of different customizations that people make to their personal flags. For example, you could purchase a solar flag light to illuminate your home’s flag at night. Furthermore, you can check american flags to buy online.

Individuals often adjust their flags in accordance with what’s going on in the nation. For example, flags get lowered to half-mast when someone dies or a tragic event happens. People living in that nation who are updated on those matters take the time to lower their flags as well. 

Make a Note to Become Aware of Flags

Now that you have a little backstory on the use of flags, try taking a step back and appreciating their history when you see one. Flags are a little token of the past that have evolved and made their way into almost every culture in the world. 

The flags we know and love aren’t far removed from the flags that the knights of Medieval times wore on the backs of their horses. It’s also interesting to note the overwhelming use of flags in everyday life. 

As you drive down the highway, look on the side of the road and see restaurants, businesses, and homeowners all displaying their personal arrangement of flags. It’s an interesting way to see the variety of cultures and beliefs that constitute your community. 

Want to Learn More About National History?

The history of flags ties into a lot of different areas of history. It’s a lot to learn, but the more you know about human history, the better you can understand yourself and where you fit into the context of past events. 

We’re here to help. Explore our site for more ideas on the history of the American flag, topics in history, lifestyle guides, and more.

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