Interesting facts about the Greek flag

There are many interesting facts about the Greek flag. In this article, I have listed some details about the national flag of Greece, including some lesser-known trivia!

Information about Greece flag

If you’ve landed on this article, chances are that you are somehow familiar with the flag of Greece. Along with the Parthenon, it’s one of our country’s most instantly recognizable symbols.

The Greek flag

Greece’s flag consists of nine blue-and-white stripes, and a white cross in a blue background on the top left-hand corner. You can see it all around the country – on buildings, public spaces, ferries, and sometimes on private balconies.

But how was the Greek flag created? Read on for some interesting stories!

From Ancient to Ottoman Greece – Flags, symbols and colours

Let’s go back to Ancient Greece for a start! As you probably know, the notion of a “country” back then was nothing like what we know today. Still, the concept of a flag / symbol is several millennia old, though its exact origins remain unknown.

A Greek flag in the port town in Sikinos

Ancient Greeks drew symbols, letters and animals on objects like weapons, shields and ship masts. It appears that large red flags made of fabric were introduced during Alexander’s era. In later centuries, those flags co-existed along with the Roman flags, which depicted an eagle.

During the Byzantine and Medieval times, flags became commonplace. Emperors, but also nobles, lords and other rulers used them, often to indicate land boundaries. Flags were also popular in battlefield.

In 1453, Constantinople was captured by the Ottoman Empire. This was the beginning of a new era, where the concept of Greek ethnicity became important.

Greece flags in a monastery in Milos

The eagle symbol, which had been carried on from the Roman era, appeared on most flags at the time. In addition, a new symbol, the cross, was introduced, often accompanied by a depiction of a Christian saint. While red was still a favourite colour, other colours were used, including white, blue and black.

The Greece flag during the Revolution

Year 1821 marked the beginning of the Greek Revolution against the Ottoman Empire. During the preceding decades, numerous regional flags and symbols were in use.

A Greek flag in Santorini

Initially, there was no central management of the Revolution. As a result, every local chieftain and leader came up with their own flag version. Those mostly depended on their personal preferences, historical knowledge, religious attachment and many other factors.

Still, there were several common features. The most recurrent element was the cross, the symbol of Greek Orthodoxy. It indicated religious reverence, and was in contrast to the Ottoman crescent moon.

Several other symbols were used during those times. Examples are the owl (wisdom), the eagle (freedom), the Phoenix (regeneration), the serpent (knowledge), the anchor (persistence) and the laurel wreath .
The most prominent colours in those early flags included white (brotherhood), red (patriotism) and black (sacrifice). Yellow and various shades of blue were also common.

Furthermore, certain phrases were often quoted on Greek flags of the time. Two of the mottos most frequently used were “freedom or death” and “with your shield, or on it”. If you can read Greek, these are “ΕΛΕΥΘΕΡΙΑ Η ΘΑΝΑΤΟΣ”, and “Η ΤΑΝ Η ΕΠΙ ΤΑΣ”, an ancient Spartan phrase.

A different Greek flag

Even these days, you can see this latter motto if you travel to the Mani area in the Peloponnese!

Colors of the Greek flag

The first blue-and-white Greek flag appeared in 1807, in Skiathos island. This was a simple blue flag with a white cross.

In 1822, a year after the beginning of the Revolution, the first Constitution of Greece was agreed upon. It included a few paragraphs on the Greek flag, and it was decided that the colours would be white and blue.

According to one theory, this was symbolic of the blue Aegean Sea and the white waves. Furthermore, certain colours, such as red and green, were not favoured, because they evoked memories of the Ottoman Empire and Islam.

The most common design of the Greek flag at the time was a simple blue background with a white cross, which divided it in four equal rectangles.

An early version of the Greek flag

Several versions of a Greek flag appeared in the next decades, featuring the white and blue colours and the cross. Other elements were often included, such as the royal crown and an image of St George. Different flags were created for the army, the navy, and for display on public buildings.

Incredibly, the Greek flag that we all know today, only became official in 1978! The nine stripes correspond to the nine syllables of the phrase “freedom or death” (Ε-ΛΕΥ-ΘΕ-ΡΙΑ Η ΘΑ-ΝΑ-ΤΟΣ). However, you might see alternative versions from time to time.

Travelling on a Greek ferry

Photos of the Greek flag on a ferry, right next to the Aegean Sea, are among the most typical images of Greece! You’ve probably taken plenty yourself when island-hopping around the Greek islands.

Interesting facts about the Greek flag

As you see, the history of the Greek flag is quite fascinating. Here are some more interesting facts about the Greek flag!

The Greek flag on the Acropolis rock

  • The Greek flag can only be manufactured in eight specific sizes, though the height-width proportions are always 2:3. An incredibly big Athens flag can be found inside the Acropolis, measuring 6.5 x 4.3 meters!
  • Surprisingly, no precise tone of blue is mentioned in the specifications of the Greek flag. A deep shade of blue is implied (where blue is defined as the colour of the calm sea or the cloudless sky).
  • The Greek flag remains raised from 8.00 until sunset in public buildings such as the Greek Parliament, ministries, embassies and schools. It is also used in army barracks, naval ships and commercial ferries. During certain public holidays, the flag can remain raised during the night.

The Polytechnic University in Athens Greece

  • The flag needs to be attached to a pole with precise specifications – so, for example, it cannot be hanging off a balcony.
  • The Greek flag cannot be used for commercial or advertising purposes, or as a banner for any union, association or organization.
  • A Greek flag that has been worn out (e.g. due to strong winds) should not be placed in the trash. Instead, it needs to be destroyed, preferably by a ceremonial fire.
  • Any person who removes, destroys, disfigures or defiles the Greek flag, is punishable by imprisonment of up to two years, or a fine.

Looking for more facts about the Greek flag? Here are all the specifications (in Greek).

On the small ferry to Delos

Finally, one more trivia! Since 1928, during the Olympic Games, Greece is always leading the opening ceremony, known as “the Parade of Nations”. During the 2004 Olympics, which were hosted in Athens, the flag led the parade, and our national team walked in last.

The Greek flag

I hope this article has shed some light on the origins of our blue-and-white flag. If you liked it, here are a couple more that you should find interesting.

Walking around Anafiotika AthensAnd here is a very short bio!

My name is Vanessa, I am from Athens, and I love helping people discover more about my country. I’m a statistician / social researcher by profession, and I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to Greek trivia, customs and culture. I guess I can call it “ethnographical research” 🙂 

2 comments

  1. Hi Vanessa,
    Thank you for this information.

    I just have a objection, as the first colours of the Greek flag wasn’t deep blue (sea blue) but the light blue (ΓΑΛΑΝΌΛΕΥΚΗ ΣΗΜΑΊΑ), the colours of the Bavarian flag, King Otto of Bavaria brought to Greece.

    Ligt blue greek flags can you still find in several countries selling souvenirs.

    It was a political need to change later on the flag colour to deep blue and name it as the colour of the sea.

    🙏

    1. Hello Nireas and thank you for your comment! The first Greek flag was defined in the first national assembly (Α εθνοσυνέλευση) in 1822, when Otto was only 7 years old – he became king of Greece in 1832. The 1822 description mentions the word “κυανό” – των μεν κατά γην δυνάμεων η σημαία, σχήματος τετραγώνου, θα είχεν εμβαδόν κυανούν, το οποίο θα διηρείτο εις τέσσαρα ίσα τμήματα από άκρων έως άκρων του εμβαδού. I also found some sources mentioning that Otto changed the shade of blue to a lighter one, to match the colours of the Bavarian flag, but there is so much information out there, I thought I’d stick to what I thought were the basics.
      Check out what google brings up for “cyan”… it’s definitely not what we call κυανό!
      {Btw, according to the well-known Babiniotis dictionary, κυανό is defined as βαθύ γαλάζιο, and γαλάζιο is defined as “αυτός που έχει το χρώμα τού
      ανέμελου ουρανού ή τής ήρεμης θάλασσας”. If you have a better english word for the mundane “blue” that I have used in the article, I’d love to know!}

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