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Basel canton (Switzerland)

Last modified: 2023-01-28 by martin karner
Keywords: switzerland | basel | crozier (black) | crozier (red) | canton | half-canton | german |
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[Flag of Basel] by António Martins

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Description of the flag

Left (Basel-Stadt): Argent, a bishop's crozier sable.
On a white field, a black bishop's crozier, with the crook turned toward the hoist.
Right (Baselland): Argent, a bishop's crozier with seven bosses at the crutch turned to sinister gules.
On a white field, a red bishop's crozier (Baslerstab, or "Basel staff") turned toward the fly and adorned with seven bosses on the crook.

The croziers on both flags are highly stylised (thickened and shortened beyond recognition), and their peculiar heraldic shape was well established by 1249. The three-pronged foot represents a very real spike on pastoral staffs which permitted planting them in the ground.

When the emblems of Basel-Stadt and Baselland are shown together on one flag, the croziers are impaled (i.e. side by side), and they must be separated by a black planar line. The crooks are turned away from each other, with Basel-Stadt in the hoist and Baselland in the fly.
T.F. Mills, 22 October 1997


Symbolism of the flag

The bishop's crozier has three well accepted meanings since early Christianity: it is a support or guide (the shepherd's crook that saves straying sheep), an emblem of authority and ministration, and a instrument of punishment and correction. The seven bosses or roundels on the crozier of Basel-Landschaft are actually a Gothic architectural device, and represent the districts of that canton.
T.F. Mills, 22 October 1997


History of the flag

The Bishopric of Basel, founded in 346 AD by Justitian, was the oldest and most important bishopric of the upper Rhine. The city state became sovereign within the Holy Roman Empire in 1356 when the city bought its civic rights from the bishop. The crozier was originally red, but probably changed to black in 1356. Basel joined the Swiss confederation in 1501.

In 1832, liberal Basel-Landschaft seceded from the conservative city after a brief civil war which had been an overflow of the 1830 revolution in France. The new half-canton was officially admitted to the Swiss confederation in 1833. The new flag appeared the following year. The red crozier both symbolises rejection of Basel-Stadt and is borrowed from the arms of Liestal which became the canton's capital. Liestal's arms since 1305 had been a red Baslerstab within a red border. The new canton omitted the red border, and very unorthodoxly turned the crozier backwards (towards the fly), demonstrating their contempt for Basel Stadt by symbolically turning their backs on them. Baselland is the only canton to have a charge "contourne". The canton's council confirmed this unusual design in 1947, and a plebisicite in 1969 rejected reunification of the two half-cantons.

Baselland upon creation was the 25th or penultimate canton (counting half-cantons), while Basel Stadt kept its rank as the 12th.
T.F. Mills, 22 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-Canton" 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. Since the partition in 1833 there has been no political entity named "Basel canton" or "State of Basel" (This also applies to the other "common flags" of the semi-cantons, see Appenzell 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


Variations of the flag

[Flag of Basel] image by Ole Andersen

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