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United Principalities of Romania

Last modified: 2022-10-14 by alex danes
Keywords: wallachia | moldavia | romania |
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[Flag of Romania, 1862] by Alex Danes

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About the United Principalities of Romania

In 1857 a plebiscite held by the Great Powers in Moldavia and Wallachia showed that the people wanted the union of the two countries, under a prince from a foreign dynasty. In a congress held in Paris the next year, the Great Powers decided to allow a hybrid union and created a sort of "Constitution" known as "The Convention from Paris". According to it, the two countries were going to be known as The United Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia, but they had to have sepparate institiutions of the prince, goverment, parliament and Army. Only two official institutions were common. The same Convention stated that the Army was going to keep its old flags, with the addition of a blue ribbon on each.

On 17 January 1859 (5 January, Julian calendar) colonel Alexandru Ioan Cuza was elected prince of Moldavia. On 5 February 1859 (24 January, Julian calendar) the Wallachians decided to elect the same man as their prince. It happend that, fulfilling the rules of the Convention, the Romanians succeeded in creating a personal union of the two countries. This was a delicate choice, but eventually, on 23 December 1863, the Ottoman sultan recognised this double election (and thus union), but only as long as Cuza lived. From this date on, the official institutions started to be unified, one by one, and the country changed its name into the United Principalities of Romania (formally) or simply Romania (unformally and in official speeches).

During these years, the adoption of a local coat of arms, of flags, medals or coins, was a delicate affair, so the goverment and the parliament avoided these situations. Unformally, several models of coat of arms and flags were used by different institutions.

On 22 February 1866 prince Cuza was forced to abdicate and on 26 March 1866 a new prince was elected, this time from a foreign, European dynasty: Karl of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen.
Alex Danes, 3 September 2008

Coat of arms

For lack of precise laws, between 1859 and 1866 the authorities used dozens of different coat of arms of the state, each one trying to symbolise the union between Wallachia and Moldavia. The goverment avoided to adopt a coat of arms too daring, fearing the possible reaction of the suzerain power, the Ottoman Empire. However, some of the coat of arms were more wide-spred.
Alex Danes, 3 September 2008

Coat of arms, 1861

[Coat of arms of Romania, 1861] by Alex Danes, after the model publised in ''Monitorul Oastei'', 14 February 1861

In 1861 the Romanian Army needed new uniforms and accessories. One of the major problem was: which coat of arms should be on these, as well as on the Army flag? On 9 February 1861 prince Cuza signed an order which provided an annex with the coat of arms of the state (the image above): a big shield with two separate smaller shields showing the coat of arms of Moldavia and Wallachia respectively, both crowned by a princely crown. No tincture was specified. A further order, from 17 March 1862, stated that the coat of arms of the principalities was a parted per pale shield, with the Wallachian eagle at dexter and the Moldavian auroch at senester. On 19 March 1863 the two heraldic charges were interchanged, so the eagle appeared at senester and the auroch at dexter.
Alex Danes, 3 September 2008

Coat of arms, 1863

[Coat of arms proposal, 1863] by Alex Danes

In 1863 prince Cuza decided to put an end to this chaos of the coats of arms representing the United Principalities of Romania, so he took the advice of several French heraldists for a new, definitive coat of arms. The result from October 1863 was a composition that respected all the rules of heraldry, and was a true symbol of the country:

Quarterly: I and IV Azure with the coat of arms of Wallachia Or; II and III Gules with the coat of arms of Moldavia Or; overall the arms of prince Cuza: a shield bordered Or, with three bars Azure, Or and Gules. The big shield is crowned with a coronet Or and is surrounded by two dolphins Or, affronts, head down, symbolising the maritime lands of the country. The dolphins support in their mouth a scroll Azure with the motto "TOŢI ÎN UNU", meaning "All in one". Behind the shield is a ribbon Azure, with the Romanian Order of the Union hanging down under the scroll with the motto, and two crossed Roman vexilla Or. Each of the vexilla carried a date: V IAN (meaning 5 January, Julian calendar, the date prince Cuza was elected in Moldavia) and XXIV respectively (24 January, Julian calendar, the date of his election in Wallachia). The coat of arms is placed on a mantle Gules lined with Ermine. Above the mantle is a princely crown.

An earlier model created the same year, also widely known, was more simple: the shield was identical with the one on Army flags, and there was no scroll with the motto, or a ribbon with the Order of the Union attached.

Eventually, neither one of this models was officialy adopted, although they have been used on official seals and accessories.
Alex Danes, 3 September 2008

Civil flag and ensign

The civil ensign become the horizontal tricolour red, yellow and blue (proportion circa 1:3), with a blue flame over it. Until 1861 this flag was used together with the old civil ensigns of the two principates, so that three different flags were used by ships of the same country! On 22 June 1861 Prince Cuza, under pressure from Ottoman empire, decreed that the civil ensign for both principalities would be the tricolour, resolving this ambiguous situation. On 11 December 1861 the State renamed itself Romania (which was officially recognised abroad only in 1878) and the capital moved to Bucharest. It was not until 1866 that the vertical tricolour finally became the national flag of Romania.
Mario Fabretto, 10 September 1996

The civil flag was a horizontal red-yellow-blue tricolour, with the red stripe above. The site of the President of Romania states that from 1859 until 1862 the red stripe was below. The oldest source known to date that describes the flag of the United Principalities of Romania is "The Romanian Almanach from 1866", published at the end of 1865:

"Tricolour flag, partitioned in three stripes coloured red, yellow and blue and positioned horizontally: red above, blue below and yellow in the middle."
This flag was never stipulated by any law of that time. Like the Romanian coat of arms, medals and coins, the flag was a delicate subject and no firm decision was taken regarding it. Because of this, we don't know which were the proportions of the civil flag, but the war flag and ensign, as well as the princely standards had a proportion close to 2:3 (actually more like 5:6). Although not established by any law, the civil flag had been recognised and used by the suzerain power, the Ottoman Empire, during the diplomatic travels of prince Cuza at Constantinople.

According to the Romanian heraldist Petre Vasiliu-Năsturel, this flag represented the ideals of the 1848 revolutions: Liberty, Justice, Brotherhood.
Alex Danes, 3 September 2008

Standard of the Prince

Between 1859 and 1862

The first princely standard of Alexandru Ioan Cuza was a horizontal blue-yellow-red tricolour, approximate proportion 2:3, with the blue stripe above. In the middle were the coat of arms of Wallachia and Moldavia. There was an inscription on the blue stripe, but the flag is so worn-out that it can't be read.
Alex Danes, 3 September 2008

Between 1862 and 1866

[Princely standard, 1862-1866] by Mario Fabretto, modified by Alex Danes

On the tricolour (in the more common 2:3 proportions) were placed emblems for Walachia and for Moldavia.
Mario Fabretto, 10 September 1996

The flag is a horizontal red-yellow-blue tricolour, with the red stripe above. It is made of silk and measures 2.13 meters wide and 1.80 meters high (a 5:6 proportion). In the middle of the yellow stripe, at dexter, it is painted the coat of arms of Wallachia (an eagle with the head towards dexter, holding a golden cross in its beak, a sword in its right claw and a sceptre in its left claw) and at senester the coat of arms of Moldavia (an aurochs head with a six-pointed golden star between its horns), all surrounded by six civil flags with blue ribbons. Above the coat of arms, in the middle of the red stripe, is a princely crown surrounded by an inscription: "UNIREA PRINCIPATELORU FERICIREA ROMÂNILOR. TRĂIASCĂ A. IOAN I", meaning "The union of the Principalities [means] the happiness of the Romanians. Long live Alexandru Ioan Ist"

In 1866 it was deposited at the Army's Arsenal, then, in 1919 it was transfered to the Military Museum in Bucharest and in 1971 to the National Museum of History in Bucharest. This flag is pretty worn-out too, although it is sewn in double tulle for better preservation. Some pictures of it shows its current state:

Alex Danes, 3 September 2008

Standard from Ruginoasa Palace

[Princely standard from Ruginoasa Palace] by Alex Danes

The Museum Complex of Bucovina holds another princely standard which was flown on the Ruginoasa Palace whenever prince Cuza was present there. The flag is a vertical blue-yellow-red tricolour, with the blue stripe near the hoist. It is made of silk and has an approximate proportion of 2:3. In the middle of the yellow stripe there is a stylized princely crown. The preservation state of the flag is pretty good, as can be seen in a newspaper photo:

Alex Danes, 3 September 2008

Army flag and naval ensign

1863 model

[Army flag of Romania, 1863] by Alex Danes

It was not until 1866 that the vertical tricolour finally became the national flag of Romania. In the meantime the horizontal red-yellow-blue flag was used while the war ensign in 1863 changed its emblem, replacing the old one with an eagle bearing the crowned shield of the state on his breast, holding a sword and a sceptre and with the words "HONOR ET PATRIA" on a ribbon.
Mario Fabretto, 10 September 1996

Until 1863, the military units had to use their old Army flags (the Moldavian one from 1858 or the Wallachian one from 1849). On 12 September 1863 prince Cuza handed 17 new Army flags to them. The new flags thus symbolised the union between Moldavia and Wallachia. They are horizontal red-yellow-blue tricolours, with the red stripe above, made of double silk. The dimensions of the flags are 1.22 meters wide and 1 meter high (a 5:6 proportion). In the middle of the cloth was painted a crowned eagle, with wings wide open, bearing a sceptre in its right claw and a sword in its left claw. On its chest there is a shield, quarterly: I and IV Azure, II Gules and III Or, with the Wallachian coat of arms over I and III and the Moldavian one over II and IV. The shield is crowned with a princely crown. Below the eagle there is a red ribbon with the golden motto "HONOR ET PATRIA". In the floating corners it is painted the golden monogram of the prince, surrounded by a golden laurel wreath. Only four flags of this kind survives. Two of them can be seen here and here.
Alex Danes, 3 September 2008

1866 model

[Army flag of Romania, 1866] by Alex Danes

On 22 February 1866 prince Cuza was forced to abdicate and a Princely Lieutenancy was quickly established. The Army flags were immediatly changed with new ones. These were horizontal blue-yellow-red tricolours, with the blue stripe above, which had no coat of arms in the middle, only the name of the country and the military unit, with golden letters. In the corners there was the number of the unit, surrounded by a laurel wreath. These flags were used until 1874.
Alex Danes, 3 September 2008

I've found a page of the Firefighters in Bucharest. The text is not that important because it has some inaccuracies. The first flag shown is from 1866, like the one above. The one I've drawn initially had the blue stripe above because I only had a b/w image as a guide, so I'm going to rectify my mistake and put the red stripe above. As you can see, the firefighters had only one battalion so in the corners there is no number, only two crossed pickaxes.
Alex Danes, 24 January 2009


The following sources were used for the pages on the principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia:

  • CISV archives.
  • D. Cernovodeanu (1979), 'Les origines lointaines du drapeau tricolore roumain' in Acts of VIII International Congress of Vexillology.
  • D. Cernovodeanu (1987), 'Flags of the navy and merchant marine of Wallachia and Moldavia, the United Principalities, and Romania 1834-1897', Report of the 10th International Congress of Vexillology in The Flag Bulletin XXVI:1-3/120.
  • D. Cernovodeanu (1989a), 'Merchant Flags of Wallachia and Moldavia in the 19th century', Report of the 12th International Congress of Vexillology in The Flag Bulletin XXVIII:1-4/130 1989.
  • D. Cernovodeanu (1983), 'Les pavillons de la marine militaire et de la marine de commerce de Valachie et de Moldavie, puis des principautés unies, enfin de Roumanie au 19e siècle (1834-1897)' in Vexilla Belgica VII, n.7 1983.
  • G.S Benson (1970), 'The early National flags of Walachia and Moldavia' in The Flag Bulletin IX.
  • Flaggen Almanack: Flaggen mit Guidons, Cornetten und Wimpeln in alphabetisher Ordnung nebst den Cocarden aller Nationen, Hamburg: Deppermann & Ruschke (anon.1844).
  • J.W. Norie and J.S. Hobbs (1848), 306 Illustrations of the Maritime Flags of all Nations arranged geographically, 1848.
  • A. Le Gras (1858), Album des pavillons, guidons et flammes de toutes les puissances maritimes.
  • Vexilloteca n.3: Flags of Romania, (anon.1994)

Mario Fabretto, 10 September 1996