The Lithuanian State flag

A flag, i.e. colours (and other symbols), is a symbol of a nation and a state, which marks its dignity and recognition among other nations and states.


History sources first mentioned the Lithuanian flag in the late 14th century. The Chronicles by Wigand von Marburg tell about the Crusaders' battle with Lithuanians at Bayerburg castle (Veliuona) in 1337, but do not describe it. The 15th century history book by Jan Dlugosz speaks of Žalgirio mūšis (the Battle of Grunwald) that took place in 1410 and says that Vytautas had 40 Lithuanian regiments on his side, and all of them had red banners. 30 regiments had red banners with a white armoured knight riding a white, black, bay, or dappled horse, while 10 regiments had red banners with Gediminaičių stulpai (Columns of the Gediminas Family). The banners of the Lithuanian regiments in the Battle of Žalgiris (Grunwald) bore the names of lands (duchies) or dukes - Vilnius, Kaunas, Trakai, Medininkai, Žygimantas Kaributas (Sigizmund Korybut), etc. Apparently the banners with the Columns of the Gediminas Family belonged to the regiments from the Land of Trakai, Vytautas' patrimony, and the armoured knight was on the banners of the other lands of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Later history sources indicate that the flag of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was a piece of red cloth with a white armoured knight on its both sides. The Lithuanian flag of such a pattern survived till the end of the 18th century. Typically, in the Middle Ages and modern times in Europe the ruler embodied the state or its part. The flag of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the flag of the Grand Duke of Lithuanian were one and the same, and this is also true about Lithuania as one part of the Republic of Two Nations (Rzeczpospolita).


The late 18th century witnessed a new tendency for states to have their national flags which in the majority of cases were combinations of several matching colour bands. France particularly reinforced the tendency when it replaced its old flag with the one set in three bands. There were several countries in Europe like Denmark that continued with their old state flags as their national flags. Because of being incorporated into the Russian Empire Lithuania could not even anticipate having a national flag. A green-white-red flag was known as the flag of Lithuania Minor since the 17th century. Attempts at designing a Lithuanian national flag started in numerous Lithuanian communities of Europe and the US in the second half of the 19th century. A yellow-green-red option - the national flag of today's Lithuania - was among those designed at that time. The Great Seimas of Vilnius was the first event in Lithuania that held a discussion on a national flag in 1905. Just before the Great Seimas of Vilnius, often referred to as the Congress of Lithuanians, started, Jonas Basanavičius suggested that the flag of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania - a white armoured knight on the red field - be a Lithuanian national flag. His idea, however, was not supported by the key Lithuanian political actors due to negative associations with red flags used by the revolutionary movements of the time. Therefore they did not approve of the flag of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania as a symbol of the nation re-establishing its national identity, moreover, the knight on the red field was perceived as the flag of the Lithuanian State rather than the flag of the nation. 


Serious debates over the issue of a national flag were resumed in 1917. A decision to choose the colours of the flag from traditional colours used in Lithuanian national home-made fabrics was taken at J.Basanavičius' place. Antanas Žmuidzinavičius, the Lithuanian painter, in anticipation of the forthcoming Congress of Lithuanians in Vilnius produced a design of a green-red flag that was used as a decoration in Vilnius Town Hall. He had found that these two colours prevailed in the Lithuanian national costumes and sashes. The Lithuanian community in the US agreed. On the other hand, the delegates of the Congress found A. Žmuidzinavičius flag too dark and gloomy. During the Congress another design was put forward by archaeologist Tadas Daugirdas who was an expert in heraldry. He proposed to introduce a narrow yellow band to make the flag brighter and more vivid and to use yellow as a symbol of dawn. No final decision was reached at the Congress. The Council of Lithuania set up a Commission and tasked it with the final decision on the national flag. The members of the Commission, J. Basanavičius, A. Žmuidzinavičius, and T. Daugirdas, agreed on a tricolour flag with a yellow band. As a result, the national flag approved by the Commission on 18 April 1918 was a horizontally divided yellow-green-red flag.


The Council of Lithuania in 1918 approved the design of what they called a provisional flag of the Lithuanian State. It became a Lithuanian national flag too, as it was close to the hearts of the Lithuanian people, and they frequently used it. It is noteworthy that the Council of Lithuania also approved the historical flag of Lithuania. It bears a white armoured knight on the red field on one side, and on the other it bears the Columns of the Gediminas Family. The Constitutions of the Republic of Lithuania of 1922 and 1928 provide for one flag of the Lithuanian State/nation, which is a combination of yellow, green and red colours. It was only in 1938 that the tricolour flag was called the Lithuanian national flag - the flag of the nation in the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania. The historical national flag was assigned to the President of the Republic. This provision did not put an end to debates because the combination of yellow, green and red was not acceptable in terms of heraldry. Two new ideas of a tricolour flag - white, red and yellow - were suggested. The State Emblem Commission took a decision to submit a new version of a yellow-red-white flag to the President for approval (with an armoured knight in the centre one side of the flag and the Columns of the Gediminas Family on the other). This idea was never put into life because of the chain of occupations and annexations that started in 1940. The Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) of Lithuania passed a resolution which substituted a red flag bearing a golden sickle and hammer in its left corner for the Tricolour (since 1953 the flag of the SSR of Lithuania was a red-white-green field bearing a sickle and hammer in its left corner).


Lithuanian dissidents used to hang or raise the national Tricolour in public places on different occasions (most frequently on 16 February) as a sign of resistance.


When in summer 1988 underground dissident organisations came out into the open, and when the Lithuanian Reform Movement (later named Sąjūdis) was formed, a yellow-green-red flag which was considered to be the flag of the Lithuanian nation was hoisted at rallies and public gatherings, but the official flag of the SSR of Lithuania - a red-white-green flag with a sickle and hammer in its left corner was still in force. On 18 November 1988, when the Supreme Soviet of the SSR of Lithuania, 11th term, 10th session amended the Constitution of the SSR of Lithuania, it recognised that the yellow-green-red banded flag was the Flag of the State of Lithuania. 25 January 1989 followed. The Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the SSR of Lithuania, referring to the design of the flag of the inter-war Republic of Lithuania, approved the colours of the State flag: yellow, close to orange, bright green, and red, close to purple.


Article 15 of the Constitution of the Republic of Lithuania approved by the referendum in 1992 states, "The colours of the State flag shall be yellow, green and red". 

The flag used as the State flag in 1918–1940 was reintroduced as the State flag of the Republic of Lithuania in 1988 (on 7 October 1988 it was solemnly hoisted on the tower of Gediminas Castle).


The State (national) flag is a piece of cloth consisting of three equal horizontal stripes: yellow (the upper), green (the middle), and red (the lower); its width to length ratio is 1 to 2. Yellow stands for sun, light and prosperity; green for the beauty of nature, freedom and hope; and red for ground, courage and the blood shed for the motherland.

Bearing in mind the decision of 1919 by the Council of Lithuania, in the future, the historical national flag - a silver armoured knight on the red field - may become the Lithuanian State flag.


State flags in the modern world in the majority of cases are national flags. A state flag actually belongs to the state only, which implies that it should be used on special rare occasions as a symbol of the state. The Lithuanian Tricolour should be a national flag, and the historical symbol Vytis - the white armoured knight on the red field should be used as the State flag. The State flag then would be raised on the most important state holidays in the most official places in Lithuanian cities. Poland, for instance, has two flags - a national white-red flag and a state flag, which is almost the same with the exception of the emblem of Poland - an eagle, which decorates the State flag of Poland.


For more information about the debate on the Lithuanian historical national flag click next to the national or President flag.


The State (national) flag of the Republic of Lithuania is displayed near and/or on state, government, municipal, office, organisation, industrial, and residential buildings. The Law establishes that the State (national) flag shall be hoisted from 7 am to 10 pm on 1 January, 13 January, 16 February, 24 February, 11 March, 14 June, 15 June, 6 July, 15 July, 23 August, 25 October, 18 November, and 23 November.


The flag of the President of the Republic of Lithuania now may be viewed as a modification of the historical national flag of Lithuania.

Last updated on 2006-01-17