(Reprinted from Trendline Magazine, June/July 1999, updated March 2015)
“…of Dannebrog it is known, it fell from heaven down” – traditional Danish folk song.
Confusion over Scandinavian flags remains among military collectors today – perhaps with good reason. Often the Danish Dannebrog is confused with the Swiss flag, however the subtleties of Scandinavian flags are quite simple – once clearly differentiated, that is.
Once among the world’s most powerful nations, Denmark still ranks as one of the largest geographic countries on earth; counting its protectorate, Greenland, plus the Faroe Islands and Bornholm. While once ruling much of present day Norway and Sweden, Denmark has made an even more lasting impression on world history with their flag, the Dannebrog.
The basic design can be traced back 700 years, and a coin suggests it dates from the late 1100’s and could actually be related to red flags used on the Baltic Sea in the ninth century. In a story known to Danish children, the Dannebrog fell from heaven on June 15, 1219 during a battle at Lyndanisse between Denmark’s King Valdemar II and Estonia. Bishops had of course prayed for victory, and as a sign of favor, God sent the first Dannebrog fluttering down to earth.
More likely is that it was a gift from the Pope, as it appears similar to the war flag of the Holy Roman emperors, while other areas of Europe have employed a similar design through history; Danzig, Barcelona, Pisa, Utrecht, and Savoy.
In its current form, the Dannebrog is among the simplest in the world – a white cross offset on red. This design is also employed by Norway but with an inset blue cross overlaying the white. Sweden has a yellow cross on blue, and the Danish island of Bornholm keeps the Dannebrog red field with an overlaid green cross. Though technically Iceland and Finland are not considered part of Scandinavia, their flags are of the basic Dannebrog design. Iceland with its red cross over white on a blue field, Finland with the light blue cross on white. The Finnish province of Aaland bears a red cross inset over a yellow cross on a blue field. The Danish Faroe Islands flag bears a red cross inset on blue on a white field.
The Dannebrog is flown both in rectangular form as well as the “splitflag,” which is reserved for royal institutions and the navy. Of course any visit to beautiful Denmark will show that Danes are practically unrivaled in their pride over the Dannebrog. It is flown virtually anywhere there is room; at home, in the garden plot, strung across shopping malls, around sitting rooms, atop birthday cakes, and even as ornaments for Christmas trees. It is flown in commemoration of a glorious early May day in 1945 when the occupying Germany army was forced out. Every July 4th, many Danes also observe the American Independence day with the Dannebrog flying next to the stars and stripes to celebrate the strong ties between the United States and Denmark.
References: “Flags Through the Ages and Across the World,” by Dr. Whitney Smith; and Tojhusmuset, Copenhagen.
Map image sourced from: