OVERVIEW

Have you ever looked at the European flags and wondered why so many of them are so similar? I certainly have.

When I first started researching this topic, my aim was to see if I could map out a complete family tree of all European flags. Failing that, I was curious if it was at least possible to determine the connection between all tricolour flags and between all cross flags. In developing the video, it was never my intention showcase a complete history. Such videos already exist on YouTube and there's not much I can add to them. Instead I wanted to focus strictly on the origins of the flags and how they influenced one another over time.

To achieve this, I started at the end and worked my way backwards for each and every flag. I navigated through the historical versions until I hit the point where, I believed, the flag was sufficiently distinct from the present version that I could stop. In other words, I stopped when I found the point of origin of the contemporary flag. Sometimes this would happen after the very first step, other times I had to go back several centuries. This isn't to say that no flag existed prior to my stopping point. In fact, the opposite was true in most cases.

 Click image to enlarge!

Click image to enlarge!

CHOICE OF COUNTRIES

But before I go any further, I must address my choice of countries. The inclusion or exclusion of most candidates was obvious, but there are a few cases that require clarification:

  • Turkey is located primarily in Asia, but a small part of it is in Europe so it was on the candidate list. The reason why Turkey made it into the video while other transcontinental countries (such as Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan) didn't is because of the European Union. Turkey is one of five currently recognized candidates for membership, alongside Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. If Turkey was European enough for the EU, who am I to disagree?
  • Cyprus is generally considered to be entirely in Asia. Yet, despite this, it is a fully-fledged member of the European Union. Once again, who am I to disagree with the EU?
  • Kosovo was easily the candidate I spent most time thinking about. Obviously, I had no desire to include any pseudo-countries like Transnistria. But where does one draw the line? Is Cyprus not a real country just because a single UN member (Turkey) doesn't recognise it? Is Northern Cyprus a real country just because a single UN member (Turkey, again) does recognise it? Obviously, majority recognition was the deciding factor for all of these and Kosovo was no exception. At the time of the making of the video, 56% of UN members recognised Kosovo which is technically a majority.
  • Greenland is situated entirely in North America, but it is part of the Danish Realm and Denmark is, of course, a European country. For a while, Greenland was even part of the European Communities that evolved into the EU. But in all honesty, Greenland made the cut purely because I wanted to point out that it was the only Nordic country not to have a Nordic Cross flag.
  • The European microstates of Andorra, Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, San Marino and Vatican City were excluded because they were too difficult to animate and they didn't fit into the overall narrative particularly well.

VIEWER FEEDBACK

Many viewers have expressed disappointment that their countries didn't receive enough focus. If you were among them and you're reading this now, I promise you that I researched your country just as thoroughly as all the others. In fact, I've spent close to two months doing research for this 3-minute video and there is not a single piece of flag history or trivia that you can throw at me that I don't already know.

But this was never going to be a complete history of the European flags and much of the history shown had to be simplified. The countries that got more focus were the ones whose flag evolution was visually more interesting or whose flags were most influential going forward. So, for example, I focused more on the creation of the Dutch flag as it was the first national tricolour. Meanwhile, it was a lot easier to summarise the Lithuanian flag as “based on Dutch model”. Similarly, I focused more on the origin of the Danish flag as it was the first cross-based national flag (still in use today), while Finland's flag was quickly summarised as “inspired by her Nordic sisters”.

Many viewers have provided links to Wikipedia articles detailing flag histories. While I acknowledge that Wikipedia is always my first point of reference, it is unfortunately not a primary source. Much European flag history is shrouded in mystery and I found the Wikipedia articles often didn't provide references or that the references provided were themselves not primary sources. That is not to say that the information within is necessarily wrong, but I tried to include only data backed by solid documentation.

Some have expressed concern that I was more interested in the Western countries than in the Eastern countries. I can see why this may appear to be the case, but in actual fact I researched the countries alphabetically. As time went on and my notes grew out of control, I became stricter about what kind of data made the cut. If Albania (an Eastern country) hadn't been the very first on the list, I doubt I would've included anything about the Kastrioti family coat of arms. If Portugal (a Western country) hadn't been 30th on the list, I doubt I would've excluded everything preceding 1911.

It's also important to note that I tried to tell a visual story, with the written text being only the cliff notes. Flag-lovers who know their histories will recognise much in my animation choices. To give just one example, why is the flag of Luxembourg initially transparent?

SPECIFIC POINTS

I will end by addressing specific points that have been made repeatedly. I may add further entries in this section in the future.

You missed a lot.
No, but I did intentionally leave out a lot. At 300 years of history per minute, “a lot” is actually an understatement.

You made a lot of mistakes.
Actually, I only made one mistake (which I address below). Everything else is factually correct, albeit trimmed and simplified.

The Star and Crescent wasn’t a common symbol in the Islamic world at that time.
This observation is absolutely correct. I can only apologise. My intent was to use Turkey as a gateway into Asia, so if I ever make an “Origins of the Asian Flags” video (which would absolutely include Turkey) I could explore how the Star and Crescent made its way onto several national flags. But sure enough, I got ahead of myself. The Star and Crescent didn't become a common symbol in the Islamic world until after being adopted by the Ottomans.

The video is too fast. It is impossible to catch all the details.
My aim was to tell a visual story, to show how the flags influenced each other over time. I only included the captions so anyone interested in the underlying history can pause, or play the video at reduced speed, and read. With that said, I must agree with the overwhelming majority that the video was indeed too fast.

The history of certain flags is incomplete.
The presentation isn’t meant to be a complete history of the flags. That would make for a much longer video. Rather, this is a look at where the current flags came from. As such, I tried to focus only on the milestones that informed the present-day versions. It was never my intention to include every stage of the evolution of every flag.

Much history is missing including the Napoleonic Wars, Austria-Hungary, World War I, World War II and much more.
Indeed, it is.

Not all tricolour flags were inspired by the Dutch (or French) flag.
The Dutch flag popularised the idea of a simple, tricolour flag. Thus, all tricolour flags were influenced, directly or indirectly, by the Dutch flag. France had the first vertical tricolour and was thus also very influential. When it came to choosing colours, many countries went with their pre-established national colours. Initially, my notes included the origins of said colours, but I ultimately decided this wasn't sufficiently interesting.

In particular, the Russian and French flags weren't inspired by the Dutch flag.
Actually, they were inspired, insofar as they adopted the tricolour design. This is not to say they also borrowed the colour scheme. As specified above, both France and Russia applied their pre-established national colours. The “suspiciously Dutch-like” bits were my (failed) attempt at humour. Nobody can deny that the flags were indeed “suspiciously Dutch-like”. In fact, several historians have attempted to connect the Russian colours to the Dutch flag.

The former Yugoslav area is entirely wrong.
Not really, but I wish I had thought of making the initial Russian flag clones more transparent, as I did with the flags of Belgium and Luxembourg. The idea was to explore why the modern-day flags of former Yugoslavia share a general colour scheme. This is not to say that there haven't been any other historical flags in the area. All information listed is factually correct.

The design of the Portuguese flag didn't come out of nowhere.
“Came out of nowhere” was a very poor choice of words on my part. I simply wanted to indicate that the 1911 flag was significantly different from the previous flags. It was, in my opinion, the point of origin. I've seen argued that the 1911 flag was, in fact, pretty similar to previous flags and thus more of the history should have been included. This is perhaps true, but my subjective opinion at the time was that it was not the case.

Sheldon Cooper would not approve.
I love Sheldon Cooper, but I doubt he could do better in 3 minutes.