Flag Of Denmark: History And Meaning

The flag of Denmark is the national flag that identifies this European kingdom. Known in Danish as Dannebrog , the symbol was established in 1748 as a merchant flag, although its use dates back to the Middle Ages. This constitutes it as the oldest flag in the world that still remains in force. Its design consists of a red background with a white Nordic cross.

This national symbol is widely studied in Vexillology for its antiquity. The Danish people and their state have been identified with this flag for centuries, and that is why it is very attractive in study and use. In addition, the Nordic cross is the symbol that many neighboring countries also share, such as Finland, Sweden, Norway and Iceland, in addition to the Faroe Islands, a Danish territory.
Flag of Denmark. (By Madden [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons).

The Danish flag is enshrined in a legend. This establishes its origin directly from the sky, from which it would have fallen in 1527 in a battle in which Danish troops were fighting in Estonia.

First of all, this flag was used only in the military components, but later it was adapted to identify the entire country. Currently, the dimensions of the flag are very particular, as they were set at 28:34.

Article index

  • one

    History of the flag

    • 1.1

      Legend of the origin of the flag

    • 1.2

      Emergence of the symbol

    • 1.3

      Military symbol

    • 1.4

      Approval as a maritime flag

    • 1.5

      Current flag

  • two

    Meaning of the flag

    • 2.1

      Symbolic relationship with the Holy Roman Empire

  • 3

    Other flags

  • 4

    Split flag

    • 4.1


    • 4.2

      Royal flags

    • 4.3

      Flags of the constituent countries

  • 5


History of the flag

The use of a flag in Denmark has many antecedents. The red flag with the white cross has been recorded in use for centuries. It even has a mythical legend that attributes its origin to the sky.

Either way, it is the flag that has stood the longest, identifying a people, and later, a sovereign state.

Legend of the origin of the flag

The Danish flag has its origin in a legend that would have occurred in the 13th century. These legends were recorded in the 16th century by different sources. One of them is in the Danske Krønike , written by Christiern Pedersen.

This story tells how the Danish flag fell from the sky during the battles carried out by King Valdemar II of Denmark in Estonia.

Petrus Olai, a Franciscan monk, also had his version of the legend. This event would have occurred within the framework of a battle that took place in 1208 at Felin. The flag would have been made of sheepskin and when it fell, it led to the Danish victory. Olai also narrated in the Danmarks Toly Herligheder the same story, but saying that it would have happened at the battle of Lindanise, in 1219.

On this occasion, Olai explained that the flag appeared after the prayers of Bishop Anders Sunesen. The battle was looming as a certain defeat, but after the rise of the Dannebrog, the troops were emboldened and were able to win.

None of these versions has been supported by historians, who attribute its origin to the use of Christian symbols or the existence of a similar flag in Estonia.

Emergence of the symbol

With the legend of its emergence behind it, the Danish flag has a long history. The symbol of a white cross on a red background was used in the Crusades. In addition, the Holy Roman Empire also made it its own as a war flag.

Furthermore, in the Gelre Armorial of the mid-14th century, this flag was included right next to the Danish royal shield. This consisted of a vertical rectangular flag with a large white cross in the central part, the red one being slightly visible in the corners. There is consensus in stating that this is the first registration of the Danish flag.

Fragment of folio 55 of the Armorial de Gelre. (Claes Heynenzoon [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons).

In this century, the kings of Denmark began to include the red flag with the cross, as a companion to the shield of the three blue lions. This was reflected in the country’s coins and banners. One of the reasons for the inclusion of the new symbol may have been a flag that the Pope would have sent to the Danish king.

Military symbol

The red flag with the white cross was imposed, with the passing of time, as a military symbol. There are records that indicate that in the 16th century the Danish troops had it as their flag.

In this century, in addition, the legends of the origin of the flag began to be registered. Added to them, different controversies arose that indicated the possible future of the symbol that would have come from the sky 300 years ago.

Tradition at the time indicated that the same flag from the legend was used in the military campaign of 1500. In this case, the one who carried it was King Hans in his attempt to conquer Dithmarschen, in Germany.

This would have resulted in the loss of the flag, but King Frederick II recovered it at the Battle of Hemmingstedt on February 17, 1550. Although there are contradictory versions, the flag from this battle was displayed in Slesvig Cathedral until the 17th century.

The use of this flag as a military symbol became more specific when it began to be adopted as a distinctive of the maritime part. In this way, many military ships were identified since the 18th century with the red white cross flag.

Approval as a maritime flag

The first time that the current Danish flag was approved as an official symbol of the country was on June 11, 1748. On that occasion, it was established as a civil flag, which functioned as the flag of the merchant marine. In addition, since then a ratio of 3: 1: 3 vertical and 3: 1: 4: 5 horizontal has been set, which are the same as the current national flag.

This flag began to use the royal monogram in the central part. This was done to distinguish Danish ships from those of the Order of Malta. Since 1748, the color that was established was red, known as Dannebrog red (red from the flag of Denmark).

On the other hand, until the beginning of the 19th century, many ships and different companies used the Splitflag. This consisted of a flag very similar to the current one, but with the right end cut out in the shape of a triangle. This symbol was established since 1696.

Current flag

The modern Dannebrog, as we know it, continued to be used by military forces. The Army made it their own in 1785 and the militia, in 1901.

The Armed Forces as a whole adopted it as a flag in 1842. Precisely because of its military power, the symbol gained strength in the country. This resulted in the ban on the flag in 1834.

However, the flag was consolidated in the First Schleswig War between 1848 and 1850. Its use became massive, so in 1854 the ban on the Dannebrog was lifted, but not on the Split flag.

Since 1915, no other flag was allowed to be used in Denmark. In addition, the Dannebrog happened to be hoisted on national and institutional dates. Since then it has been the national symbol of the Nordic country, maintaining its dimensions and colors.

Meaning of the flag

The Danish flag, known as the Dannebrog, does not conform to traditional definitions of meaning. Although it is common for national flags to assign a representation to their colors and symbols, this is not the case for the flag of Denmark. This is not to say that its history and composition have rendered the flag devoid of symbolism.

The most prominent symbol of the Dannebrog is the Norse cross, also known as the Scandinavian Cross or Criz de San Olaf. This consists mainly of a cross whose vertical part is positioned on the left side of the insignia. The cross is a symbol of Christianity, but over time it has been identified with all the Nordic countries.

Although Denmark was the first country to adopt a Nordic cross flag, many countries in the region followed in its footsteps. Sweden, Finland, Norway and Iceland include it in their national flags, while the Faroe Islands (Denmark) and Åland (Finland) also. For this reason, the cross represents a symbol of unity between all the countries of northern Europe.

Symbolic relationship with the Holy Roman Empire

Officially, the red color of the Danish flag has no meaning of its own. However, its presence can be understood by knowing its representation at the time the flag began to be used.

The Danish flag was inspired by that of the Holy Roman Empire, which meant battles in the case of the color red, and their sanctity in the case of the cross.

As the flag has a legend that gives it a divine origin, it is possible to relate the color red to blood. Specifically, for some people it is said that it represents Danish blood at the Battle of Lindanise, where the flag would have appeared.

Other flags

Denmark has other official flags, generally based on the national flag, also known as the Dannebrog. First of all, the most common variations of the flag are the Split flag and the Orlogs flag.

In addition, there are multiple banners that correspond to the different monarchical authorities of the country. The constituent countries of Greenland and the Faroe Islands, belonging to the Kingdom of Denmark, also have their own flags.

Split flag

The Split flag consists of the same national flag, with only one difference. The point is that at the extreme right the flag does not close with a straight line but rather it does so through a cut out triangle.

Its red color is the same as the Danish flag and its proportions are 56: 107. The use that is given is that of an institutional flag.

Splitflag from Denmark


Instead, the Orlogsflag is the flag solely used by the Royal Danish Navy. In essence, it is the same design as the Split flag, with one palpable difference. This flag has a much darker red and proportions of 7:17. Its application corresponds to a war flag.

Although its use, in theory, is exclusive to the Royal Navy, it can be shared by other institutions. Among them are the Carlsberg beer company, the Royal Porcelain Factory and different student associations.

Orlogsflag from Denmark. (By User: David Newton [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons).

Royal flags

Denmark is a sovereign state constituted in the form of a kingdom, in a constitutional monarchy. Her current head of state is Margaret II, with the title of Queen of Denmark. Both she, and the different members of the royal family, have different banners to distinguish their position.

All royal banners are based on the Split flag. In the central part of them, the personal shield of the position or the institution that occupies it is added.

Banner of the Queen of Denmark

The most important royal standard is that of the Queen of Denmark, Margaret II. The monarch’s coat of arms is imposed on the Nordic cross of the Splitflag. This is made up of four barracks divided by the Cross of the Dannebrog.

Each of them represents a historical territory of the country. This part is guarded by two savages with clubs and presided over by a large ermine cloak, accompanied by the royal crown.

Banner of the Queen of Denmark. (By SodacanThis W3C-unspecified vector image was created with Inkscape. (Own work by uploader, Based on this source: [1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons).

Banner of the Crown Prince

The Crown Prince, Frederick, also has a banner of his own. In this case, instead of the queen’s coat of arms, a simplified version of the coat of arms of Denmark is incorporated, with the royal crown and a necklace in its surroundings.

Banner of the Crown Prince of Denmark. (By SodacanThis W3C-unspecified vector image was created with Inkscape. (Own work by uploader, Based on this source: [1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons).

Banner of the Royal Family

There is another banner that can be worn by any other member of the Danish royal family. In this case, the distinguishing symbol is a royal crown.

Banner of the Danish Royal Family. (By SodacanThis W3C-unspecified vector image was created with Inkscape. (Own work by uploader, Based on this source: [1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons).

Flags of the constituent countries

The Kingdom of Denmark is a unitary state that, in addition to Denmark’s own territory, has two constituent countries. These are under the power of the kingdom and depend on it for defense and international relations. However, they possess high levels of self-government. The constituent countries are the Faroe Islands and Greenland.

Flag of the Faroe Islands

The flag of the Faroe Islands also shares the Nordic cross. In this case, the background of the flag is white, the cross is red and has a blue border. These islands are located in the North Sea, north of the British Isles, on the European continent.
Flag of the Faroe Islands. (By Jeffrey Connell (IceKarma) [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons).

Greenland Flag

In contrast, the Greenland flag does not have the Nordic cross. This symbol was designed by the Greenlandic Thue Christiansen and consists of two horizontal stripes, the upper one being white and the lower one red. On the left side of the flag there is a circle, in which the two colors of the flag alternate, in two horizontal halves.

Although there were many proposals that included the Nordic cross, Greenland adopted this flag in 1985, with the increase of its autonomy. This island is located in North America, although the Inuit people, of which its inhabitants are composed, are historically related to the other Nordic peoples.

Greenland flag. (By Jeffrey Connell (IceKarma) [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons).


  1. Follet, C. (June 15, 2018). The Holy Roman Dannebrog – Denmark’s national flag- The Copenhagen Post . Recovered from cphpost.dk.
  2. Fyfe, J. (March 7, 2016). National flag’s dubious origins as a banner from heaven. The Copenhagen Post . Recovered from cphpost.dk.
  3. Goldsack, G. (2005). Flags of the World . Bath, UK: Parragon Publishing.
  4. Smith, W. (2011). Flag of Denmark. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc . Recovered from Britannica.com.
  5. Warburg, M. (2008). Dannebrog: Waving in and out of Danish civil religion. Nordic Journal of Religion and Society , 21 (2), 165-184. Recovered from idunn.no.

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