The flag of Greece (Greek Σημαία της Ελλάδος), popularly referred to as the Γαλανόλευκη or the Κυανόλευκη, the "blue-white") is based on nine equal horizontal stripes of blue alternating with white. There is a blue canton in the upper hoist-side corner bearing a white cross; the cross symbolises Greek Orthodoxy, the established religion of the country. According to popular tradition, the nine stripes represent the nine syllables of the phrase "Έλευθερία ή Θάνατος" ("Freedom or Death", " E-lef-the-ri-a i Tha-na-tos"), the five blue stripes for the syllables "Έλευθερία" and the four white stripes "ή Θάνατος". There is also a different theory, that the nine stripes symbolize the nine Muses, the goddesses of art and civilization (nine has traditionally been one of the numbers of reference for the Greeks). The official flag ratio is 2:3.
The blazon of the flag is Azure, four bars Argent; the canton Azure with a Greek cross throughout Argent. The shade of blue used in the flag has varied throughout its history, from light blue to dark blue, the latter being increasingly used since the late 1960s.
The above patterns were officially adopted by the First National Assembly at Epidaurus in January 1822. Blue and white have many interpretations, symbolizing the colors of the famed Greek sky and sea (combined with the white clouds and waves), traditional colors of Greek clothes in the islands and the mainland, etc.
History of the Greek flag
The origins of the cross-and-stripe pattern of today's national flag are a matter of debate. Flags with stripes had been used earlier, while a flag "with a cross and 16 stripes" has been described as an early revolution flag.
It has been suggested that the 1822 pattern evolved from a much older design, a virtually identical flag of the powerful Cretan Kallergis family (who provided several key military and political figures in Greek history). The flag was based on their coat of arms, whose pattern in turn is supposedly derived from the standards of their ancestor, Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus II Phocas. This pattern included the nine stripes of alternating blue and white, and the cross on the canton.
The stripe-pattern of the Greek flag is visibly similar to that used in several other flags that have appeared over the centuries, most notably that of the British East India Company's pre-1707 flag. However, in such cases of flags derived from much older designs, it is very difficult to prove or trace (possibly mutual) original influences.
It is quite possible, nevertheless, that foreign flags may have influenced the preferential adoption of the stripe-pattern, apparently already existing, as the Greek sea flag.
- N. Zapheiriou, "The Greek Flag from Antiquity to Present", Eleutheri Skepsis, Athens 1995 (reprint of original 1947 publication)
- E. Kokkoni and G. Tsiveriotis, "Greek Flags, Signs and Emblems", Athens 1997.
- I. Nouchakis, "Our Flag", Athens 1908.
- Presidency of the Hellenic Republic: State Symbols, The Flag
- Greece: Index of all related pages at Flags of the World
- Artivle on the Greek Flag from the website of the Hellenic Army (in Greek)
- Greek flags during the Ottoman era (in Greek)