Latvian flag vs Austrian flag

Latvian flag vs Austrian flag

The Latvian and the Austrian flags are among the oldest flags in the world. At the same time, their designs look very similar, to the point that, for some, they are indistinguishable. But what lies beneath those similar patterns?

Similarities and differences

The flags’ configuration and colors feature a simple, unobtrusive design with three horizontal stripes, with a red-white-red sequence of colors. But despite looking identical at first glance, one can notice that the Latvian flag’s white band is discernibly thinner compared to that of the Austrian flag. Moreover, the red sections are not the same either: the former features a darker, “carmine” red hue (labeled the “Latvian red”), while the latter has a paler red tone. Finally, it’s the dimensions: Latvian flag’s width-to-length ratio is is 1 to 2, while the Austrian flag has adopted a 2 to 3 ratio.

What do the colors stand for?

As for the Latvian flag, the deep red (dubbed “carmine” red, which borders on “purplish”) is said to typify the blood shed by the Latvians to defend their land; the white band is supposed to stand for peace and independence.

The Austrian flag’s red, on the other hand, symbolizes strength and bravery, while the white band embodies the virtues of peace and honesty.

Which one came out first?

As mentioned earlier, both flags carry a long heritage. However, the “winner”, by a very narrow margin, is the Austrian flag. Despite being officially adopted by the current Austrian nation in May 1945, the distinctive, uncluttered design of red, white and red, has been around as early as 1230. And despite local folklore maintaining otherwise (see below), it was the Duke Frederick II of Austria, the last of the Babenbergs, who came up with this specific design.

The Latvian flag is also one of the oldest banners in existence. Although it was formally adopted in 1918 (and re-adopted in 1990 –see below), its first use dates back to 1279.

Fun Facts

  • Although the Austrian flag was officially unveiled in early 13th century, the actual process of designing it had begun more than a century earlier.
  • Legend has it that the red and white horizontal stripes on the Austrian flag were inspired by Duke Leopold’s white dress being drenched in blood after being wounded during a battle known as the Siege of Acre (1189–1191). The belt his sword was attached on was believed to have prevented blood from dying red his waistline. However, reality is much more pedestrian: the design actually originates from the Babenbergs, the dynasty which ruled the country during a period stretching from 10th to 13th century.
  • When the Austrian flag is flown by the government, a black eagle is added in the ensemble, occupying the middle of it. The nation’s symbol of freedom and sovereignty, it also pays tribute to the lay laborer, since its claws hold a hammer and a sickle!
  • The folklore explanation for the Latvian flag’s colors has similar vibes to the Austrian one: when a Latvian chief was injured in a battle, his comrades wrapped him in a white sheet and carried him away. Apparently, the sheet was imbrued with his blood on two sides, which accounted for a red sheet with a thin white stripe in the middle that soldiers subsequently decided to use as a banner when the battle resumed.
  • The Latvian flag was officially adopted in 1918. Nevertheless, after World War II ended, the country was annexed by the Soviet Union, and following a long lasting tug of war between the Soviets and the Nazis, Latvia became a Socialist Republic. Therefore, during the Soviet era (1953-1990), the Latvian flag was replaced by a completely different, much more elaborate design, which incorporated a big red part on top and a thinner blue band at the bottom, separated by a blue and white line mimicking rippling water. The top left corner was occupied by a gold hammer and sickle, with a small gold five-pointed star featured right above the ensemble. In the late 80s, the original Latvian flag began to be flown again in Latvia, before its use was finally legalized in September 1988. By February 1990, the flag of Latvia had replaced the Soviet Latvian banner, before the country finally became an independent state in August 1991.