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Swiss cantons war flags

Last modified: 2011-01-07 by rob raeside
Keywords: switzerland | cantons | war |
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[War flag of Zürich canton] image by T.F. Mills

Cantons war flags

The Swiss Confederation of 1803-1813 consisted of 19 cantons, each with a war flag consisting of two flame colours in the quarters and the white cross "traversante". Cantonal crests normally were centered on the junction of the cross. In 1814 three more cantons joined, and in 1817 Switzerland started to slowly gain some military uniformity. French-style cravats in two cantonal colours were replaced on the cantonal war flags by a federal red-white cravat. Most cantonal crests in the center of the flags were replaced by a simple inscription in gold of the name of the canton on the horizontal bar of the white cross.

In 1833 Aargau was the first to break ranks and adopt a federal war flag in place of the cantonal one. General Guillaume-Henri Dufour championed this idea, and in 1840 he prevailed: every canton gave up its own war flag and adopted the federal white cross on white field with cravat in cantonal colours (the reverse of previous practice). The federal Constitution of 1848 reinforced this concept. In 1884, the Canton name on one side of the flag was replaced by the battalion number (e.g. Fusilier Bat. 32)
T.F. Mills, 26 August 1997

At the beginning of the 20th century, flamed flags were still in use, with the white cross replaced by a baroque blazon in the centre of the flag. These decorative (but heraldically poor) flags had been used until WWII and then somewhat forgotten in preference of the current cantonal flags.
Pascal Gross, 30 June, 2002

The two-colour flamed canton war flags of 1803-1840, and the two-colour cravats are as follows (in order of the cantons' entry into the Confederation):

1501BaselBS white/black  BL white/red
1803St. Gallengreen/white
1803Ticinored/blue (no flames)
1979Jurawhite/red (no flames)

T.F. Mills, 26 August 1997

[War flag of Bern canton] image by T.F. Mills

In Bern a particular flamed flag is extremely popular. The flames are black-red with a white cross reaching to the edge. This is the old war flag of the canton of Bern from the time before the founding of the Swiss Confederation.

Harald Müller, 14 May 1996

[War flag of Aargau canton] image by T.F. Mills

Aargau joined the Swiss confederation in 1803 and in 1805 adopted a military organisation and war flag. This flag was typical of the period for most cantons: white cross "traversante" dividing the flag into four quarters with "piles wavy" radiating from the center. Almost every canton had bicoloured flames, Aargau being black and blue. The name of the canton was inscribed in gold on the horizontal arms of the cross.

T.F. Mills, 01 September 1997

[War flag of Neuchâtel canton] image by T.F. Mills

Some time ago I posted the Neuchatel war flag of 1815, principally by way of illustrating the central coat of arms (which included the Prussian eagle). The general pattern in 1803-1817 was for cantons to display the coat of arms in the center, and thereafter these were replaced by the inscribed name of the canton instead. Aargau, as a new canton in 1803, opted for the newer style from the start.
T.F. Mills
, 01 September 1997

The 1836-1843 war standard of Neuchatel is displayed - although not described - in Neubecker (1932). The standard is a square flag with a white cross (arms approximately 1 in 7), with each quarter containing 7 flames in orange-black-white-orange-black-white-orange (the black may be dark brown instead, but the colours of Prussia would make sense here). There is no charge on the cross.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg
, 06 July 2002

The standard of the Swiss guard of the King of France is mentioned in Neubecker (1932). This flag is also a Swiss flaming flag, with a white cross (arms approximately 1 in 12) with each quarter containing 9 flames: the outer two black and the others alternating gold and red. The black flames are half as wide as the other flames, and at the edges half as wide as the cross arms.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg
, 06 July 2002

Modern flamed war flags

Over ten years ago, the old flamed war flags were redesigned for public sale. Created by Art Fahnen AG in Luzern and Aarwangen with the supervision of the SWF (Stiftung Schweizer Wappen und Fahnen, Foundation for Swiss Arms and Flags), these flags have no official function and are purely decorative.

The design readopts the white cross with the 4 fields with 7 flames each but as only 10 cantons have their own colours (Bern, Uri, Schwyz, Glarus, Schaffhausen, GraubŁnden, Aargau, Ticino, Neuchatel and Geneva), there has been a need to differentiate the others. This has been done by adding the cantonal arms in the center of the white cross on all the flamed flags. As Schwyz has only one cantonal colour (red), there has been a need to separate the 7 flames by a small white fimbriation. A national version of this flag design has also been created. SWF (2001)
Pascal Gross
, 30 June, 2002
[Modern war flag of Switzerland (decorative only)]

[Modern war flag of canton Aargau (decorative only)]


Appenzell Ausserrhoden
[Modern war flag of canton Appenzell Ausserrhoden (decorative only)]


Appenzell Innerrhoden
[Modern war flag of canton Appenzell Innerrhoden (decorative only)]

[Modern war flag of canton Basel-Stadt (decorative only)]
[Modern war flag of canton Basel-Land (decorative only)]
[Modern war flag of canton Berne (decorative only)]
Fribourg / Freiburg
[Modern war flag of canton Fribourg / Freiburg (decorative only)]
[Modern war flag of canton Geneva (decorative only)]
[Modern war flag of canton Glarus (decorative only)]
Graubünden / Grischun
[Modern war flag of canton Graubünden / Grischun (decorative only)]
[Modern war flag of canton Jura (decorative only)]
[Modern war flag of canton Luzern (decorative only)]
[Modern war flag of canton Neuchâtel (decorative only)]
St. Gallen
[Modern war flag of canton St. Gallen (decorative only)]
[Modern war flag of canton Schaffhausen (decorative only)]
[Modern war flag of canton Schwyz (decorative only)]
[Modern war flag of canton Solothurn (decorative only)]
[Modern war flag of canton Thurgau (decorative only)]
[Modern war flag of canton Ticino (decorative only)]
[Modern war flag of canton Nidwalden (decorative only)]
[Modern war flag of canton Obwalden (decorative only)]
[Modern war flag of canton Uri (decorative only)]
[Modern war flag of canton Vaud (decorative only)]
[Modern war flag of canton Valais / Wallis (decorative only)]
[Modern war flag of canton Zug (decorative only)]
[Modern war flag of canton Zürich (decorative only)]
images by Pascal Gross

Modern military colours and standards

[Sample Swiss military colours] image by Joe McMillan

Infantry, engineer, medical, and rescue units of battalion size carry a Fahne/drapeau/bandiera (colour) while units of other branches have a Standarte/e'tendard/stendardo (standard).

A colour is the national flag, 1.1 meters square, with the title of the unit in gold Roman letters 65-75 mm high on the horizontal bar of the cross. The Fahne is nailed to a 2.7 m long staff, painted in a red and white spiral and topped with a spearhead 26.5 cm long. Below the spearhead is a cravat (Schleife) in red and white for Confederation units or in the cantonal colours for cantonal units. An example is displayed above.

A Standarte is similar but smaller, 60 x 60 cm, mounted with a sleeve on a 2.15 m staff red and white spiral staff with an 18.5 cm spearhead and a cravat in either Confederation or cantonal colours as appropriate. It is trimmed with fringe 47 mm wide in alternating red and white sections.

Source: Josef Inauer, ed., Schweizer Armee 99 (Frauenfeld: Huber, 1998)

Joe McMillan, 04 December 2003