Volume 6 Issue 1 Spring-Summer 2019
By Sarah DeClerk, Staff Writer
lags are intertwined with legends. Their symbolism and history allows people to remember heroes of the past. Austria’s flag emerged from a cultural mythos. It is one of the oldest national flags, and its simple red and white design conveys a fascinating story.
The tale begins amid the chaos of the Third Crusade during the Siege of Acre in Israel. Although the siege ended in a Christian victory, it was one of the deadliest events for their side. In the final year of the conflict, which lasted 1189-91, it was still unclear who would win. Victory seemed unlikely for the Christian troops when their leader Duke Frederick the VI of Swabia was killed. Then Duke Leopold V of Austria arrived combining forces with King Richard the Lionheart and King Phillip Augustus securing the Christian victory.
According to legend, the duke arose from one particularly gruesome battle drenched in blood. He was completely red, with only a white stripe across his waist when he doffed his belt. This striking image is said to have inspired the red and white Austrian flag design. Emperor Henry VI allowed him to adopt these colors as a new banner, which eventually became the Austrian flag.
Although this story is disputed by historians, it paints a dramatic, albeit grisly, picture, and that is probably why the legend has endured for so long. It is certain that the colors were found on the seal of Duke Frederick II, and that Austria adopted the flag by 1230.
It is one of many flags with a civil version flown by civilians and a national version flown by the government. The national flag is emblazoned with a black eagle crest. The eagle is a carryover from the Holy Roman Empire. It holds a sickle in its right talon, a hammer in its left talon and a crown on its head, to symbolize peasants, workers and the middle class, respectively. The broken chains at the eagle’s feet were added in 1945, after seven years of annexation by Nazi Germany, to symbolize freedom.
This flag, both basic and beautiful, shows how even straightforward designs are draped in meaning and history.
Want to purchase an Austrian flag with or without the eagle crest? Visit our Austria flag page.
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