Every country has a national flag, but why are some more memorable than others? We asked David F. Phillips, trustee of the Flag Heritage Foundation, for his expert opinion.
Technically, a flag is nothing more than a bit of fabric with a design on it, and yet they hold so much meaning for some people that they’ll literally go to war for them.
It’s an extraordinary power, and one that American scholar David F. Phillips has been attempting to pick apart for years.
Having originally studied heraldry, which is the historic designs painted onto shields, David found his way into other geeky iconography, like medals and ultimately flags. In the years since, he’s broken down exactly what separates an ordinary flag from a cracker.
“A great flag is marked by clarity, simplicity and individuality, meaning that it can easily be distinguished from other flags,” he explains. “There’s also ease of visibility, especially from a distance, brilliance of line, color and stylization, and a meaningful connection to the entity represented.”
A great flag is marked by clarity, simplicity and individuality, meaning that it can easily be distinguished from other flags.
An example with all these hallmarks, says David, is the national flag of Denmark, called the Dannebrog, which is widely regarded as the first national flag in Europe.
Pre-Dannebrog, the origin of the flag becomes a bit of guessing game.
“Was it a vexilloid from Ancient Egypt, which is basically a staff with an emblem carved at the top?” ponders David. “What about the legendary blacksmith’s apron of Persia? What I can say with some assurance is that the earliest European cloth flags, in the modern sense, were military banners and didn’t really represent countries.”
As for Australia’s specimen, with its celestial motif and colonial ties to Mother England, it turns out David’s a big fan.
“The Australian flag is very strong, dignified and distinct,” he gushes. “It’s got a long and meaningful history, and the Union Jack is an important part of your national history. I wouldn’t advise changing a single thread of your beautiful flag, even if Australia becomes a republic.”