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Johnny E. Balsved


The History of the Flag

The Oldest Flag of the World

The people of Denmark, the Dane's, do proudly claim, not just to posist the oldest Kingdom of the World; but they even claim they fly the oldest national flag of the World.

The Colors of the Dane's, the "DANNEBROG", or previous the "DANNEBROGE", is most likely one of the oldest flag's in the World.

Never the less, the Dannebrog is the national color that has been in service for the longest historical period of time.

The Dannebrog was most likely the banner for the Danish crusaders, who in the beginning of the 13th Century made efforts to Christianize Estonia.

The Banner of the Raven

Historically it is really hard to prove that the Dannebrog is the oldest flag of the World.

It can however be seen that the Dane's actually possessed a Banner prior to the red and white flag, to day known as the Dannebrog.

The first known Danish banner was the "Banner of the Raven"

This banner was a piece of red cloth with a black raven. The Raven was the holly signature of the ancient Danish God, Odin. The banner was feared and well-known as the gathering point of the Vikings.

During the time of the Danish Vikings raids against the Norman's in the early 11th century, the Banner of the Raven became the national symbol.

In the year 1016 the Danish King Knud the Great was leading his men into the battle at Ashington in England, waving the Banner of the Raven.

This Banner, or piece of cloth was later known as the Dannebroge, the Dane's cloth. Later on the name was said as the Dannebrog.

The Raven Banner

The Raven Banner.
(Picture by courtesy of
Flemming Rickfors)

During the period of the Christianizing of the Dane's, the old black raven was replaced by the white cross.

The legend of the Dannebrog

Suddenly there was a great peal of thunder, and a red banner with a white cross floated down from the sky.

This is the story known to most Dane's as the origin of the Dannebrog.

This event happened June 15, 1219. The place was Lyndanisse in Estonia.

According to this legend, in the year 1219 the Danish King, Valdemar 2nd, led an attack against the pagan Estonians. His goal was to conquer them and make them Christian.

Dannebrog floating down from the sky on June 15, 1219

The historic moment, Dannebrog floating down from the sky on June 15, 1219.
(Painting by C A. Lorentzen)

The legend states further that the banner fell into the arms of Danish archbishop; a voice from the skies said: "When you raise this banner against your enemies, they will yield before you". The archbishop immediately sent a messenger with this banner to King Valdemar on the battlefield.

The King waved the banner high; and this miraculous sign from heaven encouraged the Dane's, and gave them their final victory.

There is, however, no historical evidence to document this ancient legend. The first pictures of the red flag with the white cross dates back to the mid 14th century.

But legend or not; since that long, the Dannebrog has been the national symbol of the Dane's, even though the Dane's were not allowed to fly the Dannebrog before 1854.

Until 1854 the Dannebrog was the symbol of the King and the State; and since 1912 the day of June 15 has been proclaimed the Day of the Flag, Valdemar's day.

Swallow Tailed or Square Flag

On several occasions through the 15th and 16th centuries the Danish Kings had to proclaim, that the swallow tailed Dannebrog was to be used only by the King and flying from his ships.

May 20, 1635 the King Christian IVth issued a resolution stating that Danish merchantmen shall fly the Dannebrog as a square flag.

Around 1750 Danish merchantmen passing through the Strait of Gibraltar an  sailing the Mediterranean area should fly a squared Dannebrog with the Royal Insignias.

The main purpose was to protect the Danish merchantmen from North African pirates and to avoid any confusion with the Flag of the Maltese.

The Danish square flag with the Royal Insignia...

The Danish square flag
with the Royal Insignia.

One could watch this squared flag with the Royal insignia flying up until 1867.

Dannebrog becomes the Danes' own Flag

The Danes to day make frequently use of their flag.

Right up until the 1830s, Dannebrog symbolized the royal household and the state.

Actually King Frederik VIth in 1834 passed laws prohibiting the use of flag by ordinary people.

Nevertheless Dannebrog was often used in popular festivities all over the country.

In 1854 the Danes are allowed the private use of flying the Dannebrog, - and they do it...

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Fra Flaadens arkiver - Dannebrog fra kongebanner til orlogsflag og fane, by Commander s.g. Th. Bjerre, Vaabenhistorisk Selskab, Copenhagen 1958


Om Dannebrog jeg ved..., edited by Jesper Hjermind and Kristian Melgaard, Forlaget Viborg I/S, Viborg, 1995 (ISBN 87-90281-00-4)


Rigets Flag paa batteriet Sixtus 1788 - 15.8 . 1988, by H. C. Bjerg, published by the Naval Material Command, Copenhagen, 1988


Vort flag, Forlaget Codan, Copenhagen 1943

44You are also referred to the Naval Bibliography

- Do you miss a major event on this Site,
or do you hold a great story?

Are you able to contribute to the unfolding of the Danish Naval History,
please e-mail me, enclosures are welcome.
Please remember to list your sources.

You can also use the Naval Web Forum on this web-site.

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This page was last updated: May 3, 2006

This page was first published: September 16, 2001

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