Swiss history: Switzerland’s flag was 'born' on a battlefield

Author thumbnail
The Local - [email protected]
Swiss history: Switzerland’s flag was 'born' on a battlefield
Switzerland's flag is a big plus. Photo by Fabrice Coffrini / AFP

Even though it is associated with peace and neutrality, the Swiss flag made its first appearance in a battle.


What are the origins of Switzerland’s flag? And was it in existence on August 1st, 1291, when the cantons of Schwyz, Unterwalden and Uri famously formed the Swiss Confederation?

The first known depiction of the flag was actually nearly half a century later. Bernese soldiers fighting during the Battle of Laupen on June 21st, 1339 attached a white cross to their armour to distinguish themselves from their enemies — the troops from Freiburg and feudal landholders from the Burgundy and Habsburg territories.


It turns out that the Bernese — who won that battle — were trendsetters of sorts: the white cross would appear on the arms and banners of all Swiss soldiers from then on.

However, the official flag of the Swiss Confederation as we know it today, was officially adopted much later, in 1848.

There is some debate about the significance of the red background, with some historians claiming it was intended to symbolise the blood of Christ. Others say it is more likely that the red was chosen because it was the colour of the Bernese flag at the time when the Battle of Laupen was fought.

The Swiss people's legendary love of precision was also used in the flag’s design, with nothing left to chance.

According to an official government site, the flag’s “shade of red corresponds to Pantone 485C, and is a mixture of magenta and yellow. The cross is positioned in the centre of the flag, and its arms are of equal length, and are one sixth longer than they are broad”.

Also, unlike the shape of other countries’ flags — with the exception of the Vatican’s — Switzerland’s is square, not rectangular.

The flag also inspired the emblem of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) — a red cross on the white background — as a tribute to Henry Dunant, the Swiss doctor who founded the ICRC in Geneva in 1863.

Whichever way you look at it, the Swiss flag is a big plus!


READ ALSO: Swiss history: When Switzerland was a nation of warriors





Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also