Flags of the Ottoman Empire

The most widely used flag, the star and crescent flag of the Ottoman Empire designed in the 1700s.

The Ottoman Empire used a variety of flags, especially as naval ensigns, during its history. The star and crescent came into use in the second half of the 18th century. A buyruldu (decree) from 1793 required that the ships of the Ottoman Navy were to use a red flag with the star and crescent in white. In 1844, a version of this flag, with a five-pointed star, was officially adopted as the Ottoman national flag. The decision to adopt a national flag was part of the tanzimat (reforms) which aimed to modernize the Ottoman state in line with the laws and norms of contemporary European states and institutions.

The familiar star and crescent design later became a common element in the national flags of Ottoman successor states in the 20th century. The current flag of Turkey is essentially the same as the late Ottoman flag, but has more specific legal standardizations (regarding its measures, geometric proportions, and exact tone of red) that were introduced with the Turkish Flag Law on May 29, 1936.

Early flags

The pre-modern Ottoman armies used the horse-tail standard or tugh rather than flags. Such standards remained in use alongside flags until the 19th century. A depiction of a tugh is found in the Relation d'un voyage du Levant by Joseph Pitton de Tournefort (1718).[1] War flags came into use by the 16th century. During the 16th and 17th centuries, Ottoman war flags often depicted the bifurcated Zulfiqar sword, often misinterpreted in Western literature as showing a pair of scissors.[2] A Zulfiqar flag claimed to have been used by Selim I (d. 1520) is on exhibit in the Topkapı Museum. Two Zulfiqar flags are also depicted in a plate dedicated to Turkish flags in vol. 7 of Bernard Picart's Cérémonies et coutumes religieuses de tous les peuples du monde (1737), attributed to the Janissaries and the Ottoman cavalry.

The crescent symbol appears in flags attributed to Tunis from as early as the 14th century (Libro de conoscimiento), long before Tunis fell under Ottoman rule in 1574. The Spanish Navy Museum in Madrid shows two Ottoman naval flags dated 1613; both are swallow-tailed, one green with a white crescent near the hoist, the other white with two red stripes near the edges of the flag and a red crescent near the hoist.[3]

Star and Crescent flag

Further information: Flag of Turkey and Star and crescent

The adoption of star and crescent as the state symbol started during the reign of Mustafa III (1757–1774) and its use became well-established during Abdul Hamid I (1774–1789) and Selim III (1789–1807) periods.[4] According to Znamierowski, the red flag with white crescent and star was adopted in 1793.[5] A buyruldu from that year states that the ships in the Ottoman navy have that flag, and various other documents from earlier and later years mention its use.[4] The number of points in the star was initially not fixed. The white crescent with an eight-pointed star on a red field is depicted as the flag of a "Turkish Man of War" in Colton's Delineation of Flags of All Nations (1862). Steenbergen's Vlaggen van alle Natiën of the same year shows a six-pointed star. A plate in Webster's Unabridged of 1882 shows the flag with an eight-pointed star labelled "Turkey, Man of war". The five-pointed star seems to have been present alongside these variants from at least 1857.

With the Tanzimat reforms in the 19th century, flags were redesigned in the style of the European armies of the day. The flag of the Ottoman Navy was made red, as red was to be the flag of secular institutions and green of religious ones. As the reforms abolished all the various flags (standards) of the Ottoman pashaliks, beyliks and emirates, a single new Ottoman national flag was designed to replace them. The result was the red flag with the white crescent moon and star, which is the precursor to the modern flag of Turkey. A plain red flag was introduced as the civil ensign for all Ottoman subjects.

After the foundation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923, the new Turkish state maintained the last flag of the Ottoman Empire. Proportional standardisations were introduced in the Turkish Flag Law (Turkish: Türk Bayrağı Kanunu) of May 29, 1936.

Source of the Star and Crescent symbol

It has been suggested that the star-and-crescent used in Ottoman flags of the 19th century had been adopted from the Byzantines. Franz Babinger (1992) suggests this possibility, noting that the crescent alone has a much older tradition also with Turkic tribes in the interior of Asia.[7] The crescent and star is found on the coinage of Byzantium since the 4th century BC[8] and was depicted on Byzantine Empire's coins and shields of Christian warrior saints till the 13th century.[9] Parsons (2007) notes that the star and crescent was not a widespread motive on the coinage of Byzantium at the time of the Ottoman conquest.[10] Turkish historians tend to stress the antiquity of the crescent (not star-and-crescent) symbol among the early Turkic states in Asia.[11]

Imperial standards

Adopted in 1882, the coat of arms of the Ottoman Empire featured a green flag at left (representing the Caliphate) and red flag at right (representing the Sultanate).

The imperial standard displayed the sultan's tughra, often on a pink or bright red background.

The standard used by the last Caliph, Abdülmecid II (between 19 November 1922 – 3 March 1924) consisted of a green flag with a star and crescent in white on a red oval background within a rayed ornament, all in white.

See also


  1. Lors des campagnes, la marche du Grand Vizir (1er ministre nommé par le Sultan de Constantinople) est précédée par trois Étendards ou Queues de cheval terminées chacune par une pomme dorée, ils sont l'enseigne militaire des Othomans appelée Thou ou Thouy. On dit qu'un Général de cette nation, ne sachant comment rallier ses troupes qui avaient perdu tous ses Étendards, s'avisa de couper la queue d'un cheval et de l'attacher au bout d'une lance; les soldats coururent à ce nouveau signal et remportèrent la victoire... cited after Marc Pasquin, 22 November 2004, crwflags.com; c.f. also a facsimile image hosted at the website of the Bibliothèque nationale de France.
  2. e.g. Jaques Nicolas Bellin, Tableau des Pavillons de le nations que aborent à la mer (1756).
  3. Nozomi Karyasu & António Martins, 8 October 2006 on Flags of the World.
  4. 1 2 İslâm Ansiklopedisi (in Turkish). 4. Istanbul: Türkiye Diyanet Vakfı. 1991. p. 298.
  5. crwflags.com: "There was an Ottoman flag with crescent and seven-pointed star. Nearly everywhere you can read that this star has later been replaced by a five-pointed one. But when, and why? We (Archiv für Flaggenkunde) only found out (until now) that the five-pointed star has always been present in the imperial flag. The five-pointed star had always pointed to the hoist, as show some flag charts, and also Turkish charts of 1857 and 1905." Ralf Stelter, 27 June 1999 "Zanamierowski [zna99] gives 1793 as the date for the introduction of the red flag with white crescent and star (presumably as some sort of flag for national identity) and 1844 for the change from an eight-pointed to a five-pointed star, (not that I doubt it) but I have never been able to discover any other source to confirm or refute the information?" Christopher Southworth, 18 January 2011
  6. Miller, Geoffrey: STRAITS: British Policy towards the Ottoman Empire and the urigins of the Dardanelles Campaign. Chapter 18.
  7. "It seems possible, though not certain, that after the conquest Mehmed took over the crescent and star as an emblem of sovereignty from the Byzantines. The half-moon alone on a blood red flag, allegedly conferred on the Janissaries by Emir Orhan, was much older, as is demonstrated by numerous references to it dating from before 1453. But since these flags lack the star, which along with the half-moon is to be found on Sassanid and Byzantine municipal coins, it may be regarded as an innovation of Mehmed. It seems certain that in the interior of Asia tribes of Turkish nomads had been using the half-moon alone as an emblem for some time past, but it is equally certain that crescent and star together are attested only for a much later period. There is good reason to believe that old Turkish and Byzantine traditions were combined in the emblem of Ottoman and, much later, present-day Republican Turkish sovereignty." Franz Babinger (William C. Hickman Ed., Ralph Manheim Trans.), Mehmed the Conqueror and His Time, Princeton University Press, 1992, p 108
  8. Nigel Wilson (2013). "Byzantium". Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece. Routledge. p. 136.
  9. Piotr Grotowski (2010). Arms and Armour of the Warrior Saints: Tradition and Innovation in Byzantine Iconography (843–1261). Brill. pp. 249, 250.
  10. John Denham Parsons, The Non-Christian Cross, BiblioBazaar, 2007, p 69: "Moreover, the question is what the symbol of Constantinople was at the time it was captured by the Turks. And an inspection of the coins issued by the Christian rulers of that city during the thousand years and more it was in their hands, will reveal to the enquirer that though the crescent with a cross within its horns appears occasionally upon the coins of the Emperors of the East, and in one or two instances we see a cross of four equal arms with each extremity piercing a crescent, it is doubtful if a single example of the so-called "star and crescent" symbol can be found upon them."
  11. "It is clear, however, that, whatever the origin, the crescent was used by Turkish states in various regions of Asia, and there is absolutely no reason to claim that it passed to the Ottomans from Byzantium" Mehmet Fuat Köprülü, Gary Leiser (Trans.), Some Observations on the Influence of Byzantine Institutions on Ottoman institutions, Türk Tarih Kurumu, 1999, p 118
  12. "Ottoman Empire: Standard of the Sultan" at Flags of the World.
  13. "Standard of the Caliph" at royaltombs.dk.
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