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 the flag of Greece

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

The Greek flag

Greece’s flag consists of nine horizontal stripes of blue alternating with white, and a white cross on a blue background on the upper left corner.

You can see it all around the country – on buildings, public areas, ferries, and sometimes on private balconies.

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

Ancient 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 engraved symbols, letters and animals on objects like weapons, shields and ship masts. A symbol used widely during those times was the swastika, which became better known during the 20th century.

It appears that large red flags made of fabric were introduced during Alexander’s era. These were attached to the long spears used by the Macedonians, called Sarisa, and were used to signal the beginning or the end of a battle.

In later centuries, those flags co-existed with the Roman flags, which depicted a golden eagle on a black background.

Flags during Byzantine and Ottoman Greece

During the Byzantine and Medieval times, flags became commonplace all around Europe.

Emperors, nobles, lords and other rulers used them, often to indicate land boundaries of their kingdom. 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 of 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 shades were used, including white, blue and black.

The flag of Greece during the Greek Revolution

Year 1821 marked the beginning of the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire.

A Greek flag in Santorini

Throughout the preceding decades, numerous regional flags and symbols were in use. Every local leader and chieftain came up with their own flag version. As there was no central management of the Revolution, this continued.

The local leaders designed the regional flags based on their personal preferences, historical knowledge, religious attachment and many other factors. Still, there were several common features.

Symbols and colours used during the Revolution

The most recurrent element on regional flags was the cross, the symbol of Greek Orthodox Christianity. 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 local flags included white (freedom / brotherhood), red (blood / patriotism) and black (sacrifice / death). 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 “Ελευθερία ή Θάνατος”, and “Ή ταν ή επί 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.

The national flag becomes blue and white

The first blue and white flag in Greece appeared in 1807, in Skiathos island. This was a simple white cross on a blue square.

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 national flag.

For the first time, it was officially decided that the colours of the flag would be white and blue.

What do the blue and white colors represent?

According to one theory, those two colours were symbolic of the blue Aegean Sea and the white waves.

Others connect the white colour to purity, and the blue colour to the God in the sky, who helped Greece defeat the Ottoman Empire.

One thing is certain though. 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, dividing it in four equal rectangles.

An early version of the Greek flag

Several versions of a Greek flag appeared in the decades after the Revolution. Different flags were used for the army, the navy, and for display on public buildings.

Most of them featured the white and blue colours and the cross. Other elements were often included, such as the royal crown or an image of St George.

The official national flag of Greece is only a few decades old!

Incredibly, the Greek flag that we all know today, was only officially adopted οn December 22 1978.

According to one theory, the nine horizontal stripes represent the nine syllables of the phrase “Freedom or death” (Ε-ΛΕΥ-ΘΕ-ΡΙΑ Η ΘΑ-ΝΑ-ΤΟΣ). 

Some people agree that the nine stripes represent the Nine Muses. These goddesses were daughters of Zeus, the king of the 12 Ancient Greek Gods in Greek mythology.

Finally, according to another point of view, the nine parallel stripes symbolize the white and blue waves in the Aegean sea.

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.

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 flag. A deep shade of blue is implied, where “blue” is defined as the colour of the calm sea or the cloudless sky.
  • The 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 flag of Greece 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 official flag, is punishable by imprisonment of up to two years, or a fine.

Looking for more facts? 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.

Frequently asked questions about the Greek flag

Here are most commonly asked questions about Greece’s national flag:

What colors are the Greek flag?

The flag of Greece has nine stripes, which are blue and white. There is also a white cross on a blue square, on the top left corner.

Why are there 9 stripes on the Greek flag?

There are many theories explaining the nine stripes on the flag. According to the most common theory, they are said to represent the nine syllables of a Greek phrase translating into Freedom or Death.

What is the ancient Greek flag?

Ancient Greece wasn’t a country, so there was no Greek flag back then. That said, the army of Alexander the Great appears to have used large red flags, during warfare.

What was the Greek flag before 1978?

After the Greek Revolution, there were several versions of the flag in Greece. They included blue and white colours, the cross, and maybe a few more symbols. in 1978, the current version was officially adopted.

What color blue is the Greek flag?

Surprisingly, the exact shade of blue is not defined. It can be dark blue, or light blue.

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 AthensHi! 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” 🙂 

4 thoughts on “Interesting facts about the Greek flag”

  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.

    🙏

    Reply
    • 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!}

      Reply
  2. Thank you for your insights. For the last 15 years we have been ‘frequent ‘visitors to your WONDERFUL country. If we were not so old 70-80 , we would stay for months rather than weeks.

    Reply

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