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Brazil: Municipal Flags

Last modified: 2004-01-24 by joe mcmillan
Keywords: municipalities |
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Alphabetical List of Municipalities

(to search by state see Subnational Flags)


About Brazilian Municipalities

We have 6,000 municipalities in Brazil, each with its flag (although normally they fly only at the respective city hall). Each state is divided into a number of smaller regions for administrative purposes, as "departments" or "microregions." The main city of each smaller region is the sede [seat]. As a general rule, these cities happen to be those with much history and the others are older districts that were emancipated. For example, the state of Rio de Janeiro, one of the smallest, evolved from 5 municipalities in the 19th century to ten or so at the beginning of the 20th century. This ten or so became the sedes of microregions, which have since been subdivided into 90 municipalities!
Günter Zibell, 5 February 2001

The standard organic law by which Brazilian municipalities are chartered gives each municipality the right to select its own symbols--a coat of arms, flag, and hymn. This is normally done by law passed by the municipal chamber and approved by the prefect (elected executive). There is no central authority for these symbols and, as far as I can determine, no authoritative set of rules that must be followed. Nevertheless, some professional heraldists have attempted with some success to persuade a number of municipalities that there are in fact rules that must (or should) be followed).
Joseph McMillan, 4 June 2002

Symbolism in Brazilian Municipal Heraldry and Vexillology


Rodney Dennys, Somerset Herald in the English College of Arms, cites a number of medieval British and Continental sources in his book The Heraldic Imagination (New York: Potter, 1975) to show that heralds from the very earliest period did in fact assign specific attributes to specific colors. In fact, Dennys says the earliest known treatise on heraldry, written about 1300, says "it was the heralds' business to know the properties of [the] colours." The meanings ascribed in Brazilian municipal heraldry tend to overlap with but are not always the same as those used by the medieval heralds. Furthermore, in most descriptions, each color is given the entire laundry list of possible attributes, resulting in such a symbolic overload as to be meaningless. Nevertheless, here are the meanings of the colors as used by the medieval heralds (per Dennys, pp. 46-48) and by Brazilian municipal heraldists Peixoto and Ribeiro among others.
  • Gold (yellow): wealth, splendor, greatness, command, generosity, prosperity, glory, sovereignty (Medieval: the light of the sun, adolescence, faith, wealth, nobility)
  • Silver (white): peace, prosperity, amity, purity, joy, truth, frankness, integrity, virginity, fairness, beauty, temperance, equity, piety, religiousness, work, innocence (Medieval: purity, justice, childhood, hope)
  • Blue: justice, nobility, zeal, loyalty, perseverance, beauty, serenity, royalty, majesty, sweetness, vigilance, fidelity, patriotism, harmony, intellectuality, wisdom, lucidity (Medieval: heaven, justice, purity, fearlessness, victoriousness, hardiness, taking away envy)
  • Red: audacity, courage, valor, dedication, intrepidity, grace, conspicuous nobility, generosity, honor, passion, patriotism (Medieval: fire, sanguine temperament, nobleness, boldness, virility)
  • Green: hope, honor, courtesy, politeness, abundance, joy, fertility, liberty (Medieval: lust, felicity, pleasure, beauty, shame, death, youth)
  • Black: benignity, wealth, solidarity, austerity, prudence, vigilance (Medieval: humility, sadness, melancholy, sorrow, decrepitude)
Joseph McMillan, 4 June 2002

Mural Crowns

Mural Crowns are sometimes assigned fanciful explanations (recalling that the original settlement was fortified, for example), but in most cases are simply explained as the accoutrement proper to arms of dominion. Some designers attempt to equate the color and number of towers to Portuguese usage, which differentiates between the crown used by the capital, other cities, towns (vilas), and villages (freguesias). Brazilian law does not make these distinctions and many cities use arms with crowns that do not follow these "rules."

  • Gold with five towers visible: state capital
  • Silver with five towers visible: seat of a comarca (judicial circuit)
  • Silver with four towers visible: seat of a municipality
  • Silver with three towers visible: seat of a district of a municipality or other city or town
The gates and windows in the towers of the crown are sometimes open to show a color within. This is said to show the municipality's hospitality or its openness to the outside world. Also, a small escutcheon is sometimes placed above the central gate in reference to a patron saint or historic figure.
Joseph McMillan, 4 June 2002

Shapes of Shields

Shields in Brazilian municipal coats of arms are usually described as either "Iberian" or "Samnitic." Both are claimed to symbolize the Portuguese heritage of Brazil.

  • Samnitic Shield: a basically rectangular shield with rounded lower angles and a small point in the center base; also called French or Flemish (flamengo). Most descriptions refer to it as the original form of shield introduced into Portugal from France.
  • Iberian Shield: also called Portuguese shield, a shield with a flat top and a round base; this is the type of shield actually used for most Portuguese and Spanish civic arms.
Joseph McMillan, 4 June 2002

I suppose this [the Samnitic shield] is the one that was present on the Portuguese national flag from 1706 to 1910. Portuguese heraldry calls it precisely a "French shield." I wonder what is it called in French. "Samnitic?" Well, that's a fancy name, all right!
António Martins, 6 March 1998

Portuguese Heraldic Rules

A common statement beginning the legal description of Brazilian municipal flags, especially those designed by Arcinóe Antônio Peixoto de Faria or Lauro Ribeiro Escobar, runs more or less as follows: "The style of the flag follows Portuguese heraldic tradition, whose rules and canons we inherit, that municipal flags should be divided into eighths, sixths, quarters, or thirds, having for their colors the same colors as the field of the coat of arms, this coat of arms being applied on a geometric figure on the flag, placed in the center or the hoist." In fact, Portuguese municipal flags actually are solid or divided into quarters or eighths (gyronny). Brazilian flags that claim to follow this rule are usually not parted into different colors like Portuguese flags but rather consist of a solid field with stripes overlaid on it, sometimes in cross or saltire, often in cross and saltire (Union Jack-style), and in many cases horizontally. Thus a blue flag with three narrow yellow horizontal stripes is said incorrectly to be divided "quarterly per fess." On flags with stripes emanating from the area where the coat of arms is placed (either on the center or in the hoist), the stripes are usually said to symbolize the radiation of municipal power throughout the territory of the municipality. The coat of arms represents the municipal government itself, while the geometric figure on which it is placed represents the city that is the seat of the municipality. This concept obviously results in many flags of remarkable similar design.
Joseph McMillan, 4 June 2002

Let me stress very clearly that there is no such thing as a Portuguese heraldic tradition for municipal flags, as the principles currently used were laid out in the late 1920s--a date irreparably too late for Brazilians to follow them out of any "inheritance." Furthermore, let me utter an authoritative assertion: traditional or not, Portuguese munucipal flag backgrounds are either plain, quartered or gyronny of eight--all patterns seldom found in Brazilian municipal flags. Finally, the wording used used in Portuguese laws describing municipal flags is almost always gironada or sometimes gironada de oito partes (divided gyronny of eight parts), not oitavada as in Brazilian descriptions.
António Martins-Tuválkin, 9 June 2002