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La Commune de Paris (France)

18 March 1870 - 28 May 1871

Last modified: 2020-06-13 by ivan sache
Keywords: commune |
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[Flag]

Red flag - Image by Ivan Sache, 19 January 2003


See also:


Chronological overview

The French historical period concerning Paris from March to May 1871 is called La Commune de Paris. Most people know it for the insurrection it was. The word commune without a capital C is used in French to designate a municipal territorial administration, and France has more than 36,000 such communes. Using that meaning, the first commune of Paris was set up by the sections of the city in 1789, and it was later replaced by a short-lived insurrectional commune on 10 August 1792. However, this page is dedicated to the 1871 historical period Commune de Paris, hereafter called Commune for the sake of simplicity.

  • 1852-1870: Second Empire (Napoléon III).
  • 1870-1871: Franco-Prussian war.
    • 3-4 September 1870: Capture and abdication of Napoléon III in Sedan - Proclamation of the Third Republic in Paris.
  • 18 March 1870-28 May 1871: La Commune de Paris.
    • 18 March 1871: Beginning of the insurrection in Paris.
    • 28 March 1871: Proclamation of the insurrectional government of La Commune de Paris.
    • 2 April 1871: Beginning of the fighting between the insurgents and the French regular Army (the so-called "Versailles Army").
    • 21-28 May 1871: Suppression of La Commune de Paris during the so-called "Bloody Week".
  • 1880: Complete amnisty for the insurgents.

The history of the insurrection is related in detail on this page.


Flags used during the insurrection

A detailed report of the flags used during the Commune is given by Pierre Charrié in his book Drapeaux et étendards du XIXe siècle [chr92].

On 15 March 1871 (three days before the beginning of the insurrection), the Federation of the National Guard was made up of 26 legions, broken into 215 battalions. On 23 March, 25 marching battalions were created. Other units joined the Federation such as the Cecilia Franc-Tireurs, the France Volunteers of Commandant Olkowicz, and the sailors of the Commune gunboats.

The Tricolore flag was used by the units of the National Guard during the siege of Paris. In January 1871, however, a few plain red flags appeared. On 22 January, the 101st Battalion attached red pennons to the ends of their baionets. On 7 March, the 199th Battalion hoisted the red flag over the Bastille Column.

On 18 March, when the insurrection started, a red flag was raised on the City Hall, and the 130th Battalion used a red flag too. Not all of the battalion flags were red, but more and more battalions adopted red flags. These red flags were initially square pieces of scarlet fabric. Those which were too dirty or destroyed by bullets were later replaced by new silk flags with a golden fringe, provided by the Central Committee of the Commune, although the Tricolore flag was never abolished. The 147th Battalion used a new Tricolore flag.

There were no rules as to the flag designs, and most of these short-lived flags were destroyed during the fightings and repression by the Versailles Army. Only nine of these flags have been preserved or recently seen. Except the last flag described, all of these flags have letterings on the obverse only.


147th Battalion

The flag used by the 147th Battalion is preserved in the Army Museum, Paris.
This flag is made of tricolor silk, with three equal vertical stripes and a golden fringe. The size of the flag is 123 x 159 cm and the fringe is 5 cm long.

147e BATAILLON
VIVE LA
REPUBLIQUE

is written in gold lettering on the white stripe, perpendicular to the hoist.


269th Battalion (Tirailleurs de la Marseillaise)

The flag used by the 269th Battalion is preserved in the Museum of Living History, Montreuil (east of Paris).
This flag is made of red fabric. It is lettered with :

REPUBLIQUE DEM SIZE="-1" QUE SOCIALE
GARDE N SIZE="-1" LE
19 ARR SIZE="-1" T
UNION FORCE

DEM SIZE="-1" QUE stands for DEMOCRATIQUE, N SIZE="-1" LE for NATIONALE and ARR SIZE="-1" T for ARRONDISSEMENT (district).

In the middle of the flag is placed the allegory of the Republic with the Phrygian cap.
Below, the flag is lettered with 1er Bon [Bataillon] des TIRAILLEURS DE LA MARSEILLAISE


164th Battalion

The flag used by the 164th Battalion is preserved in the Historical Library Feltrinelli, Milan (Italy).
This flag is made of red fabric. It has a golden fringe on the three flying sides.
At the top of the flag, it is lettered with REPUBLIQUE FRANCAISE. COMMUNE DE PARIS is lettered in an arched pattern. Below that, it is lettered with:

164e Bon [Battalion]
2 avril 71

Below that, in an arched pattern is EREG GERMAIN et ses frères de la VILLETTE [and his brothers from la Villette]. This is probably the name of the funders of the flag.


226th Battalion

The flag used by the 226th Battalion is cited by Bouillé (Le Drapeau français, Paris, 1875). Its current location is unknown.
This flag is made of red fabric. It is lettered in gold with 226e BATAILLON.


220th Battalion

The flag used by the 220th Battalion is preserved in the Central Museum of the Societ Armed Forces, Moscow (Russia). It was displayed for the 100th anniversary of the Commune. First preserved by a Polish volunteer fighter in 1871, seized by the Germans in 1939, it was finally taken by the Russians from a Gestapo building in Silesia.
No description of this flag is available.


30th Battalion

The flag used by the 30th Battalion is preserved in an unnamed museum in Moscow (Russia). It might have been the flag which was hoisted close to Lenin's mausoleum.
No description of this flag is available.


67th Battalion

The flag used by the 67th Battalion was sold by auction in Hôtel Drouot, Paris, c. 20 years ago.
This flag was made of red silk and lettered with:

REPUBLIQUE FRANCAISE
67e BATAILLON
COMMUNE DE PARIS 1871


143rd Battalion

The flag used by the 143rd Battalion is preserved in the Museum of Art and History, Saint-Denis (north of Paris).
This flag is made of red silk with a golden fringe. The size of the flag is 112 x 115 cm and the fringe is 5 cm long. It is lettered with

VIVE
LA COMMUNE

in black. Between these two words, it is lettered with 143e Bon [Bataillon] Cies [Compagnies] DE GUERRE [of war].


117th Battalion

The current location of the flag used by the 117th Battalion is unknown.
This flag is made of red muslin with a golden fringe. The lettering is painted in gold. At the top, there is:

REPUBLIQUE FRANCAISE
COMMUNE DE PARIS

Below that, there is:

9e LEGION
117e BATAILLON

The reverse of the flag is identical to the obverse.


Other flags

Other flags were only partially described and cannot be accurately reconstituted, except if plain red:

  • The flags of the 76th and 191st Battalions are plain red.
  • The flag of the Fort of Vincennes is lettered with FORT DE VINCENNES
  • The six gunboats which constituted the fleet of the Commune each flew a red ensign, purchased 1.50 Franc.
  • A plain red flag, preserved at the Museum of Art and History, Saint-Denis, was hoisted on the Saint-Leu's church.

Ivan Sache & Suzette Tanis-Plant, 19 January 2003


Illustrations of the flags used during the Commune

Few flags used during the insurrection have been preserved, however, those flags have been represented on several so-called historical pictures. The following list discusses the accuracy of these representations

  • A satiric allegory by F. Mathis (National Library) portrays the Commune on the top of a column made of (from bottom to top) Louis-Philippe, the Second Republic, Napoléon III, the Third Republic, and Thiers. Behind Napoléon is an eagle, which is attacked by a roaster. The Commune is shown as a long-haired woman dressed in red, who is waving a red flag with Commune written on it in black.
  • A painting by Guerie (Museum of Art and History, Saint-Denis) shows a wedding being celebrated by a mayor wearing a red sash and waving a red flag topped with the Phrygian cap. The scene seems to be too allegoric to be historically correct.
  • A painting by Devambez (Historical Museum, Palace of Versailles) shows a barricade with a red flag in the background.
  • An anonymous painting (Île-de-France Museum, Sceaux) shows the fighting at the Pont de Neuilly (2 April). The leader of the insurgents is waving an orange flag (probably red when the painting was made) partially torn by bullets. In the backgournd, a Tricolore flag represents the Versailles Army.
  • A painting by Boulanger (Carnavalet Museum, Paris) shows the fighting on the Concorde Square. The flag hoisted over the building in the background seems to be plain red.
  • A so-called image d'Epinal (stereotypical, popular representation produced in large number in the city of Epinal) (National Library) shows the execution of the archbishop of Paris by the insurgents. A red flag is shown in a corner of the image.
  • A painting by Philippoteaux (Museum of Art and History, Saint-Denis) shows the last fighting in the Père-Lachaise cemetery, and a woman is bearing a red flag.

All of these representations do not prove that red flags were actually used during the events they depict. They only prove that the red flag was considered to be the emblem of the Commune and was used to identify it.

The black-and-white photograph of the barricade erected on Chaussée de Ménilmontant is more historically relevant but unfortunately not very helpful to vexillology. A man standing on the barricade is bearing a flag with a cravate. The flag appears white and the cravate black, but no other details can be seen.

Ivan Sache & Suzette Tanis-Plant, 11 May 2003


 
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