Vexillology

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Flag of the Fédération internationale des associations vexillologiques

Vexillology is the study of flags. The word comes from both the Latin word vexilla "little sail" for flag plus the Greek suffix-ology that means "study of". The vexillum was a particular kind of flag used by the Roman legions. Vexillology is a kind of study of symbols related to heraldry. A person who studies flags is a vexillologist, and a person who designs flags is a vexillographer.

Because they are flown outside, where they move with the wind, flags are usually designed with bold images and bright, basic colors. Flag design also follows a historical process, where later flag designs are based on earlier flag designs. This means that many flags in an area may look similar because they are all based on one historical flag. Examples include the Pan-African colors, Pan-Arab colors, and the Nordic Cross.

Flag Identification System (FIS)[change | change source]

The Flag Identification System was created by Whitney Smith and adopted by Fédération internationale des associations vexillologiques (FIAV).

The first row is for use on land and the second row is for use on water, each divided into private (civil), government (state), and military (war) use.

Usage Private Use Government Use Military Use
Land Use Civil Flag State Flag War Flag
Sea Use Civil Ensign State Ensign War Ensign

There are 63 symbols that can describe the flag, including:

FIS Text mode Description Usage
FIAV 100000.svg C**/*** Civil Flag by private person on land
FIAV 010000.svg *S*/*** State Flag by state offices on land
FIAV 001000.svg **W/*** War Flag by military on land (army)
FIAV 000100.svg ***/C** Civil Ensign on private ships (merchant ensign)
FIAV 000010.svg ***/*S* State Ensign on state owned ships
FIAV 000001.svg ***/**W War Ensign by military ships (navy)
FIAV 110000.svg CS*/*** Civil and State Flag by private person and state on land
FIAV 011000.svg *SW/*** State and War Flag by state services and military on land
FIAV 111000.svg CSW/*** National Flag for all purposes on land
FIAV 000111.svg ***/CSW National Ensign for all purposes on ships
FIAV 111111.svg CSW/CSW National Flag and Ensign for all purposes on land and sea

Other symbols are used to describe other uses of the flag, such as official status and which side of the flag is shown. The symbols in common use are:

  • IFIS Normal.svg Normal or de jure version of flag, or obverse (front) side
  • IFIS Proposed.svg Design proposed but not officially adopted
  • IFIS Reconstruction.svg Design is a reconstruction
  • IFIS Reverse.svg Reverse (back) side of flag
  • IFIS Variant.svg Design is a variant (a different form of the same flag)
  • IFIS Alternate.svg Alternative (different) version of flag
  • IFIS De facto.svg De facto (unofficial but in actual use) version of flag
  • IFIS Two-sided.svg Flag has different designs on its front and back
  • IFIS Sinister.svg Obverse (front) side meant to be hoisted (raised) with pole on the right
  • IFIS Authorised.svg Design approved by the government to represent a nation
  • IFIS Historical.svg Design used in the past, but now abandoned (This symbol was not part of Smith's original set.)
  • IFIS Mirror.svg Reverse side is mirror image of obverse side
  • IFIS Equal.svg Reverse side is the obverse side flipped
  • IFIS No reverse info.svg Information about the reverse side is not known
  • IFIS Vertical normal.svg Flag can be hung vertically by hoisting on a normal pole and then turning the pole 90°
  • IFIS Vertical rotated.svg Flag can be hung vertically by rotating the design first
  • IFIS Vertical unknown.svg Vertical hoist method is unknown
  • IFIS Vertical inapplicable.svg Design has no element that can be rotated
  • IFIS Vertical exclusive.svg Flag can only be hoisted vertically