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Principality of Serbia (1830-1882)

Knjaževina Srbija

Last modified: 2015-05-03 by ivan sache
Keywords: serbia |
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Second Serbian Uprising, 1815

After the breakdown of the First Serbian Uprising in 1813, the Ottoman repression during the restoration of earlier regime provoked constant resistance. The decision to start a new uprising was made in Takovo, a village in present-day Gornji Milanovac municipality, on 25 April 1815. The elected leader was Miloš Obrenović, one of those leaders of the First Serbian Uprising who had stayed in the country after its breakdown and had tried at first to relieve the situation through collaboration with the restored Ottoman provincial government, but were eventually alienated by the worsening repression. The immediate success of the uprising caused Ottoman military intervention, which was, under the international pressure, almost immediately replaced with the negotiations. These resulted with the establishing of an informal self-government of the Serbs, which was being widened through further negotiations until 1830, when Serbia was finally officially recognized as a vassal principality, with Ottoman influence much reduced and with Miloš Obrenović as its first hereditary ruler. Serbia remained a vassal state, although with further reductions of the Ottoman influence during that time, until 1878, when it finally achieved full independence.

[The Takovo flag]

The Takovo flag, 1815 - Image by Tomislav Todorović & Mladen Mijatov, 25 December 2006

Most of the flags used in the Second Serbian Uprising were actually those which remained from the First Uprising, but the new one which appeared in 1815 is the white flag with a large red Greek cross in the centre, which was carried by Miloš Obrenović at the rally in Takovo when the uprising was risen. "The Takovo Flag", as it is usually called, is shown on the painting "The Takovo Uprising" by the great Serbian painter Paja Jovanović (1859-1957). The paintings of events from both Serbian Uprisings were often historically inaccurate in vexillological terms (a typical error was to show the Serbian tricolour flag, which was actually created years later!), but Paja Jovanović is known to have thoroughly studied the historical circumstances of the events he wanted to paint, the 1815 rally in Takovo being just one of these. That is why his reconstruction of this flag is considered correct.
The "Takovo Flag" has inspired the municipal flags of Gornji Milanovac and Vranje.

Tomislav Todorović, 3 September 2014

Flag prescribed in the 1835 Serbian Constitution

[Flag in the Constitution]

Serbian flag according to the 1835 Constitution - Image by Ivan Sarajčić & Tomislav Todorović, 9 October 2011

A flag is prescribed in Chapter II of the First Serbian Constitution (known as Sretenjski ustav), written in 1835 by Dimitrije Davidović, as follows:

The colour of the flag is red, white and steely dark. Coat of arms : cross on red background, with four firesteels (ocila). There are two crescents: oak leaves right, and olive leaves left.

This flag is the only Serbian flag with red-white-blue stripes.

Ivan Sarajčić, 17 February 1999

The "steely dark" colour was indeed blue. It was included in the flag design as one of the colours of the coat of arms - that of the firesteels, which were often blazoned as proper instead of argent during the 18th and 19th centuries. This was a widespread habit among the Serbs in Austria(-Hungary) and is thought to have developed under German influence: in the 18th century, heraldic charges tinctured proper came into larger use in Germany and subsequently in countries which had strong political and/or cultural ties with it. However, these "proper" colours were usually represented with basic heraldic tinctures, which would give azure in case of the firesteels. It shall be noted that Dimitrije Davidović, the author of the Constitution, was born in Austria and lived there before moving to Serbia, so he must have based this flag's design on the blason he was familiar with, although the colours of the cross and firesteels were not mentioned in the Constitution. Anyway, there are sources (Siebmacher's Armorial, for example) which give azure as sometimes used alternative tincture of the firesteels, and there are also depictions of such a coat of arms, like on an enamelled pocket watch which is kept in the Historical Museum, Belgrade. Nevertheless, the coat of arms with proper/azure firesteels was extremely rarely, if ever, appearing on the flags and these were gradually falling out of use, only argent ones, being much more distinctive, having remained in use in the late 19th century.

The 1835 blazon of the firesteels as "turned towards the cross" (i.e. respectant) instead of "turned away from the cross" (i.e. addorsed) was often thought to be erroneous, because they were almost always shown in the same orientation as nowadays. However, it seems that "respectant" is correct, not "addorsed", because the side of a firesteel which is closer to the cross is the one which strikes the sparks and therefore should be considered its "face"; the curved endings are the handles. The whole confusion about the correct blazoning must have developed when the firesteels began to be mistaken for Cyrillic "S" letters - which should indeed be blazoned as "addorsed" if they were in place of the firesteels in the same position. However, as the firesteels were falling out of everyday use during the 19th century, the question of their correct blazoning was becoming less interesting and "addorsed" eventually prevailed. Since 2004, the official blazon solves this problem by describing the firesteels as "their bases turned towards the vertical beam of the cross".

This flag was used from February to March 1835, because the Constitution was withdrawn in less than one month under the pressure of the then powers - Austria, Russia and Turkey - which considered it too liberal (the very idea of a Constitution was actually considered as such). One of the objections was that the flag resembled the French tricolour, out of use at that time as a revolutionary symbol, and that might be another (indirect) proof that the "steely dark" colour was indeed blue.

- A. Solovjev. Istorija srpskog grba. Istorija srpskog grba i drugi heraldički radovi [slv00]
- D. Acović. Heraldika i Srbi Zavod za udžbenike
- A. Palavestra. O ocilima. Ilirski grbovnici i drugi heraldički radovi Zavod za udžbenike

Tomislav Todorović, 9 October 2011

National flag, 1835-1838

[Flag of Serbia]

National flag of Serbia, 1835-1838 - Image by Jorge Candeias, 30 January 1998

After its first Constitution was withdrawn, Serbia was without the flag until October same year, when a new flag was introduced: in a special Decree, the Sultan has granted Serbia, as his vassal state with the status comparable to those of Wallachia, Moldavia and Samos, the right to use a red-blue-white horizontal tricolour. This flag is thought to have been derived from that of Russia and it is probably true, not only because Russia was the warranter of Serbian rights in relations with the Ottoman Empire, which was enough to provide the inspiration for the design, but also because Russian government was, after the "revolutionary" Constitution of 1835, rather hostile towards the very idea of Serbia having the flag and coat of arms, expressing worries that it might be understood as the encroachment of Sultan's suzerainty, so Russian diplomats were pressing Serbian negotiators to give up the demands. Serbian reply to this was that the flag and coat of arms of Serbia would not encroach Sultan's suzerainty more that the coat of arms of Russian nobility encroach the sovereignty of the Tsar, and flag design which looked familiar to Russians might have had an important role in winning their support for the idea.

- A. Solovjev. Istorija srpskog grba. Istorija srpskog grba i drugi heraldički radovi [slv00]
- A. Solovjev. Slovenske trobojke
- D. Acović. Heraldika i Srbi Zavod za udžbenike
- D. Samardžić. Vojne zastave Srba do 1918 [szd83]

Tomislav Todorović, 10 October 2011

State flag and ensign, 1838-1878

[Flag, 1838]         [Flag, 1838]

Serbian state flag and ensign, 1838, with close-up of the arms - Images by Tomislav Todorović & Ivan Sarajčić, 10 October 2011

During the making of the next Constitution, Serbian demands that its text include the articles about the flag and coat of arms, have met again the same objections from Russian and Turkish representatives as in 1835 (see above). The compromise was found in issuing two Sultan's Decrees: one granting the Constitution itself - hence the name "Turkish Constitution" - without the problematic articles, and the other granting the changed flag, the previous design amended with the state coat of arms in centre of a blue field and four stars in canton on red field. The Decree did not describe the shape and colour of stars, which were six-pointed and white, nor the details of the coat of arms, which now had the complete achievement from the first flag of 1835 draped with a mantle and crowned with a princely coronet. The four stars were added as the symbol of Sultan's suzerainty, probably meant to denote Serbia as the fourth vassal state, after Wallachia, Moldavia and Samos (see above). The explanation for the flag change was given in the Decree as the "problems made to the national affairs" by the use of old flag - most probably, the possibility of mistaking it for the Russian flag turned upside-down.

[Flag, 1838]

Rejected proposal of Serbian flag - Image by Tomislav Todorović & Mario Fabretto, 10 October 2011

Before this flag design was agreed upon, Serbian representatives had proposed that the flag be amended with the coat of arms only, while the representatives of the Sublime Porte had counter-proposed the flag with the coat of arms (shield only) on a blue field and three crescents with stars, as in the flag of Turkey, on a red field.

[Flag of Serbia]

Civil flag of Serbia, 1838 - Image by Jorge Candeias, 30 January 1998

The compromise solution was eventually approved in December 1838 and remained in use until 1878 as the state flag and ensign, the plain flag remaining in use as the civil flag. The Constitution of 1838 was replaced with a new one in 1869, adopted by People's Assembly of Serbia without the complications that accompanied its two predecessors, but it did not include articles about the state symbols either, the flag still having been based on the Sultan's Decree.

The olive and oak branches surrounding the shield were frequently omitted from the coat of arms, even in official documents, but remained its part until 1882. The tape they were tied with was originally meant to be blue, but red colour was also used sometimes. In some cases, the mantle was omitted, the coronet being placed directly atop the shield.
The size of the coat of arms, fitting completely into the blue field, might seem unusually small, but there is at least one original flag from the period, nowadays kept in the Military Museum, Belgrade, showing this detail, so this provision was obviously followed.

- A. Solovjev. Istorija srpskog grba. Istorija srpskog grba i drugi heraldički radovi [slv00]
- A. Solovjev. Slovenske trobojke
- D. Acović. Heraldika i Srbi Zavod za udžbenike
- D. Samardžić. Vojne zastave Srba do 1918 [szd83]

Tomislav Todorović, 10 October 2011

Erroneous reports of the state flag and ensign

[Dubious Serbian flag]         [Dubious Serbian flag]

Erroneous representations of the state flag and ensign - Images by Jorge Candeias, 30 September 1998

Some sources (for instance Deppermann, c. 1848 [dpr44]) report the flag with a brown or black bottom field.
The odd colours of the bottom of these flags are obviously the result of speculations about what "steely dark" colour really was (see above). The number, position and colour of the stars are correct, but the number of their points is not - they should be six-pointed (see above). Blue mantle and two coronets are other errors. Some 19th-century sources, most notably Siebmacher's Armorial, show the coat of arms of Serbia with a blue mantle, claiming that this was meant to be used by vassal states (the same was attributed to Montenegro). However, no actual use of this was ever recorded in Serbia. According to these sources, the coronet used with the blue mantle should be doubled with a blue velvet cap, which was not shown here. Furthermore, additional coronet atop the shield is also an error, as this was never used - only if the mantle was omitted, the coronet would be positioned there, otherwise it was only used in the combination with the mantle.

Mario Fabretto & Tomislav Todorović, 11 October 2011

State flag and ensign, 1878-1882

[Flag of Serbia]

State flag and ensign of Serbia, 1878-1882 - Image by Tomislav Todorović, 10 October 2011

In 1878, Serbia was recognized as a fully independent state at the Congress of Berlin. The flag was subsequently changed by removing the four stars from the canton. This flag remained in use until 1882, when Serbia became a kingdom, adopting a new coat of arms and modifying the flag accordingly.

- A. Solovjev. Istorija srpskog grba. Istorija srpskog grba i drugi heraldički radovi [slv00]
- A. Solovjev. Slovenske trobojke
- D. Acović. Heraldika i Srbi Zavod za udžbenike
- D. Samardžić. Vojne zastave Srba do 1918 [szd83]

Tomislav Todorović, 10 October 2011

Military flag

The Guide of the Military Museum in Belgrade (no date indicated) [gmb8x] mentions, for Room 22, Showcase 9A: "Banner of Russian volunteers, participants in the Serbian-Turkish War of 1876". No description of the banner is given.

Željko Heimer, 31 January 1998

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