A blue flag depicting a knot tied in yellow.
The flag of the International Federation of Vexillological Associations depicts a sheet bend.

Vexillology (/ˌvɛksɪˈlɒləi/ VEK-sih-LOL-ə-jee) is the study of the history, symbolism and usage of flags or, by extension, any interest in flags in general.[1]

A person who studies flags is a vexillologist, one who designs flags is a vexillographer, and the art of designing flags is called vexillography. One who is a hobbyist or general admirer of flags is a vexillophile.


The word vexillology is a synthesis of the Latin word vexillum (a kind of square flag which was carried by Roman cavalry)[2] and the Greek suffix -logia ("study").[3]


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American scholar Whitney Smith is acknowledged as conceiving the term "vexillology" in 1957. He wrote "while the use of flags goes back to the earliest days of human civilization, the study of that usage in a serious fashion is so recent that the term for it did not appear in print until 1959."[4][5] Before this time, the study of flags was generally considered a part of heraldry, the study of armorial bearings.[6]

Vexillology was formalized by American scholar Smith in 1961 with the publication of The Flag Bulletin.[7] During his lifetime, Smith organized various flag organizations and meetings including the first International Congress of Vexillology (ICV), the North American Vexillological Association, and the International Federation of Vexillological Associations (FIAV).[8]

Involvement in vexillology includes academic work in fields such as sociology, history, or design. It also includes contributions from the flag industry and interest from those passionate about flags. The ICV and local vexillological meetings often cover a wide range of interests in flags. Since 1969, an International Congress of Vexillology meeting has been organized every two years under the auspices of FIAV; papers presented at an ICV are published afterwards as the Congress's Proceedings.[7]

Vexillological organizations

The International Federation of Vexillological Associations (FIAV) is vexillology's international umbrella organization. Notable constituent organizations include the North American Vexillological Association, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Flaggenkunde [de] (English: 'German Society for Flag Studies'), and Flags of the World (FOTW).[9]

Flag Design

Vexillology studies many complex and multifaceted areas of flag design.

One such area is what makes a flag truly a good symbol of the area it represents. Ted Kaye has outlined five basic rules of Vexillology that constitute "good" and "bad" flag designs.[10] These rules are outlined in his book, titled Good Flag, Bad Flag. The book is meant to be "a quick reference and primer for anyone interested in vexillography or who wants to create a flag" according to the North American Vexillological Association.[10]

The rules are as follows:

  1. Keep It Simple. Children should be able to draw a "good" flag with relative ease.[10] For example, the flag of France would follow this rule, while the flag of Belize would not.
  2. Use Meaningful Symbolism. The colors, design, and elements of a "good" flag should represent some aspect of the place they represent.[10] For example, the flag of Canada is said to represent pride and strength throughout the history of Canada.[11]
  3. Use 2 or 3 Basic Colors. Flags that employ too many colors risk being chaotic, so two or three colors from the standard set of colors (i.e. red, green, white, etc.) that work together well should be used.[10] In some cases, flags can use many more colors and still work, like the flag of South Africa.
  4. Avoid Lettering or Seals. Use of seals and lettering harm the simplicity and distinctiveness of a flag. They should be avoided.[10]
  5. Be Distinctive or Be Related. First and foremost, a flag is a symbol to identify an area, so it should be distinct and recognizable. However, including similar design elements to other flags, such as the Nordic Cross, can help convey a sense of unity among places.[10]

It should be mentioned that all of these rules are meant to be general suggestions rather than laws of design, and exceptions to these rules do exist.

See also


  1. ^ Smith, Whitney. Flags Through the Ages and Across the World New York: McGraw-Hill, 1975. Print.
  2. ^ "Vexillum". Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Archived from the original on 16 September 2020. Retrieved 15 September 2020.
  3. ^ "Vexillology". Dictionary.com. Retrieved 2024-02-22.
  4. ^ "Vexillology". CRW Flags. Archived from the original on 2016-10-24. Retrieved 2017-11-03.
  5. ^ "Vexillology". Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Archived from the original on 17 September 2020. Retrieved 15 September 2020.
  6. ^ Fox-Davies, Arthur Charles (1909). A Complete Guide to Heraldry. London, Edinburgh: T.C. & E.C. Jack. p. 1. ISBN 9781602390010. OCLC 913797670.
  7. ^ a b "Consider Vexillology". semioticon.com – SemiotiX. Archived from the original on 2018-04-01. Retrieved 2018-04-01.
  8. ^ Vulliamy, Elsa (December 15, 2015). "Which flag is it? Take our quiz to find out". The Independent. Archived from the original on 2022-08-17. Retrieved March 13, 2016.
  9. ^ "Current Members". International Federation of Vexillological Associations. 2022-10-16. Archived from the original on 2021-04-18. Retrieved 2023-02-17.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g "Good Flag, Bad Flag - North American Vexillological Association". nava.org. Retrieved 2024-06-05.
  11. ^ Heritage, Canadian (2017-09-11). "National flag of Canada". www.canada.ca. Retrieved 2024-06-05.

Further reading