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Etymology for Flags

Joannes Richter
1 Etymology for Flags?
Are we allowed to define an etymology for flags?
Yes, we can: if the flags are carrying a language.
Flags may be seen as containers for symbols, applying
colours and various geometric figures to inform friend
and foe.
What kind of symbols are being used in flags?
Well, a study of religious symbols in the book Dyaeus
reveals the most prominent religious symbols are the
colours purple, red and blue. For mysterious reasons to
be investigated the colour purple is most unpopular in
flags, probably to avoid the sacrilege to apply a divine
colour in a public environment. No flag applying
genuine purple has been found in the overview.
Recently however the red-white-red flag of Latvia1 and
the white & maroon flag of Qatar2 have been found to
apply a colour resembling the genuine colour purple.

In the 1860’s Latvian student Jēkabs Lautenbahs-Jūsmiņš discovered a
written reference to this flag in a collection of 13th century rhyming verse
chronicles popular among the knights of the Livonian Order. After regaining
its independence, Latvia re-adopted on February 27, 1990 the same red-
white-red flag.
The flag was officially adopted on July 9, 1971, although a nearly
identical flag (only differing in proportion) had been used since 1949 .

Why are purple, red and blue religious symbols?
The study of iconic and other medieval paintings
reveals red & blue have been prescribed for garments of
the saints. Purple has been well-known as a divine
symbol, being reserved for gods and divine emperors.
Red & blue are still being prescribed in the process of
“writing” an icon.
The colours purple, red and blue may also be found as
divine commands in the books Exodus and Chronicles.
The biblical sources may have influenced the
symbolism, but in fact the weaving technology has
already been found at a Celtic grave in Hochdorf (530
before Christ). Other red and blue ceramic findings at
Gomadingen support the idea of red & blue symbolism.
The idea of red & blue symbolism may have been a
common idea, which has been spread along with Indo-
European language and religion.

Fig. 1: Red & Blue Ceramic Findings Gomadingen
Ceramics dated at the Sternberg, 8th Century BC.
These colours purple, red and blue haven been
identified as the symbolic remains of an earlier version
of the religion, in which the red colour used to be a
female, blue a male and purple an androgynous
Where do we observe a concentration of symbolic colours?
It is hard to trace back the historical development for all
flags. Surely we may identify an overwhelming
abundance of the colours red and blue, especially in the
old countries of Western Europe and their former
colonies. Let's investigate the original sources to check
how far we can trace back the identification process.

see the book Dyaeus for details in androgynous religion

I once heard the colours red-yellow-blue symbolize the Trinity
God. Is there any proof for this statement?
Except for the Rado-Bible red & blue-combinations
prevail. The biblical symbolism of the header lines in
medieval Bibles alternates only red and blue letters. If
there is any Trinity symbolism in colours it most
probably should be found in red-white-blue
combinations. Red and blue probably are “pairing”-
colours symbolizing equality, whereas “purple”,
“paars”, “pairs”or “peers” represents the divine and
upper hierarchy.

Fig. 2: Weaving the Words and letters

Fig. 3: Header lines for medieval Bibles

2 The Flags of Western Europe

By strange coincidence the flags of France, the Netherlands

and Great Britain, including the former colony USA are
applying genuine red-white-blue combinations in their national

As a strange coincidence in these countries we may identify the

concept of the peers, which may be defined as the noblemen in
society. These peers are quite well known in Great Britain,
where a great number of words (such as peerage, peerless, etc.)
refers to peers. Originally peerage covered the basic idea of
equality. This equality however never prevailed in the
hierarchical structure of society. Right now peerage is a
principle of the opposite idea, which is inequality.

In other countries these “peers”-words may have been used in

the Middle Age, but they have changed their symbolism or
disappeared completely. In the Netherlands we discovered the
word “paars” as a former definition for “peers”. The word
“paars” lost its medieval understanding and changed into a
simple colour (purple), although the Dutch language in parallel
also provides the word “purper” for “purple”.
In French we identified the word “pairs” as a reference to
“peers”, but it seems to be uncommon and has been found in
ancient dictionaries.

Strange as it may seem no references to “peers” have been
identified in German speaking countries. In modern times these
German speaking countries avoid the use of red-white-blue
combinations in their national banner. There may be a
correlation between defining “peers” and the symbolism of red-
white-blue combinations in the flags.
Let's categorize a number of flags to check the idea.

Fig. 4: Napoleon's Standard

3 A Rainbow built out of banners

Fig. 5: Rainbow in the Viennese Codex (6th


From the rainbow (over Noah and his sons) we may insert a
flag or any number of flags to explain the flag's symbolism.

Fig. 6: Rainbow in the Viennese Codex (6th


Fig. 7: Rainbow in the Viennese Codex with flags

This image of a rainbow concatenated of Yugoslavian

respectively Serbian flags suggests the flags may have been
derived from the rainbow.
As a divine symbol the rainbow may have been a major source
for inspiration for banners. In the above concatenation the flag
of Yugoslavia / Serbia has been used. This symbolism
concentrates on the border colours red and blue.
Another idea may be the concatenation of red-yellow-blue
banners to include the yellow or golden sun-rays at the middle
of the rainbow's spectre. A suitable flag would be the tricolour
of Chad4.

introduced at 1959

4 Categorisation of national flags
I used a rather obsolete book from ca. 1960 to classify the
situation at the mid-fifties of the last century. I tried to avoid to
use the most recent data available. The use of ancient data may
cause problems in identifying the proper nation for the banner.
Not a single flag has been found using the colour purple or
violet. Vatican City does avoid to use red and blue colours and
only applies yellow and white.

The sections West- and East Europe

A West-European coastal area covering France, GB,
Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway and Iceland applies
genuine red-white-blue combinations. I was unable to check
whether they all define the “peers”-concept, but certainly
France, GB, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands do.
Of course colonial empires may have influenced the flags in
their former colonies, either by approval or rejection of the
former symbols. Belgium obviously did chose the German
colours at the process of independence and virtually interrupts
the homogeneous area for red-white-blue from north cape to
the Pyrenées.
At the east side of Europe Russia, Yugoslavia and
Czechoslovakia form another area of genuine red-white-blue
combinations. Romania applies a red-yellow-blue combination.

The “corridor” avoiding red-white-blue
In between the west- and east-areas of Europe a large block
ranging from the north cape to southern Italy may be identified
to avoid the red- & blue-combinations: Sweden, Finland,
Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Austria, Greece, Italy
and Malta. This “corridor” did not always avoid red and blue
as symbolic colours. In fact the German, medieval emperor
Henry VI and his dependent kings (e.g. the Bohemian king)
preferred red and blue as his imperial garments, which may be
identified and analysed in the Manesse Codex (available in the

Fig. 8: Emperor Henry VI (detail Codex Manesse)

Fig. 9: Barbarossa and his sons

This painting5 illustrates the red & blue clothing of Barbarossa

and his sons. Obviously the king is wearing a blue overcoat
over red garments. His sons wear red overcoats with blue
interior colours over yellow garments. Barbarossa ruled the
empire between 1155 and 1190.

Miniature from the Welfes' Chronicles

The graphics in the Codex Manesse in Wikipedia display some
equivalent garments, e.g. Codex Manesse, fol. 10r, King
Wenzel from Bohemia (= Vaclav II.), wearing a blue coat over
red garments, while seated on a purple throne.

Abbildung 10: King Wenzel from Bohemia

These details suggest the blue overcoat may have been

overruling the red overcoat. The purple throne indicates a
divine symbol.

A hierarchy for colours
From these graphics we may derive the following hierarchy for
colours at the Middle Age at the north side of the Alps:

Purple > Blue > Red

This hierarchy may have be different at other eras and for

other areas.

A loss of Symbolism
Originally medieval Europe may have been a large area from
the west coast to Russia, which unanimously accepted red and
blue as their basic symbols. Somewhere between the Middle
Age and today the central area lost the symbolism. One of the
possible causes may have been the religious reformations by
Luther and Calvin, who managed to replace most of the ancient
symbols by modern concepts. This may have caused a loss of
ancient symbolism and influenced an alternative choice of
fundamental colours for the banners in later eras.

Other nations
I did not investigate the origins for the symbolic colours for far
east countries and south American nations, which may have
inherited some symbolism from colonial eras. Others (e.g.
Philippines) are known to have been guided by Freemasonry.

Flags using genuine red-white-blue
Flags using genuine red-white-blue combinations (excluding
other colours) are:
The West-Europe section
• France
• Great Britain
• Luxembourg
• Netherlands
• Norway
• Iceland

The Mid- and East European section

• Yugoslavia
• Czechoslovakia
• Russia (only for the current, re-installed flag)

Non-European countries
• Burma
• Cambodia
• Chile
• China (nat.)
• Costa Rica
• Cuba
• Dominican Republic
• Philippines (red, white, blue and a yellow symbol)
• Korea (North & South, including a Yin/Yang-symbol)
• Liberia
• Malaysia

• Nepal
• Panama
• Paraguay
• Thailand
• West Samoa

Former colonies using genuine red-white-blue flags

(These flags may have inherited their colours from others:)
• Australia (as a former colony for Great Britain)
• New Zealand (as a former colony for Great Britain)
• Rhodesia (as a former colony for Great Britain)
• South Africa (combining the British & Dutch flags)
• USA (as a former colony for Great Britain)

Flags using genuine red-yellow-blue combinations

• Andorra, which obviously combines the French colours
red and blue with the yellow Spanish symbol.
• Colombia
• Congo (Kinshasa)
• Ecuador
• Liechtenstein
• Malaysia (red-yellow-blue and white)
• Ngwane
• Romania
• Venezuela (red-yellow-blue and white stars)

Other Flags (for simplicity only an extract will be given)
Mid-European section
• Belgium (black, yellow, red)
• Denmark (red & white)
• Germany (black, red, yellow)
• Finland (blue and white)
• Greece (blue and white)
• Ireland (green, white, orange)
• Italy (green, white, red)
• Malta (red and white)
• Austria (red and white)
• Poland (red and white)
• Portugal (red and green)
• Switzerland (red and white)
• Sweden (blue and yellow)
• Vatican City (yellow and white)

Non-European countries
• Canada (red & white)
• Gambia (red, blue and green)
• India (green, white, orange)
• Indonesia (red and white)
• Israel (blue and white)
• Japan (white and red)
• Lesotho (red, blue and green)
• Turkey (red and white)
• South Yemen (red-white-black and blue)

5 Categorized flags in Europa

Fig. 11: Map of the categorized flags in Europe

Legend to the Map of Europe sketching the corridor between

areas using red-white-blue flags:

• purple = areas using red-white-blue flags

• yellow = areas not using red-white-blue flags

Romania and Belgium are exceptional cases. At independence

Belgium chose the same colours as Germany (black, yellow,
red), whereas Romania applies red-yellow-blue.

6 Conclusion
In the Middle Age Europe may have known a basic symbolism
ruled by the biblical colours purple, red and blue, which must
be considered as androgynous symbols.
Although the divine symbol purple has been rejected as a basic
symbol for flags originally the other androgynous elements red
and blue have been popular all over Europe.
In a post-medieval era, probably the reformation era, the
symbolism at some areas in central Europe vanished.
In western Europe the colours purple, red and blue refer to the
“peers” concept, to be identified by the Dutch word “paars” (in
medieval eras referring to “peers”, but in modern times merely
to the colour “purple”) and the French word “pair” (translated:
Red and blue probably are “pairing”-colours symbolizing
equality6, whereas “purple”, “paars”, “pairs” or “peers”
represent the divine and upper hierarchy.
In the etymology for flags the colours red and blue are
symbolic elements as found in the rainbow's borderlines. The
colour combination “paars” (“purple” or “pairs”) found by
weaving red & blue threads or words (into towels respectively
manuscripts) resulted in the divine colour purple.

Latin: “pares” (translating to “the equal persons”)

7 References to related documents

• Another Etymology for Purple

• Paint It Purple - A short History of painting Red and
• Genesis - Weaving the Words in Red and in Blue
• Hochdorf Revisited - A reconstructed Celtic Site
• The Sky-God Dyæus


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