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Appenzell canton (Switzerland)

Last modified: 2023-01-28 by martin karner
Keywords: switzerland | appenzell | canton | bear | german |
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[Flag of Appenzell] image by António Martins

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Description of the flag

Argent, a bear rampant sable, armed langued and priapic in his virility gules.
On a white field, an upright black bear with red claws and a red erect penis.
When a single flag or arms for both cantons is required, that of Appenzell Innerrhoden is displayed.
T.F. Mills, 28 October 1997


Symbolism of the flag

The bear is a symbol of power, courage, might and virility. The symbolism of this particular bear is explained by its history. 
T.F. Mills, 28 October 1997


History of the flag

The bear is that of the Abbot of St. Gallen who was the liege lord of Appenzell until 1403 when the district rebelled and seceded. They adopted the same flag, changing the field from yellow to white and adding an erection on the bear as a defiant political gesture. Appenzell almost went to war with St. Gallen in 1579 when a printer of that city published a calendar ornamented with the arms of the Swiss cantons, and ignorantly turned Appenzell's bear into a female (simply by leaving off the penis). War was avoided when the printer offered abject apologies and St. Gallen destroyed every copy of the calendar they could find.
Appenzell previously had a flag, granted by the abbot, depicting a bear walking on all fours ("marchant") on a honeycombed field (That flag has been documented as far back as 1377). The bear of St. Gallen and Appenzell originated in a legend about the Irish missionary. St. Gallus encountered a hungry bear, and, rather than flee or fight, the missionary gave the bear a piece of bread. The bear in gratitude brought him logs to help build a cabin, and around the cabin grew the famous monastery.

The Reformation led to a split of Appenzell in 1597, Innerrhoden remaining Catholic, and Ausserrhoden becoming Zwinglian (Protestant). Innerrhoden kept its old battle flag, Ausserrhoden differentiated their flag by adding the Latin letters "V" and "R", standing for "Vssere (ussere) Rhoden". Switzerland was overrun by the forces of the French Revolution in 1798, and occupation troops destroyed most Swiss flags which they could find. Appenzell Ausserrhoden saved its flags, however, when a quick-witted local explained to the French that "V R" stood for "Vive la République".

Before it split, Appenzell entered the Swiss Confederation in 1514. That state had already been allied with the Swiss since 1411. The admission of Appenzell brought the membership of the Confederation to thirteen (not counting half-cantons), a mystical number which remained intact for almost three hundred years, and which proved itself eminently capable of fighting off the claims of powerful neighbours. Their total independence from the German Empire was formally recognised in the Treaty of Westphalia, ending the Thirty Years War in 1648.
T.F. Mills, 28 October 1997

Since the adoption of the new Constitution in 1999, there isn't anymore any "half-canton". The effective difference between a full and a half canton is the fact that a "half-canton" has only one representative in the Swiss States Council where the other full cantons have two. In the new Constitution, the old "half-cantons" are listed as those cantons that have only one representative (Basel-Stadt, Baselland, Appenzell Innerrhoden, Appenzell Ausserrhoden, Nidwalden and Obwalden).
Pascal Prince, 24 August 2007

In fact the term "half-canton" (or semi-canton) was never in the Swiss Constitution (although it was used in official documents and legislative texts). The only thing that changed in 1999 was that the half-cantons were now called cantons, even officially. However, the actual status of these cantons has not changed since 1848 (the new federal state). Although only represented with one vote in the State Chamber (Ständerat), they always had the same status as a full canton. Regardless of this, the term "half-canton" is used unchanged in the population and in the geographical and cultural context (i.e. also in vexillology).
The common flag depicted here has only a cultural (and sometimes military) meaning, but no political one since the partition of 1597. Since then there has been no political entity named "Appenzell canton" or "State of Appenzell" (This also applies to the other "common flags" of the semi-cantons, see Basel and Unterwalden).
Martin Karner, 11 January 2023

The concept of half-cantons is indeed somewhat strange and only understandable against the backgound of Swiss history. As Todd wrote, the divided cantons have a past when they weren't divided yet. The causes of partition were different. In the case of Unterwalden they aren't known exactly, the geografy which separates those two lands in two parts may have been one of the reasons. In the case of Appenzell denominational dissension was the reason. Basel split into the city and the countryside because the rural part was not represented equally in the cantonal parliament (and there is a centuries-old history of urban oppression of the countryside). The other states/cantons didn't accept that the new formed cantons had each two representatives in the Assembly of the Confederation (Tagsatzung) because that would have doubled their weight in comparison to the situation before the partition. Therefore the new cantons had to limit themselves to send only one delegate each to the Assembly. So the old balance of power was maintained. Thus came the notation "half-canton", it's referring only to the half representation in the Assembly (today: Council of States, Ständerat) but not to their status as a full member of the Confederation.
Martin Karner, 11 January 2023

On a page dedicated to the pre-1597 land of Appenzell of the Historical Lexicon of Switzerland an Appenzell flag from the Swabian War of 1499 is shown (picture). Black bear with red arms on white field. Location: Museum Appenzell, Appenzell
Martin Karner, 11 January 2023


Variations of the flag

[Flag of Appenzell] image by Ole Andersen

Simple rectangular cantonal flag, as shown in Kannik (1956). Common for both half-cantons.
Ole Andersen, 4 August 2002