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Serbian medieval state (XIII-XIVth century)

Last modified: 2006-07-22 by ivan sache
Keywords: serbia | eagle: double-headed (red) |
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Flag of the Serbian Kingdom, XIIIth century

[Flag of Serbian Empire]

Modern reconstruction of the flag of the Serbian Kingdom, XIIIth century - Image by Tomislav Todorović & Mladen Mijatov, 6 January 2006

The oldest described flag of a medieval Serbian kingdom is the one which was the part of the treasury of King Stefan Vladislav I (reigned 1234-1243). The treasury was kept in the city of Dubrovnik, Croatia (which was an independent city-state at that time and much like a "Switzerland of the Balkans", in the financial terms). The description of this treasury, dated 1281, is kept in the archives of the Republic of Dubrovnik and lists as an item vexillum unum de zendato rubeo et blavo - "a flag of red and blue fabric" (zendato - čenda of medieval Serbian manuscripts - was a type of light, silky fabric).

Source: D. Samardžić. Vojne zastave Srba do 1918. Beograd: Vojni muzej, 1983.

As no detailed descriptions of this flag exist, its modern reconstructions, seen sometimes in TV-reports from the events commemorating XIIIth-century history of Serbia, show a simple horizontal red-blue bicolour, the colour shades usually being those of the modern flag of Serbia. This flag also seems to have recently provided inspiration for some subnational and political flags in Serbia.

Tomislav Todorović, 6 January 2006

There is not the least evidence that the ancient flag in question was a simple horizontally divided red-blue flag. It could have been anything else including whatever your fantasy allows you. In fact, it would be very surprising if the flag was indeed anything like the modern reconstructions.
However, one should bear in mind that such (probably) errorneous reconstruction has had some influence in the modern times and is therefore worth mentioning.

Željko Heimer, 8 January 2006

Flag of the Serbian Empire, XIVth century

[Flag of Serbian Empire]

Flag of the Serbian Empire, XIVth century - Image by Ivan Sarajčić, 2 May 2000

One of the oldest historical sources for flags is constituted by maps.
In the monography of the Historical Institute in Belgrade Monumenta Cartographica Jugoslaviae II, (Narodna Knjiga, Belgrade, 1979), Gordana Tomović compares different XIVth century naval maps of Balkan peninsula. She notices flags above some place names on a map preserved in Bibliothèque Nationale (National Library) in Paris (Département des Cartes et Plans), made on pergament by Angelino Dulcert (1339):

....above Skopje (Skopi) - red two-headed eagle on yellow field. The topographic name Serbia (Seruja) is placed near the hoist. Flag along with the vignette of city, back then, was characteristic for labeling state capitals. This flag remains the first drawn represention of a Serbian state flag[...]

The caption says:

Picture 12 - Flag above town of Skopje (Scopi) - in today's Macedonia, in XIVth century, capital of Serbian Empire.

Ivan Sarajčić, 2 May 2000