The flag of Greece, officially recognized by Greece as one of its national symbols, 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 Eastern Orthodox Christianity, the established religion of the Greek people of Greece and Cyprus. According to popular tradition, the nine stripes represent the nine syllables of the phrase, “Freedom or Death”, the five blue stripes for the syllables “Έλευθερία” and the four white stripes “ή Θάνατος“. The nine stripes are also said to represent the letters of the word “freedom” (Greek: Ελευθερία). 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; on a canton of the field a Greek cross throughout of the second. The shade of blue used in the flag has varied throughout its history, from light blue to dark blue, the latter being increasingly used since the late 1960s.
The above patterns were officially adopted by the First Nationally Assembly at Epidaurus on 13th of 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.
The origins of today's national flag with its cross-and-stripe pattern are a matter of debate. Every part of it, including the blue and white colors, the cross, as well as the stripe arrangement can be connected to very old historical elements; however it is difficult to establish “continuity“, especially as there is no record of the exact reasoning behind its official adoption in early 1822.
It has been suggested by some Greek historians that the current flag derived from an older design, the virtually identical flag of the powerful Cretan Kallergis Family. This flag was based on their coat of arms, whose pattern is supposed to be derived from the standards of their claimed ancestor, Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus II Phocas (963–969 AD). This pattern (according to not easily verifiable descriptions) included nine stripes of alternating blue and white, as well as a cross, assumed to be placed on the upper left.
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’s pre-1707 flag or the flag of the United States of America. However, in such cases of flags derived from much older designs, it is very difficult to prove or trace original influences.
There is no mention of any “state” flag until the mid-14th century, when a Spanish atlas, the Conoscimento de todos los revnos depicts the flag of “the Empire of Constantinople” combining the red-on-white Cross of St George with the “tetragrammic cross” of the ruling house of the Palaiologoi, featuring the four betas or pyrekvola (fire-steels) on the flag quarters representing the imperial motto Βασιλεύς Βασιλέων Βασιλεύων Βασιλευόντων (King of Kings Reigning over those who Rule). The tetragrammic cross flag, as it appears in quarters II and III in this design, is well documented. However, the exact “Westernized” (quartered) arrangement that includes the Cross of St. George, appearing in the Spanish atlas, is never depicted or described in any Greek source.
In the same Spanish atlas the (well documented) “plain” tetragrammic cross flag is presented as (among other places in the Empire) “the Flag of Salonika” and “the real Greece and Empire of the Greeks” (la vera Grecia e el imperio de los griegos) (not being clear whether this implies usage of the quartered flag mainly in Constantinople). Pseudo-Kodinos records the use of the “tetragrammic cross” on the banner (phlamoulon) borne by imperial naval vessels, while the megas doux displayed an image of the emperor on horseback.
During the Ottoman rule several unofficial flags were used by Greeks, usually employing the Byzantine double-headed eagle, the cross, depictions of saints and various mottoes. The Christian Greek sipahi cavalry employed by the Ottoman Sultan 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 so-called “Graeco - Ottoman flag” (Γραικοθωμανική παντιέρα), a civil ensign Greek Orthodox merchants (better: merchants from the Greek-dominated Orthodox millet) were allowed to fly on their ships, combining stripes with red (for the Ottoman Empire) and blue (for Orthodoxy) colors. After the Treaty of Kucuk Kaynarca, Greek-owned merchant ships could also fly the Russian flag.
During the 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 Revolution flag, 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, as a local symbol (a similar 16th or 17th century flag has been found near Chania), while Greek volunteers in Napoleon’s army in Egypt in 1798 used a white cross on blue incorporated in the canton of the French flag.
A military leader, Yiannis Stathas, used a flag with white cross on blue on his ship since 1800. The first flag featuring the design eventually adopted was created and hoisted in the Evangelistria monastery in Skiathos in 1807. Several prominent military leaders (including Theodoros Kolokotronis and Andreas Miaoulis) had gathered there for consultation concerning an uprising, and they were sworn to this flag by the local bishop.
On 15 March 1822, the Provisional Government, by Decree Nr. 540, laid down the exact pattern: white cross on blue (plain) for the land flag; nine alternate-colored stripes with the white cross on a blue field in the canton for the naval ensign; and blue with a blue cross on a white field in the canton for the civil ensign (merchant flag). On 30 June 1828, by decree of the Governor Ioannis Kapodistrias, the civil ensign was discontinued, and the cross-and-stripes naval ensign became the national ensign, worn by both naval and merchant ships. This design became immediately very popular with Greeks and in practice was often used simultaneously with the national (plain cross) flag.
After the establishment of the Kingdom of Greece in 1832, the new king, Otto, added the royal Coat of Arms (a shield in his ancestral Bavarian pattern topped by a crown) in the centre of the cross for military flags (both land and sea versions). Additionally, the ratios of the country's flags were set to 7:10 for the state flag and 18:25 for the state and naval ensign by a decree dated 3 June 1833. After Otto's abdication in 1862, the royal coat of arms was removed, only to be replaced by a simple royal crown in 1863 when the new king, George I, arrived in Greece. A square version of the land flag with St. George in the centre was adopted on 9 April 1864 as the Army’s colors. Similar arrangements were made for the royal flags, which featured the coat of arms of the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glucksburg on a square version of the national flag. The exact shape and usage of the flags was determined by Royal Decree on 26 September 1867. By a new Royal Decree, on 31 May 1914, the flag with the crown was adopted for use as a state flag by ministries, embassies and civil services, while the sea flag was allowed for use by private citizens.
On 25 March 1924, with the establishment of the Second Hellenic Republic, the crowns were removed from all flags. On 20 February 1930, the national flag's proportions were established at a 2:3 ratio, with the arms of the cross being "one fifth of the flag's width". The land version of the national flag was to be used by ministries, embassies, and in general by all civil and military services, while the sea flag was to be used by naval and merchant vessels, consulates and private citizens. With the restoration of the monarchy by Georgios Kondvlis on the 10th of October, 1935, the crown was restored on the flags. The crown was again removed by the military dictatorship in 1967, following the aborted counter-coup and subsequent self-exile of King Constantine II on the 13th of December. The sea flag was established as the sole national flag in 1969, using a very dark shade of blue, and on 18 August 1970, the flag ratio was changed to 7:12.
After the restoration of democracy in August of 1974, the land flag was restored for a while (Law 48/1975 and Presidential Decree 515/1975) until 1978.
In 1978 the sea flag was adopted as the sole national flag, with a 2:3 ratio. The flag is used on both land and sea is also the war and civil ensign, replacing all other designs surviving until that time. No other designs and badges can be shown on the flag. To date, no specification of the exact shade of the blue color of the flag has been issued. Consequently, in practice hues may vary from very light to very dark. The Greek Flag Day is on October 27th.
The old land flag is still flown at the Old Parliament Building in Athens, site of the National Historical Museum, and can still be seen displayed unofficially by private citizens.
Source: Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Greece
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