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Austro-Hungarian Landesfarben

Last modified: 2003-09-06 by marcus schmöger
Keywords: landesfarben | coronation flag | livery colours | austro-hungarian empire |
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It seems that most of the 'provinces' of the former Austrohungarian Empire had several simple bi- or tri-colours through the 19th century. Usually you can find texts reporting the so called "Landesfarben", which we could translate as "colours", and the most important I know is the one of E. von Rosenfeld, circa 1885. In it you can also find colours for the German and Prussian Länder. For Austrian Länder I have asked many vexillologists about the origins and the use of Landesfärben, but the subject seems to be very mysterious. All agree that the Austrian Empire allowed people to use colours only, especially in a vertical format, but not to fly true "national or State flags", even in local governments. No one could confirm the existence of flags for the Länder with the arms on them (although nowadays in Austria you can see Länder flags with arms, but times have changed a lot and it has become more common also in many other countries to see people displaying the state flag, instead of the national flag)

Concerning Austrian Landesfarben, they are a very complicated. In a paper in 1976 E. Pasch inserted (among a list of horizontal tricolour flags) a flag for the County of Gradisca, a county which vanished toward the end of the XVIII C. This would imply that the Landesfarben go back to the 1700's, but this seems to be very unlikely. Many of the Landesfarben come from the main colours of the arms and the colours for Gradisca are correct (white-blue-yellow); it may be Pasch extrapolated to the past the colour adoption process?! Trying to resolve this problem I wrote to many people (L. Philippe, G. Mattern, J. Tenora, among the others) and to Austrian museums, but nobody could tell me any more.

Mario Fabretto, 10 September 1996

Here are the Austrohungarian Landesfarben as published in Rosenfeld's book. All are horizontal bi or tricolours; the first colour is that of the uppermost stripe.

Böhmen red-white   Görz und Gradisca white-red
Niederösterreich blue-yellow   Slavonien blue-white-green
Bukowina blue-red   Istrien yellow-red-blue
Oberösterreich white-red   Steiermark green-white
Croatien red-white-blue   Kärnten red-white
Salzburg red-white   Triest red-white-red
Dalmatien blue-yellow   Krain white-blue-red
Schlesien yellow-black   Tirol white-red
Galizien blue-red       Mähren yellow-red
Siebenbürgen blue-red-yellow   Vorarlberg red-white

Source: Die See-Flaggen, National und Provincial-Fahnen sowie Cocarden aller Laender nach offiziellen Quellen zusammengestellt und bearbeitet von F. Heyer v. Rosenfeld. Wien 1883.

Other sources report colours for Bosnia and Herzegovina: following Crampton Flags of the World, these were blue-white-red; Aldo Ziggioto says that the order was blue-red-white (I also found this order in an Austrian book I don't remember the title; but this was not a flag book.)

Mario Fabretto, 16 September 1996

It is very difficult to say which flags (Landesfarben) were used each time. Coats of arms can help us with some hints but one cannot get to absolute conclusions. Unlike Swiss colours and symbols, which served to distinguish different territory and towns on battlefields, I think Austrian Landesfarben come most likely from the bureaucratic inclination of that government combined with people's love for decorations. So the colours used on documents regarding each separate province gradually became the colours people used to identify their land, mainly in the form of long vertical displayed banners. It is even proof that every Kronland had used its colours in the form of flags and not only as vertical banner. Recently some examples have been reported of flags corresponding to the Landesfarben with the coat of arms in the middle. These flags should have been used for ceremonial purposes (because people and even local governments were not allowed free use of such kinds of local identity symbols, appearing as a menace to State unity) but it would be extremely interesting to study the process that brought ceremonial flags to change from pure heraldic flags of the ruling family to flags combining popular colours with official symbols. I feel that this could only be understood studying the evolution of flags in parallel with social evolution. The transition from the feudal medieval State to the modern concept of nationality and nations inside the Austrian Empire would act as a "laboratory" to study, through the evolution of State and popular symbols, complex social and political dynamics.
Mario Fabretto 23 November 1997

Coronation Flags

Other Austrohungarian Empire flags with arms are the so called Coronation flags. I have seen several on exhibition in Zagreb. I remember two from the early 1800's (or late 1700's), from two different coronations. Both of them follow the same pattern: a single-coloured flag with a swallow-tail, bordered with gold and with the name of the kingdom in question in golden letters above the coat of arms. One of the two is green with checkered arms for Croatia, and the other is white with arms showing two rivers, a marten and a star for Slavonia. There was also a reproduction of a woodcut with a scene from the coronation in which such coronation flags were very visible. New flags would be made in each country for each coronation, and carried to the coronation place together with other regalia of each kingdom. Those who carried the coronation flags were the most noble and honoured men of the kingdom at the time.
Zeljko Heimer