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Frequently Asked Questions - Part 4

The Flags Of The World FAQ

Last modified: 2005-09-24 by rob raeside
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What was the earliest flag?

Early flag-like symbols (called "vexilloids") were three-dimensional symbols on a staff, made from from metal, wood or stone (also feathers, plant material etc), not from cloth. They came in a wide variety, different from culture to culture. In most cases we only have depictions of the vexilloid, without knowledge of the material. Ancient textile flags ("flags proper") are very rarely preserved, so we have not much knowledge on the material. We know, that silk played an important role in China; in Europe and adjacent areas, wool and linen were more important. The oldest preserved textile flag of an European origin is a Roman "vexillum" cloth found in Egypt (3rd century AD ??); this was made from crude linen.

Animal figures played a prominent role, though. We know different animals as parts of standards from Egypt; the Romans used an eagle standard (earlier on some other animals as well). If we assume (as Smith does), that textile flags have their origin in China, we don't know much about the actual design of these Chinese flags. If we assume that textile flags were "invented" simultaneously on several places, it is even more difficult.

The early flag-like symbols we know of were already pretty elaborate. However, due to our lack of knowledge, we can assume, that either we just know the flags/vexilloids several hundreds or probably thousands of years after their invention, or we know early vexilloids, but do not recognize them, because they are too simple to be recognized as flags/vexilloids.

Flag-like vexilloids seem to have no common origin, but had been obviously invented several times simultaneously. Cloth flags perhaps were first used in China (according to Smith); how they spread, is unknown. My personal opinion, however, is that also cloth flags had been invented several times simultaneously.

Marcus Schmöger, 9 March 2004

When will I see my contribution on FOTW?

All workers for FOTW are volunteers, working when time and energy and our professional work and family lives permit. And occasionally we do have lives outside FOTW.  Each editor has his own schedule - and sometimes more than one country which may be inundated in any particular month. We try to work diligently towards assuring that the information is posted to the website as expeditiously as possible. Asking why a particular contribution may not be posted does not necessarily mean it gets pushed to the front of the editing queue. A few things can help the overworked editor as he proceeds upon his tasks:

  1. Provide complete information, or as complete information as possible.
  2. Links may be fine, but would you create a page on your own website that contains only a single link? Editors edit, not compose.
  3. If posting coats-of-arms, crests, logos, seals, let us know what the relationship between them and the flag is.
  4. Provide a verbal description of the flag. After all not everyone who will access FOTW will be able to see the flag. And it prevents the poor editor from trying to describe the scene and then be told that the owl on the flag is a ___ owl and we should have known better.
  5. If you are concerned about what you believe is a delay, contact the editor directly. In most cases, the current editor is listed at the top of the page, if in doubt (as some pages still contain former editor names), see the mailme.html page on your favorite mirror. The editor can probably give you a better idea as to when your information will be edited than comments made to the list.
  6. The purpose of posting to FOTW is to provide information. As can be seen in some threads, information may be corrected, added to, or identified as urban legend. In some instances, information may cross months (which is the pattern we often use), in which case it may be delayed because some information is posted at the end of one month and review is still forthcoming in another. In my instance, this results in a delay because I attempt to get the information posted subsequent as well as the monthly information, if it is important.
  7. If information is repetitive, it may not show up. How many times, for instance, can/should we state that the flag of a particular entity was first used on January 1, 2003?
Phil Nelson, 28 August 2005
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