6/31: Why are flags rectangular?

Nepal is the only nation in the world that doesn’t have a rectangular flag. Why is that?

It’s the most common shape in all kinds of flags

All the nations in the world, but Nepal, have a rectangular flag. From Europe to the small nations in the Pacific, each one of them holds a rectangular flag waving somewhere. But why is this? The truth is, because it’s the most convenient shape.

It all started during the European naval period. Every empire had ships sailing around the continent and the only way to recognize one from another was waving a flag to identify yourself, this was helpful when approaching a port or a friendly ship in times of war.

It turns out that a rectangle is the shape that better catches the wind. So in order to be sure that even the slightly breeze would move your flag and make it visible to the rest of the world, empires started implementing this shape in their ships, with different colors, designs or patterns. This shape is also one of the best for manufacturing because it’s cheaper than other shapes.

Quickly, the idea of representing your ship with a flag became representing your country with the same or a similar flag. And it started to be used as a way of national identity.

With the European imperialism this practice started to spread over the world. The overseas territories of European countries started waving flags and making some changes to identify themselves from the rest of the national territories.

Moving to the independence movements of the 18th and 19th centuries the new nations wanted to show the rest of the world that they had their own national symbols, so flags started to spread to these new nations, the standard by that time was the rectangular shape, even when they were not waving in ships anymore. With more and more countries using this shape, older countries that weren’t colonized adopted this tendency as well, specially Asian countries.

Now every nation that wants to be considered independent has a flag, to represent its separation movement. Such is the case of Taiwan, Catalonia, Quebec, Northern Cyprus, etc.

But now, why Nepal was the only nation that didn’t change to the rectangular shape? Well, in medieval South Asia this shape was considered to be the best for royal standards. They were used only by the royal families in their palaces or official events. Because of this it didn’t really matter if flags were expensive to manufacture. Shapes and colors could be mixed and complicated designs were preferred as they would look better and more elegant at the time. Nepal is a landlocked country and it was really never conquered by any of the European countries, so this tradition of rectangular flags was never needed.

Other not common shapes of flags are the squared ones, like Switzerland and the Vatican City.

It was just convenience and cheapness of manufacturing what made the rectangular flags the standard of the world.


This story is part of my 31/31 challenge. Following a friend’s idea I will publish at least one story every day for the next month.

If you see any error please let me know, the idea is to stop over-reviewing my stories before publishing them.

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