Did the Romans use flags?

Did the Romans use flags?The answer, in the modern use of the world flag, is ‘no’. The world is of Germanic origin and was used in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries to mean a piece of cloth, or other material, displaying the insignia of a community or armed force, an office, or an individual. They were used originally mainly in warfare, and were signs of leadership. They also served to identify friend and foe and were useful as rallying points. Flags of various forms are known as colors, standards, banners, ensigns, pennons, guidons and burgees. The earliest insignia used in battle were not flags. They can be more correctly described as standards. The ancient standard, such as the Roman legions carried into battle, consisted of some solid object fixed on a bracket at the top of a pole.

Cities of ancient Greece had distinctive signs such as a sphinx or a Pegasus. The Romans followed this example, at first using effigies of gods, of generals or of animals – wolves, horses and bears – until it was decreed that the Roman legions should have only the eagle (aquila) as a standard. This eagle effigy was revived in France by Napoleon I and later in Fascist Italy. The vexillum or Roman cavalry flag was nearer to a flag in the modern sense of the word. It was a square piece of cloth fastened to a bar fixed crosswise to a spearhead, and is still used in ecclesiastical ceremony in both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox religious processions.

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