History of the Italian Flag

Have you ever really looked at the Italian flag? If you haven’t you should look into it more, because the flag just as the country has a rich history and meaning.

The Italian flag is quite amazing. It has only three vertical bands of color, green, white and red. The green is at the hoist side while the red is on the extreme end. Like any other flag, there is a long history behind it. The Italian parliament, at the behest of then Deputy President, Giuseppe Compagnoni, adopted the three colors on January 7, 1797. As for the meaning of the three colors, it not easy to settle on a definite symbolism as scholars, poets, religious factions and historians all see different meanings in the flag.

flag of italy

The rationale for the three colors

When Napoleon Bonaparte landed in 1796, history was about to change and shape the present day Italy. He vanquished the ancient conglomeration of states, giving rise to a host of democratic republics of the Jacobin inspiration. They included the Roman, Neapolitan, Ligurian and the Anconitana Republics. Basing on the French model of 1790, the republics adopted the three bands of color, although in varying shades.

Quite interestingly, the Lombard Legion had already embraced the red, white and green colors. The colors were deeply entrenched in the heritage of the region. The red and white color featured in the ancient Milan’s coat of arms. It bore a red cross on a white background. Green color had been the uniform of Milan’s civic guards since 1782.

The Risorgimento

The Jacobin republics would have lasted for long, being democratic and all, but for the devastating Austro-Russian counter-offensive in 1799.When Napoleon went on the offensive again, the remaining republics consolidated under the Kingdom of Italy that lasted until 1814. The coming together of the surviving republics gave rise to the Risorgimento. The Risorgimento marked a period in the history of Italy in which the various republics unified and fought for independence.

During the period of the Risorgimento, the flag with three bands gained more prominence and became, not just a dynastic symbol, but an emblem representing the people, their freedom and the nation that was being born.

A source of hope

Three decades after the Risorgimento, the Kingdom of Italy underwent massive upheavals. Italians continued raising the tricolor flag even when the States of the Church staged an uprising in 1831. The flag just couldn’t stay down during the riots that followed. One reason was because it represented a source of freedom and hope for the people.

The tricolor flag was not only a source of hope but also inspiration. In 1847, a poet, Goffredo Mameli wrote Song of the Italians in which he intoned that one flag was their secret weapon to unity and freedom.

A symbol of national rebirth

Close on the heels of the upheavals came the 1848 revolution. One of the effects of the revolution was that it led to the granting of the Constitutions. At this point, the green, white and red Italian flag assumed monumental importance as it now signified the rebirth of the Italian nation. During the First Independence War, the king of Sardinia, Carlo Alberto, made an address to the Lombardo-Veneto populations. In his speech, he made it clear that their troops would have the Savoy Shield superimposed on the tricolor flag.

The confirmation of the tricolor flag

The proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy was finally made but one issue was yet to be sorted out: Official confirmation of the flag. Since there was yet no special law to formalize the flag, many alternative flags, with different shapes and shades from the original, sprung up everywhere. However, they were soon pulled down when the state defined the official model in 1925.

On June 19, 1946, a presidential decree established the provisional shape of the new national flag. A year later, the Constituent Assembly confirmed the tricolor flag and made a constitutional provision for the same in Article 12 of the Italian Constitution. It states that the flag shall be tricolor, bearing vertical bands of green, white and red in equal dimensions.

Meaning of the colors

There is no single meaning to the three color bands on the Italian flag. Every group of people finds their own meaning in it. From a religious perspective, the colors represent faith, hope and charity. The three colors have defined the Catholic liturgy since the Middle Ages and represent the three cardinal virtues.

Scholars have also delved into the matter of the tricolors. One such scholar is Giosue Carducci, who, in his speech during the first centennial anniversary of the flag, added a rather poetic meaning to the colors. He attributed green to the rebirth of hope in poetic youths, white to the unwavering faith in the ideas that make people wise and red to the blood and passion of the martyrs who died in the line of duty.

The tricolors on the Italian flag also represent the beautiful Italian landscape. White points to the fascinating snow on the Alps while red signifies the fire of the erupting volcanoes that dotted the landscape in the early times. The volcanoes have since gone dormant, especially in Sicily. Green, as one would expect, denotes the breath-taking vegetation of the peninsula.

The three colors may also refer to the three deities held in high esteem in Rome: Jupiter, Mars and Venus. In this regard, the colors correspond to the three functional values which are sovereignty, war and fertility. The colors also represent the three tribes that Romulus brought into existence. In the ancient times, the circus games also featured the three colors: Albati (white), Russati (red) and Virides (green).


The history of the Italian flag is closely linked to the stages the nation has undergone since the days of Napoleon to the present times. During the dark days of uprisings and riots, the flag served to unify and give hope to the Italians. Every time it was raised, there would be a renewed resolve to fight for freedom. It brought about the Risorgimento or resurgence that saw the various republics come together and fend off the Austria-Russian attacks.

The meaning of the colors is diverse and varied as everybody approaches it from a different perspective. However, all Italians agree that it symbolizes hope, faith and charity – the core principles defining the Italian nation.

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