The 5 Oldest Country Flags in the World

by Simon Villeneuve      March 29, 2015

For most countries, the date their flag was adopted is obvious, but for others it is disputable. The exact date or year of each country’s flag adoption may be unknown or debated because of design changes, but from our research, here are the five oldest country flags in the world.

1. SCOTLAND SALTIRE (832)

The Flag of Scotland originated in 832 AD, during a battle fought in the dark ages. It is known as Europe’s oldest flag. Often referred to as The Scotland Saltire, Saltire, or St Andrew's Cross, the Flag of Scotland uses an azure background. It’s design is bold and unique with a simple blue field and white saltire.

According to tradition, it represents Saint Andrew, who is supposed to have been crucified on a cross of that form. The St. Andrew's Cross was worn as a badge on hats in Scotland on the day of the feast of St. Andrew.

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2. AUSTRIA (Adopted 1230)

The flag of Austria entertains three equal horizontal stripes of red, white, and red. Historically, the design is based on the coat of arms of the Babenberg dynasty, and at first the flag was orange-white-blue, but later the orange and blue stripes became red.

According to legend, the flag was invented by Duke Leopold V of Austria as a consequence of his fighting during the Siege of Acre (1189-1191). After a fierce battle, his white surcoat was completely drenched in blood. When he removed his belt, the cloth underneath was strikingly white, revealing the color combination of red-white-red. So taken was he by this singular sight that he adopted the colors and scheme as Austria’s flag.

Though the Austrian Flag was in the works in 1105, it wasn’t officially adopted until 1230.

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3. LATVIA (1280)

One of the oldest flags in the world, the Flag of Latvia was first mentioned in medieval chronicle called the Rhymed Chronicle of Livonia in 1280. The chronicle mentions a red standard with a white stripe being used by Latvian tribes.

According to the LatvianHistory.com, “when the leader of Ancient Latvian Semigallian tribe lead the attack against the Teutonic Crusader controlled Riga, Latgalian soldiers from Cēsis came to support the crusaders. The Latgalians came with red-white-red flag that chronicler called the ‘flag of the letts.’”

A legend refers to a mortally wounded chief of a Latvian tribe who was wrapped in a white sheet. The part of the sheet on which he was lying remained white, but the two edges were stained in his blood. During the next battle the bloodstained sheet was used as a flag. According to the legend this time the Latvian warriors were successful and drove the enemy away.

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4. DENMARK (Adopted 1307 or earlier)

Known as the known as the 'Dannebrog' or 'Danish cloth,' in Denmark, the the current design of a white Scandinavian cross on a red background was officially adopted in 1307 or earlier. The Flag of Denmark also holds the Guinness World Record for the oldest continuously used national flag.

According to legend, the flag came into Danish possession during the Battle of Lyndanisse in 1219. The Danes were on a failing crusade in Estonia, but after praying to God, a flag fell from the sky. After this event, Danish King Valdemar II went on to defeat the Estonians. The first recorded use of the flag appeared less than 100 years later. This legend has no historical or factual record, though many hold it to be true.

Sources note that while Denmark was never part of the Roman Empire, similar designs were used by the Empire to represent provinces, as the white cross is symbolic of Christianity. The cross design was later adopted by other Nordic countries such as Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Iceland.

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5. ALBANIA (1443)

The Flag of Albania consists of a red field (background) with a black two-headed eagle in its center. The first sighting of Albania’s flag was on on November 28, 1443, when Skanderbeg (George Kastrioti), the national hero of Albania, raised his flag over the fortress of Krujë in defiance of the Turks who ruled the country. The unique double-headed eagle design was borrowed from the Byzantine Empire.

The symbol of the double-headed eagle was re-used by Albanian nationalists during the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a symbol of their campaign for their country's independence from the Ottoman Empire. On November 28, 1912, the Albanian Declaration of Independence was proclaimed, and the flag was officially adopted.

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*Updated March 2016 to reflect the oldest flags in the world, including those country flags occupied by another country after the dates below.