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Historical Flags (Basque Country, Spain)

Last modified: 2015-07-29 by ivan sache
Keywords: spain | basque country | biscay | ikurriña | cross | bilbao | arana | deusto | lauburue | clover swastika | swastika |
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The Basque and my people, the Míkmaq, made contact with each other in 1372 AD, and I was wondering, if these Basques had been flying a flag, what flag it would have been.

Maqtewékpaqtism, 31 May 2001

It might have been the Navarrese banner of arms as the Basque Country belonged at this time to the Navarrese realm. But it might also be the municipal flag of Bayonne which was then a major center of long distance navigation. In any case, it cannot be the modern Basque flag which dates only from the late 19th century.

The use of flags in the 14th century was very different than it is nowadays. I think that the banner of arms of Navarre would have been displayed only if the contact had been made by Navarrese crown officials. As far as I know this alleged contact (which is still debated and not acknowledged by some historians) was not. So I think that municipal flag of Bayonne is most likely, at least at sea.

Philippe Bondurand, 31 May 2001

The oldest known Basque flag is dated from the 18th century. The supposed traditional Cantabric (Basque) colours are red and black, possibly vertical.

Jaume Ollé, 31 May 2001

Only some Basque territories were subjects to the king of Navarre in 1372. In 1200 the king of Castile had inherited the Lordship of Biscay and along the 14th century several cities in Alava and lordships in Guipuzcoa requested the protection of the Castilian crown to defend themselves better (for instance against English ambitions in the area). Basque vessels from these territories would only fly the banner-of-arms of Castile and Leon if they were royal vessels, belonged to the Castilian navy or had been in one way or another commissioned by the king (as was the case, for instance, with Columbus' ships). (...)

So the only thing we can say with certainty is that the ensign flown by a civil vessel would be neither the Navarre nor the Castile and Leon flag (except if on official duty), and that possibly it might have flown a multistriped flag, perhaps in green and/or white and/or red (red being very common in Basque flags). There is a possibility that Sabino Arana's first design for a pan-Basque flag was based on that.

Santiago Dotor, 04 Jun 2001

Consulate of Bilbao (16th Century – 1839)

[Consulate of Bilbao (16C-1839)]
image by Jaume Ollé, based on a hand-drawn sketch image by Juanjo González

In 1504, Phillip the Fair, Duke of Burgundy, who had married Johanna the Mad, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella (of Columbus fame) succeeded to the throne of Spain. As a result, the Kings of Spain were also Dukes of Burgundy and as a result, Burgundian symbols, including the famous cross, became Spanish royal and military symbols. As long as Spain ruled the Spanish Netherlands (roughly, present day Belgium), Burgundian symbols were a little more associated with them, but were also used for other Spanish purposes, including, e.g., Bilbao.

Norman Martin, 28 Jan 1998

Republic of Deusto (18th Century – 1925)

[Republic of Deusto (18C-1825)]
image by Jaume Ollé, based on a hand-drawn sketch image by Juanjo González

The Republic of Deusto was an autonomus municipality annexed to Bilbao City in 1925. The flag was used from the 18th Century to 1925.

Jaume Ollé, 15 Dec 1996

Deusto Ensign (18th Century)

[Deusto Ensign (18C)]
image by Jaume Ollé, based on a hand-drawn sketch image by Juanjo González

Probable Deusto ensign used in the 18th Century.

Jaume Ollé, 15 Dec 1996

Biscay Ensign (18th Century – 1830's)

[Biscay Ensign (18C-1830s)]
image by Jaume Ollé, based on a hand-drawn sketch image by Juanjo González

Flag used from the 18th Century to the 1830's.

Jaume Ollé, 15 Dec 1996

Basque 1881 Flag

[Basque 1881 Flag]
image by Jaume Ollé, based on a hand-drawn sketch image by Juanjo González

A flag for the Basque people was created for the 1881 Universal Exposition.

Jaume Ollé, 15 Dec 1996

Sabino Arana's Flag

[Sabino Arana's Flag]
image by Jorge Candeias

After some time, Sabino Arana, the father of Basque nationalism, created a new flag, that preceded the current Ikurriña, also created by him.

Jaume Ollé, 15 Dec 1996

According to our experts Juanjo González and Xavier Ormaetxea (former list member and Basque nationalist deputy in parliament), the horizontal stripes must be red and green instead of white and green. Banderas erroneously reported a green and white flag.

Jaume Ollé, 30 May 1998

[wrongly reported Arana's Flag]
Incorrect design reported in Banderas
image by Jorge Candeias

Basque Brigade – Guernica Battalion

Brigada Vasca-Batallón Gernika

[Brigada Vasca-Batallón Gernika (Basque Country, Spain)]
image by Eugene Ipavec, 19 Aug 2010

I have found in the SHP heraldry library a photo of a flag drawn on an English plane of the Free French Forces during WWII, next to the FFL's Lorraine Cross symbol. The flag is made of a saltire with the Basque Cross. Is this an early Basque flag? What are the colors? Is it only a flag for the French Basques?

Rochard Hervé, 25 May 2003

Basques formed a combat unit, which under the emblematic name of "Brigada Vasca-Batallón Gernika" (Basque Brigade – Gernika Battalion) took part in military operations in the II World War, among them the liberation of Pointe-de-Grave, in the Médoc-Bordeaux region of France. They had also taken part in the Normandy landings and previously had promoted, in 1941 in England, the formation of the "Battalion of Marine Fusiliers."

The flag of "Brigada Vasca-Batallón Gernika" was a Basque flag (ikurriña), but may be that the flag sent by you belongs also to that brigade.The colours will be red with a green saltire and a white Basque cross replacing the white cross of the "ikurriña."

Aingeru Astui Zarraga, 28 May 2003

Lauburu ("Basque cross," "clover swastika") Ikurriñas

[Lauburu Ikurriña (Basque Country, Spain)]
images by Eugene Ipavec, 19 Aug 2010
[Lauburu Ikurriña (Basque Country, Spain)]


I see you name as "Basque cross" the "clover swastika" so common in Basque ornamentations and sometimes seen defacing the ikurriña (AFAIK usually in black, though). Could you give more details about this symbol, and its usage in flags? I believe it is originally what archeaologists call an estella, akin to the (flag related) labaru cantabru.

António Martins-Tuválkin, 30 May 2003

I referred to this symbol as the "Basque Cross" because Hervé Rochard called it so, but in Basque and between Basques it is named "Lauburu" (four heads). Its origin is unknown but you can read some opinions about that in many web pages (researching with the word Lauburu). You can start by visiting here, here, here, and here. As a common Basque symbol, it appears in logos, CoAs and flags. You can see some of them in this page of Jaume Ollé's site.

Aingeru Astui Zarraga, 30 May 2003

The Lauburu is among the symbols of the Basque people. For example, at there is a short explanation about it. My rough translation:

"We the Basques call Lauburu the symbol of the four arms that we recognize as the most representative of our race. It is known that in spite of its several forms the lauburu is not of Basque origin, the same name was used by the Romans (Lau buru: "four heads"). The oldest known in the Basque Country are in the Province of Biscay. It's frequently in old graves and funeral stones, and in the churches, as a Christian cross."
Many images of Lauburus can be seen here and here (includes discussion of the Lauburu). Also, a map with the Lauburu superimposed over the Basque ikurriña can be seen here.

Francisco Santos, 30 May 2003 and 23 Apr 2004

While searching for more Lauburus, I've found this Nazi Basque flag that uses the Lauburu in lieu of the Nazi swastika. They call it "lauburu o esvástica vasca" (Lauburu or Basque swastika), and say it is the flag of the Movimiento Nacionalsocialista de Euskalherria ("National Socialist Movement of the Basque Country").

Francisco Santos, 30 May 2003