Our icon is the homeland
Trust in God is our creed,
Enlightened land of plains and mounts,
Blessed by God and holy heaven.
The freedom we have learned to follow
Makes our future spirits stronger,
Morning star will rise above us
And lightens up the land between the two seas.
Glory to long-cherished freedom,
Glory to liberty!
Tourist or local, most certainly you’ve already seen this flag. You might like it, you might not (I don’t) but it’s what we’ve got and we’re stuck with it. But it has not always been our flag. We’ve had different flags before the annexation by the Russian Empire, a different flag after breaking free from the Russian Empire and before being annexed by the Soviet Union and a different flag while Georgia was part of the USSR.
There is some academic research about the older flags of Georgian political units, but these are not based on sufficient factual evidence.
I’m not saying that there never was a flag of King Tamar, King Vakhtang or King David. I’m only saying that these stories are surrounded by too much uncertainty and I do not like uncertainty. But when we get to discuss our modern flag, we’re actually forced to dip our noses in that same swamp of uncertainty.
Instead, I’m going to talk about the three most modern flags, about which there are relatively solid facts. These are – “Flag of the Democratic Republic of Georgia”, “Flag of the Georgian SSR” and our modern flag.
Flag of Democratic Republic of Georgia
Before we move on to the flag, just a little heads up.
From the year 1801, Georgia was annexed by the Russian Empire. Then the revolution fell upon Russia in 1917 and 1918. In short, we used this opportunity to regain independence in 1918, but it only lasted for three (not even that) years, until 1921, when it was annexed by the Soviet Union. That is what we call the First Democratic Republic of Georgia. By the way, this is a VERY interesting period of our history and I will most certainly devote a separate article to it in the future.
Now about the flag.
(Authors: Jacob Nikoladze and Joseph Sharleman; Consulted by Ivane Javakhishvili)
This was the flag. Now, some of you who know a bit of German history might see the resemblance between this flag and the National Flag of Germany, calm down, it’s not yet a Nazi Germany, it’s still 1918.
Germany was a prime supporter of the independence of Georgia.
It is very much possible that Germany’s political influence over us played a big role in choosing the colors for this dull flag of the first republic. I know, many like this flag and all but, come on colors are out of proportion. The only thing I can appreciate in this flag is they supposedly used symbolism, but even that is not canonical.
It is said that black color on the flag represents – hell – dark past of our nation, white – heaven – a bright future and crimson – earth – bloody present. But this is just a speculation and is not supported by any documentation.
While we’re on the subject, here is another fact for big-headed people who think that everything about Georgia is special – there is a big possibility that the hymn of DRG “Glory”, written in 1918, was composed after Germany’s hymn, the melody is almost identical.
Flag of the Georgian SSR
Now, this is a “real work of art”.
You can see how much effort and thought was put in the making of this flag. Actually, this is exactly how much effort USSR put in everything that was not associated with political domination. This was a flag of GSSR from 1922 to 1937. Then in 1937, a great deal of inspiration came upon some “artist” and this was born.
On April 11, 1951, the design was changed. Its background was red, and its canton was blue with red rays surrounding a red hammer, sickle, and star; from the canton, a blue horizontal stripe extended to the end of the flag. This flag was different from the flags of all the other republics of the Soviet Union.
There is important symbolism here. In heraldry right and left parts of the flag has its own meaning. On this flag on the upper right part, a blue sun with full beams resides, which is a bad sign. In heraldry, a sun with full beams means death and sorrow. On the coat of arms of GSSR, the same sun can be seen, the one who made these must have known this very well.
Flag With Five Crosses
Before I move on to our modern flag, it should be said that after the fall of the USSR in 1991, Georgia regained its independence and until 2004 the same flag was used as in 1918-1921. In 1901 the first president of Georgia, Zviad Gamsakhurdia, started working on a new design of a flag. He wanted it to be a white cross on a red background. But the work on the design was finished in 2004 when Mikheil Saakashvili came to power and made it our national flag.
Symbolism – The main cross represents the cross of Christ. Four other crosses – holy nails. Therefore our flag represents the crucifixion and Georgian nation’s affinity with God.
I have a problem with this flag, but in order to keep this article short, I will just state it – a main representative symbol of the country should not be a religious one.
Now, about the history of this flag. I might anger some people who suffer from delusions of grandeur by saying that our modern flag is not unique and it almost certainly was not conceived in Georgia.
There are some theories that the first Georgian flag with five crosses is traced back to King Vakhtang I Gorgasali. But this statement is not supported by any factual evidence. Texts suggest that Vakhtang’s flag might have had one cross on it. There is another speculation that it was King David the Builder who added four crosses to the main cross. We have no reason to accept this either.
The actual facts tell that this symbol as a heraldic sign was first recorded in 1099 on the arms of crusader Godfrey Bouillon, this way he was given the title of defender of the Holy Sepulcher. Ever since, this heraldic symbol was the personification of the Holy Sepulcher and also the center of Christianity – Jerusalem. It is known by three names – Godfrey Bouillon’s emblem, Jerusalem’s emblem and the Holy sign. White color in heraldry indicates innocence, purity, wisdom, and red color signify courage, bravery, justice, and love.
Now it just might be that George V Magnificent integrated this flag in Georgia because he achieved the restoration of several Georgian monasteries in Palestine to the Georgian Orthodox Church and gained free passage for Georgian pilgrims to the Holy Land. But again, it is not canonical.
And last but not least. We must mention Armenia because the oldest depictions of five cross symbols are found there.
Before becoming King of Jerusalem and establishing the first Crusader state (which adopted that symbolic cross), Godfrey’s brother Baldwin of Boulogne was the first Duke of Edessa (Armenian Urha, Urfa), which he became due to his adoption as the son of Armenian Prince Toros of Urha. Baldwin also wed the daughter of Prince Toros, making her the first Queen of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. This means Godfrey had strong ties with Armenian political units, especially Cilicia.
The Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia was a strong ally of the European Crusaders and saw itself as a bastion of Christendom in the East. The European Crusaders borrowed know-how, such as elements of Armenian castle-building, art and church architecture.
During the reign of Constantine I, the First Crusade took place. An army of Western European Christians marched through Armenian Highlands and Cilicia on their way to Jerusalem. The Armenians in Cilicia gained powerful allies among the Frankish Crusaders, and its leader, Godfrey de Bouillon. Now, here comes speculation – some historians say that Godfrey adopted the “Jerusalem cross” design from Armenian iconography of the time.
The kingdom of Armenian Cilicia had its origins in the principality founded c. 1080 by the Rubenid dynasty, an offshoot of the larger Bagratid family, which at various times had held the thrones of Armenia and Georgia. Another speculation – some say that this is how the usage of Jerusalem cross spread into Georgia in the 14th century. 14th century is when George V Magnificent (the one we mentioned earlier) ruled in the kingdom of Georgia.
Now let’s go back a little. There is plausible evidence which suggests that the five-crossed symbol dates far back than the 11th century. The crossed you see down there were found at Geghard Monastery in Armenia. A substantial part of historians thinks that they date back to the 4th century. Some disagree with this notion and say that they are the results of the restoration of the monastery by Zakaria and Ivane Mxargrdzeli in 13th century. Truly, the monastery was first founded in the 4th century but was destroyed by Arabs in the 9th. At least there are enough grounds to suggest that these crossed are indeed of the 4th century.
Besides this, it is no longer under suspicion that we see five-crossed symbols in Armenian churches from the 8th century. You can see the photos down below.
Armenian cross-stone on 4th-century monastery Geghard
Armenian cross-stone at 4th century A.D Akori monastery
Geghard monastery (4th c.) – Armenia
Khachkars of 4th-century Geghard Monastery
Avazan Cave-Church (4th century) – Geghard Monastery – Armenia
Arates monastery (8th century) Khachkar
Gndevank Monastery (10 century) cross-stone
St. James cathedral (12th c.) Armenia Khachkar Armenian church
Binding of the Bardzrberd Gospel from 1248
So, I’m just saying, just saying, that this five crossed symbol might have originated in Armenia.
It is far from clear how this symbol got to Georgia. Did George bring it back straight from Jerusalem? Did the Armenian depiction of the cross spread into Georgia? Did this cross become popular in Georgia only centuries later? We don’t know.
P.S – Any additional sources proving or disproving these speculations are welcome.