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We all know that national colors exists, often associated directly with the flag of a nation. Red and white for example are one of the most frequently used colors world wide by many nations (Austria, Poland, Japan, Indonesia, ...), also blue (US, France, UK, Russia).

Black on the other side today is only used by one of the major nations: Germany. It was also used in the past by its predecessor states, the Third Reich, the German Empire, and also many of the different German states before unification like Prussia. Austria also used Black in combination with Yellow for most of its history and only abandoned that after World War One around 1920.

Which leads us to my question - why are the central Europe nations the only major nations to use the color black as their national colors in the past and today? Does it symbolize something special?

  • 3
    South Africa is in the G20 ("major nation") and also includes black in their flag. – AllInOne Oct 17 '16 at 22:06
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    Many Arabic states use black strip on their flag (Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Palestine, Jordan). – Anixx Oct 17 '16 at 23:02
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    I'd like to add countries such as Belgium, Estonia (Europe), Angola, Sudan, South Sudan, Malawi, Botswana, Kenya, Uganda, Mozambique, Libya, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Guinea Bissau, Swasiland, Ghana, Sao Tomé, Tanzania (Africa), Afghanistan, U.A. Emirates, Kuwait, Brunei (Asia), Bahamas, Jamaika and many more – Medi1Saif Oct 18 '16 at 6:28
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    It's incidental to your question but in Germany the colours are officially called “Black, red and gold”. Using the word yellow (Gelb) is associated with the nazi ideology. – Relaxed Oct 18 '16 at 8:54
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    See also history.stackexchange.com/questions/21388/… – Relaxed Oct 18 '16 at 9:22
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Wikipedia (in German) has a long and fascinating article on the history of the German national colours. Without getting in all the details, it seems that the link with the colours of the Holy Roman Empire symbols isn't historically established and might have been a later rationalisation for the choice.

Still according to this article, the first use of these colours in association with the idea of a German nation dates back to the wars against Napoleon and specifically to the Lützow Free Corps. The flag seems to have been derived from the colours of their uniforms, which was in turn mostly a matter of practicality. As volunteers had to buy their equipment themselves, black coats would have been cheaper to obtain at the time. This regiment was strongly associated with the colour black and one of their nickname was in fact “Black rangers” (Schwarze Jäger).

The first sources explicitly linking the colours with the imperial banner date from the time of the 1848 revolutions, more than 30 years later, at a time when the flag and the colours were already strongly associated with (progressive) German nationalism.

To your broader question, black does not seem particularly unusual in flags (Wikipedia counts 69). Among larger countries, it's used by Egypt and if you discount the many other Arab and African countries using it as not being “major nations”, you only have very few countries left, with Germany (in its various shapes) being the only one using black (so no evidence of any association with Central Europe as such). In such a small sample, the absence of any given colour could therefore easily happen by chance and is not in need of any specific explanation.

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    Upvote for examining and undermining the assumption. Well done. – Mark C. Wallace Oct 18 '16 at 12:33
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    I wouldn't discount African nations for being "minor", so much as I'd discount them for being African; their typical use of black likely comes from a completely difference source than that of countries in Europe. – T.E.D. Oct 18 '16 at 13:32
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    @T.E.D. Maybe but the question really was “Why are the central Europe nations the only major nations to use the color black?”. “Why Germany is one of the few European nations to use black?” (it's actually the only Central European country to use it at the moment) would make more sense but that's not what was being asked. – Relaxed Oct 18 '16 at 13:35
  • @Relaxed - Hmmm...yeah. Reading down that far, that should probably be edited. (There is also Albania with black, but I take your point.) – T.E.D. Oct 18 '16 at 13:41
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    Now what about Belgium then? – Bergi Oct 18 '16 at 15:21
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I believe it is ultimately inherited from the colors of the holy roman empire.

Imperial Banner of the Holy Roman Emperor

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    Actually, your source does not support your assertion: The section is called “Supposed pre-modern origins” and starts with “The choice of black red and gold as national colours was retrospectively motivated […]”. – Relaxed Oct 18 '16 at 9:07
  • @Relaxed It might be a coincidence, but quite often country flags retain their colours from previous states even though the official reason for each colour is reinvented! I have two examples : Brazil will say its flag is green because of the Amazonian forest, yellow because of the riches found inside its mines, etc. while it can clearly be said that these colours all come from the Royal Standard of Brazil last emperor Pedro I, with green itself coming from his Braganza dynasty and yellow from his wife Habsburg dynasty, ... continued – Shautieh Oct 19 '16 at 1:50
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    ... Second example is France, whose colours officially come from the combination of the colours of Paris (blue and red) and the colour of the King (white). The blue/white/red colours really come from the American flag, as French revolutionaries got inspired by it. It's as simple as that, and if the colours of Paris had been blue and green, they would just have invented another reason for the French flag to become blue/white/red! That's why I doubt that the holy roman empire and German flag colours could be a mere coincidence. – Shautieh Oct 19 '16 at 1:57
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    @Shautieh That's not much of an evidence of anything and it's too easy to think that things can't be coincidences or to speculate on what-if scenarios. Besides, you can easily turn the explanation around: The black-red-gold was used from 1815, the “reason“ (link with the Holy Roman Empire) was invented later. Ditto for the French flag: The three colours actually had various use in the kingdom of France dating back at least from the 17th century and earlier, the American flag is just one factor, it's not as simple as that. Historical research ought to be based on sources, not neat hypotheses. – Relaxed Oct 19 '16 at 5:50
  • @Relaxed Occam's razor would say that it's more probable that people based their new flags based on previous ones than take random colours by chance and get the exact same. I'm not saying this is always the case of course, and it is possible that this explanation was an after thought. About my examples though, there is no doubt about the colours of the Brazilian flag, and historical research actually states that the French flag colours come from the American ones (which come from the British) and that the common explanation about Paris and king colours was the after thought. – Shautieh Oct 19 '16 at 8:14

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