History of the historical national (armorial) flag of Lithuania
The historical national (armorial) flag of Lithuania is a historical symbol of the state of Lithuania in a form of a piece of cloth featuring a red field with a white (silver) armoured knight on a white (silver) horse holding in his right hand a white (silver) sword above his head. A blue shield hangs on the left shoulder of the knight with a double yellow (gold) cross on it. The horse saddle, horsecloth, bridle, and belts are blue. The hilt of the sword, the curb bits of the bridle, the stirrup and the spur, the metal fastenings of the sheath and the trapping, as well as the horseshoes are yellow (gold). The ratio of the width of the flag to the length of the said flag must be 3:5 (The Law on the National Flag and Other Flags).
A flag is one of the oldest symbols of a state. The origins of the national flag of Lithuania date back to the early 15th century. At first, it represented the Grand Duke of Lithuania, while it came to represent the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the period from the second half of the 16th century to the late 18th century. The national flag, just like in other European countries, was designed on the basis of the national coat of arms.
The first mention of the Lithuanian flag was recorded in the description of the battles between the Teutonic Order and Lithuanian (Trakai) rulers. Wigand of Marburg’s chronicle reads that during the battle at Bayerburg Castle (near Veliuona) in 1337, Tilman Zumpach, commander of the riflemen of the Teutonic knights, burned a Lithuanian flag with a flaming lance. However, the story does not give any detailed description of the flag. The chronicles of the 14th century make a more frequent reference to Lithuanian flags; however, more detailed descriptions of the flags have not survived either. In the second half of the 15th century, Jan Dlugosz, a Polish chronicler, wrote that Vytautas brought forty regiments, all carrying red flags, to the Battle of Grunwald. Thirty flags featured an embroidered armoured knight with a lifted sword on a white, black, sorrel or dapple-grey horse. Ten flags featured embroidered symbols that are now called the Columns of Gediminids. According to the chronicler, the flags were named after the lands or the dukes. The earliest picture of the Lithuanian flag has been found in the History of Hussite Wars completed in 1443. The illustration was made by Diebold Lauber of Hagenau. This is the only original source of the first half of the 15th century depicting the flag of a Lithuanian duke featuring a knight. The story describes the arrival of Sigismund Karibut, cousin of King Jagiełło of Poland and the delegate of Grand Duke Vytautas of Lithuania, in Prague in 1422.
In the Middle Ages, the concepts of the ruler and the state were very closely connected. At the time, the flag of the grand duke represented the national flag. Usually, it was a piece of red cloth with a white knight in the middle and echoed the main colours and elements of the coat of arms of the grand duke (state). The flag was used during coronations and funerals of rulers, rulers’ visits to Lithuania and at key national holidays.
Alessandro Guagnini was the first to give a detailed account and description of the flag of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 1578. The cloth of the flag was red Chinese silk with four tails. On the front side, to the right from the staff a white knight was embroidered under the royal crown. The reverse featured Virgin Mary with baby Jesus in her hands surrounded by the rays of the sun. Other flags of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania of the 17–18th centuries most commonly featured a white knight on the red cloth.
Despite the challenges posed to Lithuania’s statehood, the historical national flag remained steeped in the consciousness of Lithuanians. Jonas Basanavičius suggested recognising it as a national flag; however, the idea was rejected, due to the associations of the red colour with the revolution. In 1918, the Council of Lithuania approved the tricolour national flag of Lithuania and the historical national flag featuring a white knight against the red background on the front side and the Columns of the Gediminids on the reverse. The historical flag was used by the President of the Republic. It floated over the Presidential Palace and the War Museum in Kaunas, the interim capital of Lithuania.
Taking into consideration the importance of the historical flag and its several century-long history, on 8 July 2004, the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania amended the Law on the National Flag of Lithuania by including the old flag with a white knight against the red background in the Law. In order to avoid confusion with the national flag of Lithuania, it was named the historical national flag of Lithuania. The design and the standard of the historical national flag of Lithuania were approved by the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania on 17 June 2010.
Historical national (armorial) flag of Lithuania in legislation
The historical national (armorial) flag of Lithuania is described in the Law on the National Flag and other Flags. The Law regulates the national flag of Lithuania, historical national flag, and other flags, their descriptions, official principles and procedure of the use of flags in the Republic of Lithuania, liability for the violations of the procedure for hoisting flags or desecration of flags, manufacturing, and maintenance of flags. The Law stipulates that the ratio of the width of the historical national flag of Lithuania to the length of the said flag must be 3:5. Usually when displayed near, over or on the buildings the historic national flag of Lithuania is 1 meter in width and 1.7 meters in length. The Lithuanian Heraldry Commission prepares and submits to the President of the Republic a heraldry design of the historical national flag of Lithuania. The design and standard of the historical national flag of Lithuania are approved by the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania on the recommendation of the President of the Republic.
Places and occasions for hoisting the historical national flag of Lithuania
1. The historical national flag of Lithuania is hoisted on the 24-hour basis:
1) over the Royal Palace of Lithuania in Vilnius;
2) in Trakai Castle;
3) in the square of the War Museum in Kaunas.
2. The historical national flag of Lithuania is also hoisted on:
1) 16 February – the Day of Restoration of the State of Lithuania – near (on or over) the building of the House of the Signatories in Pilies Street, Vilnius;
2) 11 March – the Day of Restoration of Lithuania's Independence – near the building of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania;
3) 15 May – the Day of Convening of the Constituent Seimas – near the building of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania;
4) 6 July – the Day of the State (Coronation of King Mindaugas) – near the residence of the President of the Republic;
5) 15 July – the Day of the Battle of Grunwald – near the Ministry of National Defence of the Republic of Lithuania;
6) 25 October – the Day of the Constitution – near the building of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, the residence of the President of the Republic, the Government of the Republic of Lithuania, and the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Lithuania.
Lietuvos heraldika, t. 1, sudarė Edmundas Rimša, Vilnius: Baltos lankos, 1998.
Lietuvos heraldika, sudarė Edmundas Rimša, Vilnius: Baltos lankos, 2008.
Rimša, Edmundas. Heraldika. Iš praeities į dabartį, Vilnius: Versus aureus, 2004.
Lietuvos Respublikos valstybės vėliavos ir kitų vėliavų įstatymas, Vilnius, 1991 m. birželio 26 d. (galiojanti suvestinė redakcija – 2019-10-01), Teisės aktų registras, https://www.e-tar.lt/portal/lt/legalAct/TAR.07CAE5E6C2B3/asr
Lietuvos Respublikos įstatymo „Dėl Lietuvos valstybės vėliavos“ pakeitimo įstatymas, 2004 m. liepos 8 d., Nr. IX-2331, Teisės aktų registras, https://www.e-tar.lt/portal/lt/legalAct/TAR.127328D5F616
Lietuvos Respublikos Seimo nutarimas Dėl Lietuvos valstybės istorinės vėliavos projekto ir etalono patvirtinimo, 2010 m. birželio 17 d., Nr. XI-906, Teisės aktų registras, https://www.e-tar.lt/portal/lt/legalAct/TAR.76ED7CBC573F
Prepared by Vilma Akmenytė-Ruzgienė,
Office of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, Unit for Historical Memory of Parliamentarianism