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An answer on this site claims that the first flags were heraldic flags used in battles. But when was this, and for which nations?

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The article makes it clear that heraldic devices were not used for nations, but for noblemen/warleaders. Are you asking what was the first national flag? –  Mark C. Wallace Jan 22 '13 at 15:53
for group or community of people –  md nth Jan 22 '13 at 16:03
IMO it is bad enough that we seem in many cases to rely on Wikipedia as a reliable historical source. But something voted 'best answer' on a Yahoo Q&A site? I think we need to do better.... –  user2590 Aug 25 '13 at 3:53
Have to downvote - the citation is entirely unreliable, nor does the question comply with the title. –  user2590 Aug 28 '13 at 19:14
@Vector I make a point to block Yahoo Q&A from Google results (with a firefox plugin), as the content is about as useful as a fat doctor giving diet advice and inane beyond belief... –  LateralFractal Sep 23 '13 at 22:33

4 Answers 4

up vote 12 down vote accepted

The Shahdad Standard is currently the oldest known flag in the world. The squared bronze flag from Shahdad, Iran dates back to about 2400 BC.

It bears many of the hallmarks of a modern flag:

  • A pole (around which the flag could turn)
  • An eagle with open wings mounted on the top of the pole
  • An emblem on the flag (depicting a rain goddess and an irrigation method practiced in Shahdad) to represent the group which bears the standard


The second source describes the emblem a little different:

two figures facing one another on a rich background of animals, plants, and goddesses


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+1 - this is an excellent find IMO, and certainly debunks the notion that the idea originated in medieval times. But it is dated to the Iron age, so the biblical reference cited arguably predates it by several hundred years. BTW, the article you cited states only "is the most ancient flag which has ever been discovered in Iran.", not that it is the oldest known flag in the world. Still, we have no physical evidence for the biblical flags so your claim that it is the oldest known flag in the world - i.e. an actual artifact - might be correct. –  user2590 Aug 27 '13 at 19:24
@Vector Possibly, I've found a couple of dubious sources saying the Shahdad flag is 5000 years old, but I haven't found anything reputable verifying that yet. It is certainly possible, since the flag is bronze and not iron, that it was made in the Bronze Age. And the city of Shahdad is 6000 years old. –  called2voyage Aug 27 '13 at 19:28
@Vector The source I used states that, but if you do a google search you will find that many places (including Wikipedia, though it is uncited) state that it is the oldest in the world. –  called2voyage Aug 27 '13 at 19:30
I do not know, I am simply going by what your article states: "Shahdah Standard which dates back to the Iron Age" That is was made from bronze does not mean it is from the bronze age, as I'm sure you realize - we still use bronze today! Bronze would be much better for a flag than iron - it would have shined brightly, etc. –  user2590 Aug 27 '13 at 19:31
@Vector I don't think Lennart or I are implying any debate or competition. We're merely making sure that matters are clear. –  called2voyage Aug 28 '13 at 14:00

The Egyptian hieroglyph for "god" was a temple flag, so it seems flags were well-established around holy places probably by the dawn of the bronze age (~3000 BC). Earlier than that, I don't know.

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This is an interesting insight, but it is not certain that the hieroglyph is supposed to represent a flag. It is also frequently interpreted as an axe--representative of an axe used for ceremonial purposes. (Reference) –  called2voyage yesterday

I have a different answer for this and just sharing what I know about this, it also does not mean the flag was invented in India, but in India more than 5000 years ago, flags were used. Perhaps it could be the first flag.

In the epic Mahabharatha, for the Kurukshethra war between pandavas and kauravas, flags were used.

enter image description here

The Embelem on the flag of the arjuna chariot was Hanuman. The flag was called "Kapi Dhwaj". There is a specific description about this flag in Mahabharatha, since it has a certain importance.

Also prior to Mahabharata, in the Great Epic Ramayana, there is a reference to a flag ('Dhwaj' in Sanskrit) for both Lord Rama's Ayodhya Kingdom and Ravana's Lanka Kingdom.

If we come to Vedas, in the Atharva Veda it is mentioned that Indra had a Flag of his own called 'Indra Dhwaj'. There is no hard pictorial evidence for these references but the abundant use of the Sanskrit word 'Dhwaj' in almost all the scriptures is nothing but a flag which is attached to either the king's Chariot or at the entrance of his palace.

So this answer tries to put some historical input from ancient India to this question.

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Your wikipedia source does not mention flags. Where are you getting this information? –  called2voyage Aug 28 '13 at 12:38
Before Kuruksethra war also, there could have been flags used in India, but since this flag have certain importance, it is mentioned in the writings. –  AskingStory Aug 29 '13 at 5:08
@MonsterTruck: Most of the dates for Vedas, Ramayana or Mahabharata were given by Westerners who have no knowledge about the Star positions mentioned in those manuscripts ! "Jyotisha" which is study of light or star confirms the star positions mentioned in those texts to exact dates. For more information you can Google and find out the dates of Vedas or other. –  Pradeep Sep 23 '13 at 12:41
IMHO the meer fact that the Sanscrit had a word for "flag" to use in the Vedas implies that Indo-Europeans were using them in the 5th Century BCE (tradition aside, that's when we believe Ramayana was first penned). You can't really take it back any further than that though. 3000 BCE is before there was any written language anywhere (save Mesopotamia), so such an such assertion would have to be backed up by archeology. –  T.E.D. Sep 23 '13 at 13:44
@MonsterTruck: I hope every person has a right to put forward his opinion and I am not trying in an arrogant way. I am just an amateur reader who believes in Indian Sanskrit scholars view on ancient Indian manuscripts and their dating of them. I can only give information available from sources with my views included. –  Pradeep Sep 23 '13 at 19:29

This depends on what you accept as "flag". Arguably the first flags were spears with certain signs attached to them such as strips of clothes. Then appeared various specially designed solid signs with figures and inscriptions. Then spears with painted matter attached to them.

A Roman flag (vexilla)

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"Clothes" or "Cloth"? –  Mark C. Wallace Jun 19 '13 at 12:01
"Arguably" with no source or reference whatsoever? Can you do no better? –  user2590 Aug 25 '13 at 4:24
It does partly depend on the definition of flag, but even if we include a standard like the roman ones then the Shahdad Standard predates these with c:a 2000 years... –  Lennart Regebro Aug 28 '13 at 9:02
Have to downvote - no source whatsoever, nor does it answer or really address the question at all. –  user2590 Aug 28 '13 at 19:20

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