The origins of the Greek flag that we know today can be traced back to the Hellenic Revolution in 1821 during which the Greeks declared their independence from the Ottoman Empire. The First National Assembly at Epidaurus adopted the current design, the “sea” flag, differing from the land flag (a white cross on a blue backdrop) and the merchant marine flag (a blue cross on a white background).
The origins of the Greek flag’s two components, a cross and stripes, are difficult to trace. Both elements have ancient historical connotations, but there are no records from the National Assembly at Epidaurus explaining the exact reasons for the flag’s key features.
There have been dozens of versions of the Greek flag since the early 19th century, but the cross has always been a central feature. Many versions of the Greek flag feature only a cross (no stripes), sometimes with a coat of arms or crown at the center of the cross displaying allegiance to a particular leader. The cross on today’s Greek flag occupies the region in the top left corner, and is a white cross with a blue background, much like a mini-version of the old Greek land flag. The cross, although Greece is now a democracy, demonstrates the Greek people’s devotion to and respect for the Greek Orthodox Church. During the Ottoman rule, the Greek Orthodox Church helped the Greeks to retain their language, religion, and ethnic identity and Christianity is still the predominant religion among Greeks.
The Greek flag has nine blue and white stripes and there are two popular beliefs regarding the number nine. There are nine letters in the Greek word for freedom, eleytheria. There are also nine syllables in the phrase, “Eleftheria i Thanatos,” which translates as “Liberty or Death,” and was the motto during the Hellenic Revolution against the Ottoman Empire in 1821. And despite popular beliefs, some simply believe that the design of the Greek emulates other prominent flags, such as the British East India Company’s 17th-century flag or the U.S. flag.
The blue and white colors of the flag symbolize the blue water and white-capped waves of the sea that surround the Greek peninsula. According to Greek mythology, Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, emerged from the waves of the Aegean sea.
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