The flag of Greece is the national flag of this Mediterranean republic member of the European Union. It is made up of a white cross on a blue background in the canton. In the rest of the flag, nine horizontal stripes of blue and white are interspersed.
Greece is one of the oldest civilizations in the world. However, its composition as a state and creation of a national flag did not arrive until well into the 19th century.
The first recorded flags used in Greece arose in the Byzantine Empire and, especially, in the Ottoman Empire. Of these, the common symbol was always the Cross of Saint George.
Since Greek independence, a duality has been maintained between the flag with only the cross of St. George or that with the nine horizontal stripes. Finally, the latter became a national flag in 1978. Its meaning is related to ancient symbols such as the Shield of Achilles, although they are frequently related to the sky and the sea.
History of the flag
Greek civilization is the cradle of the West. Through the different city-states, Greece maintained an important power in the region from different perspectives.
Later, Alexander the Great took control and assumed the territory. Later and after the disintegration of this empire, the Romans took control of Greece and adopted part of its culture.
Ancient Rome was the dominant one for centuries, until in 1453 the Roman Empire divided. Greece became part of the eastern, also known as the Byzantine Empire. It was in this period that the first Greek symbols related to flags began to be recorded.
The current Greek flag has a Cross of St. George. Although Greece remained a believing people of its own mythology for many centuries, Christianity spread rapidly and strongly. That is why the cross began to be one of the main symbols that represented the territory.
Like the Romans, the Byzantines used any number of banners and flags to identify themselves militarily. However, as a status symbol they were unusual. The only flag of the Byzantine Empire on record is the one used during the Palaiologos dynasty.
This symbol consisted of a square divided by a yellow St. George’s cross. In each corner a beta letter of the same color was incorporated on a red background.
The Byzantine Empire did not know how to control and stop the Ottoman advance throughout its territory, and Greece was one of its first conquests. Between the 14th and 15th centuries, the Ottoman Empire began to occupy the entire region. The exception were the islands of Crete and Cyprus, Venetian, and the Ionian Islands, French and later British.
The Ottoman Empire did not use a fixed national flag until 1844, when it no longer maintained control over Greece. The Christian Greek idiosyncrasy in contrast to the majority Islam in the empire, made that the symbols used in Greece during the Ottoman rule tended to maintain references to Christianity.
The uses of the flags were mainly maritime. With the support of the Ottoman sultan, these could include Christian symbols. One of the most popular consisted of a tricolor with three horizontal stripes of the same size. Those at the ends incorporated red, the color of the empire and the central stripe was blue, of the Orthodox Church.
A Greek state began to feel necessary for different sectors of society, and this was represented symbolically. That is why between 1770 and 1771 in the Orlov revolt the Greek cross began to be used as an identification. This began to stand out from the revolution of 1821 that started the Greek war of independence.
Back then there were all kinds of revolutionary flag designs. Many of them involved the colors red and black, in addition to white.
For example, the design of the Greek writer Rigas Feraios incorporated a red-white-black tricolor with three crosses in the middle. This would have been used in a pan-Balkan federation.
In addition to such designs, the Areopagus flag of Continental Eastern Greece was formed during the war in central Greece, which ruled a part of the country. Its symbol was a vertical tricolor of green-white-black colors, which incorporated a cross, a heart and an anchor on them.
Diatribe about the color of the cross and the background
The most popular symbol during the war of independence for the Greek forces was the sky blue cross flag on a white background. This was in use since 1769 and became a representation of Greek unity.
However, and for reasons not yet clarified historically, the colors were reversed. In January 1822 the first National Assembly of Greece established the unification of national symbols over the revolutionary ones. For this reason, in March it adopted a flag with a white cross and a blue background.
This has been the longest lasting national symbol in Greek history, as it remained as a flag on the land of the country until 1969, and then between 1975 and 1978.
However, the country also adopted naval flags that were adapted according to the political system and coexisted with the land flag.
Kingdom of Greece
The first Hellenic Republic was short-lived. By 1833, King Otto I had become the Hellenic regent. Although the flag of the country was maintained, the king incorporated his shield into a new naval flag.
This consisted of keeping the white cross on the blue background in the canton, while in the rest nine horizontal stripes were added. In the central part of the cross the shield of the monarch was added, presided over by a royal crown.
The orientation of the coat of arms changed in 1858. This was reflected in the flag, as were its new proportions.
Reign of George I
The monarchy in Greece continued with King George I. Of Danish origin, the king was elected by the National Assembly after the deposition of Otto I. The king headed the Greek monarchy for around half a century, becoming one of the most important political figures. important parts of modern Greece.
His arrival to the throne also meant changes in Greek symbols. Although the national flag remained, the crown became an important part of the representation of the country. To begin with, the naval flag replaced the old royal shield with a yellow crown, in addition to darkening the blue color.
In addition, the civil pavilion was also added the crown. This consisted of the same national flag, but with the crown in the central part.
Second Hellenic Republic
The participation of Greece in the First World War generated important consequences in the historical and political evolution of the nation. Greece tried to take advantage of the fall of the Ottoman Empire to conquer territories with a Greek population in Asia Minor.
This expansionist attempt failed, generating population exchange and accusations of genocide.
In 1924 a referendum was held in Greece to abolish the monarchy, which had lost much of its support after the Greco-Turkish war of 1919-1922.
In this way the Second Hellenic Republic was born. Its flag was the same used in the First Republic and it kept the same land flag. During this period, monarchical symbols were eliminated, leaving only the cross.
It was in this period when the distinctions in the uses of the flags were established. The land flag was used in ministries, embassies and in any civil or military function. Instead, the naval flag was only to be used in the merchant marine, consulates and by private citizens.
Restoration of the monarchy
The political situation in the following years turned turbulent. Europe began to experience the threat of World War II, and that was reflected in Greece.
In 1935 a referendum was planned for the restoration of the monarchy, but the military man Georgios Kondilis staged a coup and took control of the country. Shortly after, a referendum was held without guarantees that left a large majority in favor of a return to the monarchy.
Consequently, the civil and naval pavilions of Greece with the royal crown were also restored. On August 4, 1936, the panorama changed after the establishment of the Metaxás regime or on August 4.
This was an anticommunist and conservative government supported by King George II. As the monarchy continued, the symbols remained.
Italian invasion and Nazi occupation
During World War II, Fascist Italy tried to invade Greece. However, their forces were repelled and Germany had to go to carry out the process.
After resisting, Nazi Germany took control of the country from the Battle of Greece in 1941 to 1944. The Nazi flag was raised in Athens.
The Greek postwar period was quite complicated. The country, after different internal political movements, became an island in Eastern Europe, being a western democracy that geographically bordered communist governments under the influence of the Soviet Union.
In 1967, the Prime Minister of Greece, Yorgos Papandréu, presented his resignation to King Constantine II. The threat of a military uprising became latent, and it finally materialized on April 21 of that year. Georgios Papadopoulos headed the Board of Colonels that deposed the democratic government of the country.
The Colonels’ Dictatorship was one of the most critical periods in the history of Greece, in which numerous human rights violations were recorded.
This political system could have been possible in the framework of the Cold War. King Constantine II legitimized the coup plotters, although he maintained a silent opposition.
Finally, in 1973 King Constantine II organized an auto coup, which was unsuccessful. The monarch was forced into exile and the colonels proclaimed the Hellenic Republic.
Symbols in the dictatorship
With regard to symbols, one of the most important changes was recorded. In 1970 the naval flag was incorporated as a national flag, with a much darker blue.
Both the royal civil and naval pavilions were maintained, until the proclamation of the republic in 1973.
The closed and firm political regime of the Colonels’ Dictatorship began to see an end due to its own errors and excesses. The Polytechnic University of Athens was the protagonist of a revolt in 1973 that ended in a massacre, but with a weakened regime. The final thrust would be the invasion of Cyprus and the regime fell on July 20, 1974.
At that time, the Metapolitefsi process began, which began the change of political regime and the holding of democratic elections in 1974.
That same year a referendum was held in which the Greek people were consulted if they wanted to maintain the republic or regain the monarchy. The Republican option won with more than 69%.
When democracy recovered and the Third Hellenic Republic was established, the Greek flag prior to the dictatorship was re-adopted, without monarchical symbols. Again, the symbol established by George II was once again the national flag.
However, the definitive change came in 1978. The naval flag became the national flag of the country, maintaining a medium blue. Since then, it has not undergone any modifications.
Meaning of the flag
There are multiple interpretations of the meaning of the components of the flag of Greece. Historically, the color blue was used by the Orthodox Church to contrast with the red prevalent in the Ottoman Empire. As is logical, it is the cross that identifies Greek Orthodox Christianity.
However, the nine stripes are the ones that have the most interpretations about their meaning. These could correspond to the nine syllables of the phrase “Freedom or Death” in Greek.
They can also be recognized with each of the letters in the word “Freedom” in Greek. The number nine is also important in Greek mythology, and some associate it with the nine muses of literature, science, and the arts.
There is no specific meaning when it comes to colors. For the population it is quite common to associate blue and white with the sky and the sea.
Blue has also been assigned to the divine power that supported independence, while white would be the purity of that process.
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