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Kingdom of Belgium - België, Belgique, Belgien

Last modified: 2009-06-06 by ivan sache
Keywords: belgium | belgique | belgie | belgien | europe | brabant | proportions | constitution |
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[Flag of Belgium]

National flag of Belgium - Image by António Martins, 29 December 1999

Flag adopted 23 January 1831, coat of arms adopted 17 May 1837.
Proportions: 13:15.
Description: Vertically divided black-yellow-red.
on land, as the civil and state flag.

Colour approximate specifications (as given in Album des Pavillons [pay00]):

  • Red: Pantone 186 c / CMYK (%) C0 - M90 - Y80 - K5
  • Yellow: Pantone 116 c / CMYK (%) C0 - M15 - Y95 - K0

On this page:

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Colours of the Belgian flag

The colours of the Belgian flag were taken from the arms of Brabant, a province in the former Low Countries (today Belgium and the Netherlands), which extended from the Walloon province of Walloon Brabant, over the Flemish provinces of Flemish Brabant (and Brussels) and Antwerpen, and up to the Dutch province of North-Brabant. The arms of Brabant show on a black field a yellow lion facing the viewer's left, with a red tongue and nails. The heraldic description (blazon) of these arms is "Sable a lion rampant or armed and langued gules".

The lion of Brabant features on the arms of the Kingdom of Belgium and the provincial arms of Walloon Brabant and Flemish Brabant, as well as on the arms of the Dutch province of North-Brabant.

Filip Van Laenen, 29 October 1997

Proportions of the Belgian flag

The Belgian flag has odd proportions of 13:15, whose origin remains unknown, as stated by Léon Nyssen (Les drapeaux nouveaux de la Belgique fédérale [nys99], pp. 142-145 in Fahnen, Flags, Drapeaux [icv93]).

Ivan Sache, 29 December 1999

According to information kindly forwarded by Michel Lupant no exact date of issue can be found, but the proportions of 13:15 stem from a 19th Century directive of the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs which gave the official Belgian flag as being 2.60 metres high x 3.00 metres long. Flag in these proportions are, I am advised, occasionally to be seen on important Government buildings such as Parliament, but (as we know) the vast majority (flown by both the Government and civil population) are in 2:3.
Michel also knows of a few instances where 13:15 flags have been ordered and flown by foreign Governments when a Belgian Ambassador was presenting his credentials, but he himself only possesses a table model.
The first official drawing of the flag with vertical stripes (1831) has proportions 3:4.

Christopher Southworth, 18 August 2003

The 13:15 proportions are the "official" or constitutional one, while the 2:3 proportions are known as the "civilian" version. Ministries and other public buildings use the civilian version, but atop the Royal Palaces in Brussels and Laeken, the official one is always used.
When I was Director of Logistics for the Foreign Ministry, we started offering embassies the official version as well as the civilian one. On my official residence in Jerusalem, we fly the official version.
There is an added but unmentioned advantage to the 13:15 proportions: in strong winds the flag will show less wear and tear at the downwind vertical edge since it moves less.
A problem with the colour is that in an era of uniformization, the yellow tends to become darker, under the influence of the German flag where it is "gold".
The Foreign Ministry used the data from the FOTW website a few years ago to indicate precisely to the manufacturer and supplier which tint of yellow was the right one.

Guido Courtois, Consul General of Belgium in Jerusalem, 16 February 2005

The 1:1 proportions are fine theoretically, only people in Belgium would be very surprised ("everyone knows the Belgian flag is not a square but a rectangle", they would say). The 13:15 proportions may be the official ones but this fact is largely unknown.

Jan Mertens, 19 August 2003

History of the Belgian flag: From horizontal to vertical stripes

Flags with horizontal stripes were used in a first revolution (Brabantine Revolution), in December 1789 when the Belgians unsuccessfully raised against the Hapsburgs (Austrians). On a drawing showing those flags, the colours are arranged red-black-yellow. However, the first true Belgian national flag, horizontally divided red-yellow-black was adopted in 1830.

On 23 January 1831 the Belgian Provisional Gouvernment decreed the following:

The provisional government of Belgium
Central Committee,
In view of the report and the proposal by the Committee on external relations,
considering that the Belgian People have adopted red, yellow and black as its colours; that these colours are borne by the Belgian army; that it is important to determine what will be the merchant flag:


Art. 1. The Belgian merchant flag is red, yellow, and black. These colours are placed vertically.
Art. 2. The present decision is to be transmitted to the Administrator General of the War Ministry, to the consuls and the various harbour captains.

In Article 124 of the Belgian Constitution of 4 February 1831 no order of colours was given. On 15 September 1831 the Department of the Navy decreed:
Black must be placed on the hoist, yellow in the middle and red on the fly.
A similar dispatch was released by the Department of the Interior on 12 October 1831.

However, according to Roger Harmignies (Belgique : Les drapeaux d'honneur de 1830, Vexillacta [vxl] #3 (March 1999), pp. 7-8), flags with vertical stripes and flags with horizontal stripes coexisted in Belgium for a few years (see for instance the 1830 Honour flags with horizontal stripes). The last official flags with horizontal stripes were seen on 24 September 1838 during the inauguration of the war memorial on Place des Martyrs in Brussels. Here again, the use of flags with horizontal stripes was deliberate.

The Belgian national flag was last confirmed on 28 January 1936.

Mark Sensen, Jan Mertens, & Ivan Sache, 25 May 2006

In a painting from c. 1832 of the Post Office Packet P.S. Salamander and the topsail schooner Union off Ostend, there are two flags flying from buildings on shore:
- The Belgian flag with the red and black reversed;
- A dark blue flag with a red canton.

David Prothero, 30 November 1999

The flag in the Constitution

Quoting an article published (originally in Dutch) in De Standaard, 2 November 1999:

Black, yellow, red, starting from the pole. That's how we've always known the Belgian flag. But if you read the Constitution, this isn't correct, says Karel Rimanque, professor at the University of Antwerp. Article 193 of the so often revised Constitution still says:
The Belgian Nation chooses as its colours red, yellow and black.
Rimanque: "In 1830 too, they used to describe the flag starting from the pole. Thus, our flag is different: red at the pole, yellow in the middle, and black at the fly." Does this mean that the Constitution has been broken for all 168 years? Was it interpreted wrongly at the beginning and did nobody ever notice the error? "Anyway, either we have to correct this article, or we have to correct our flag." says Karel Rimanque.

Filip Van Laenen, 2 November 1999