This page is part of © FOTW Flags Of The World website

Alsace (Traditional province, France)


Last modified: 2003-07-05 by ivan sache
Keywords: alsace | elsass | crowns: 6 (yellow) | alsace-lorraine | elsass-lothringen | soviet |
Links: FOTW homepage | search | disclaimer and copyright | write us | mirrors

[Alsace]by Arnaud Leroy

Today the most commonly seen Alsatian flag is a banner of its provincial arms.

See also:

History of Alsace

Alsace was colonized by the Romans from 58 BP to the Vth century. The region was then invaded by the Alamans, who were eventually defeated by Clovis, King of the Franks, in Tolbiac (now Zülpich, near Bonn in Germany) in 496 or 506.
During the Merovingian period (VI-VIIIth centuries), Alsace was a Duchy, and became a County during the Carolingian period. The name of Alsace appeared in the VIIth century with Duke Erichon, father of Sainte Odile, the patron saint of Alsace. The division in Upper- and Lower-Alsace, initially known as the Counties of Sundgau and Nordgau, respectively, was probably based on the Roman dioceses of Basle and Strasbourg.

In 843, the treaty of Verdun divided the Carolingian Empire among the three sons of Louis le Pieux (the Pius; 778-840), Charlemagne's son and successor. Charles le Chauve (the Bold; 823-877), allied with his brother Louis le Germanique (the Germanic; 805-876), forced their third brother Lothaire (Lothar; 795-855) to sign the treaty. Charles le Chauve was crowned King of Francia occidentalis. Louis le Germanique, formerly King of the Eastern Franks, was crowned King of Germania. Lothaire, who had expected to keep the whole Empire for himself, received an area sandwiched between Francia and Germania, called Lotharingia, later Lothringen (German) or Lorraine (French). Lothaire was succeded by his son Lothaire II (835-869), who promised to retrocede Alsace to his uncle Louis le Germanique. Since Lothair eII died without a heir, the treaty of Mersen (8 April 870) incorporated Alsace to Germania, later the Holy Roman Empire.

In the middle of the XVIth century, King of France Henri II (1519-1559), allied with the German Protestant princes, revendicated the ancient Kingdom of Austrasia, which was limited by the Rhine river and therefore included Lorraine and Alsace, against Emperor Charles V. Henri II seized Metz, Toul and Verdun (the Three Bishoprics) in 1552 but failed to seize Strasbourg, the capital city of Alsace.

In 1648, by the treaty of Munster, the Emperor ceded both Landgraviates of Lower- and Upper Alsace to France, as well as the ten Imperial cities (Haguenau, Landau [later ceded to Bavarian Palatinate in 1815], Wissembourg, Rosheim, Obernai, Sélestat, Kaysersberg, Turckheim, Colmar and Munster) which had constituted the rich Decapole in 1354. Strasbourg was not mentioned in the treaty, but article 57 forbid the building of any kind of fortress on the Rhine downstream from Basle. In 1678, the treaty of Nijmegen confirmed the annexation of Alsace to France, explicitely including Strasbourg (eventually incorporated in 1681). The Republic of Mulhouse was incorporated to France only in 1798.

The modern history of alsace following its forced incorporation to Germany is detailed below.

Ivan Sache, 9 December 2002

Description of the flag

The flag of Alsace is a banner of the traditional arms of the province:

Parti : au premier de gueules à la barre d'argent côtoyée de deux cotices fleuronnées du même, au second aussi de gueules à la bande d'or accompagnée de six couronnes du même, trois en chef et trois renversées en pointe (GASO)

In English:

Per pale gules a bend sinister cotised fleury argent and gules a bend between six crowns bendwise or (Brian Timms)

These arms show party the arms of Lower- and Upper-Alsace.

The Regional Council of Alsace, located in Strasbourg, flies the banner of Alsace.
The General Council of the department of Bas-Rhin (the former Lower Alsace), also located in Strasbourg, flies the banner of Lower Alsace.
The General Council of Haut-Rhin (the former Upper-Alsace), located in Colmar, flies the banner of Upper-Alsace.

Ivan Sache, 9 December 2002

Historical flags

German Imperial Territory (Reichsland, 1870-1919)

As it was an Imperial Territory (Reichsland) of Germany (1870-1919), the only official (national) flag was the black-white-red national flag. The Reichsland had a coat of arms which was a combination of the coats of arms of Lower and Upper-Alsace with (curiously) the one of Lorraine. Curiously, because the territory of what if now the department of Moselle was not in its whole, part of the old duchy of Lorraine, and its Lorraine part represents only a small part of the old duchy. This shield surmounted by a princely crown, was put on the breast of the imperial eagle surmounted by an imperial crown. This coat of arms was only for the authorities of the territory. There was also a service flag for the authorities of the Reichsland, which was the national flag with the central shield of the coat of arms surmounted by the princely crown in the canton.

There was not any official flag for the population, either for the territory of Alsace-Lorraine, or for each of the districts: Upper-Alsace, Lower-Alsace and Lorraine. Official, no, but unofficial yes.
The literature of that time tells us that:

  • the flag of Alsace in its whole was yellow and red
  • the flag of Lorraine was red and yellow, the flags being horizontally striped.
  • For the whole territory a white-red-yellow flag is mentionned.

All these colours coming from the central shield of the coat of arms of the territory. In fact, the reality shows us something different:

[Elsass]by Ivan Sache

  • the flag of Alsace was not yellow-red, but red-white
  • the flag of Lorraine was not red-yellow, or yellow-red or white-red-yellow but... blue-white! I still don't know where these colours are coming from. This flag did not last very long and it is mentioned that the Alsatian flag became de facto the flag of the territory in the beginning of the century. The service flag was also used as a national flag, unofficially.

In 1911, the territory obtained a new Constitution, which granted it a little more autonomy. A flag was planned. Two proposals were made, one was yellow-red-white (Prussian Heraldry office), one was a variation of the Alsatian flag, red-white with a big Lorraine cross in yellow in the canton. This last one was adopted by the Alsace-Lorraine assembly, but rejected by the German authorities. This flag never had any official status, but is used now by the Alsace-Lorraine National Forum.

Source: Pascal Vagnat. Les identités régionales, nationales et supranationales dans la grande région Saar-Lor-Lux à travers les emblèmes : histoire, perceptions, conflits. University memory (unpublished)

Pascal Vagnat, 6 August 1998

The Soviet Republic in Alsace (November 1918)

[Soviet Republic in Alsace]by Santiago Dotor

In October 1918, a few German Generals, led by Luddendorff, refused to admit that the war was lost. They decided to attempt a last-ditch struggle, using the powerful German Navy. However, the troops refused to obey them. In Kiel, the main German port on the Baltic Sea, seamen mutinied and established a Soviet. Workers' trade-unions joined them, and the insurgents, carrying red flags, marched against the neighbouring cities.
At that time, c. 15,000 Alsatians and Lorrains had been incorporated into the Kriegsmarine. Several of them joined the insurrection, and decided to rouse their homeland to revolt. On 8 November, the proclamation of the Republic of Councils in Bavaria was aired in Strasbourg, the capital city of Alsace. Next day, thousands of demonstrators rallied on the Kléber Square, the main square in Strasbourg, to acclaim the first insurgents returning from northern Germany. A train controlled by insurgents was blocked on the Kehl bridge, and a loyalist commander ordered to shoot on the train. One insurgent was killed, but his fellows took the control of the city of Kehl.
The insurged seamen established a Council of Strasbourg Soldiers, and took the control of the city. Red flags were hoisted all over the city, including on the spire of the cathedral (142 m above ground level). A Council of Workers and Soldiers was then established and presided by the leader of the brewery workers' union. Their motto was: "We have nothing in common with capitalist states, our motto is: neither German neither French nor neutral. The red flag won." [There are three negations in the original sentence, which is also incorrect in French].
The social-democrat leader in Strasbourg, Jacques Peirotes, asked the French Generals "to bring forward the entrance of French troops in the city, the domination by the Reds being about to have a tragical outcome". The entrance had been planned to 25 November, but was brougth forward to 22. The Council of Workers and Soldiers decided to give all power to the French army. All the decrees proclaimed by the Strasbourg Soviet were immediatly cancelled.
Such Soviets were also established in other Alsatian cities: the first of them was founded in Haguenau on 9 November, followed by Mulhouse, Sélestat and Colmar. All over the front, French and German soldiers fraternized and marched with red flags. In Lorraine, several Italian immigrates joined the insurrection. In Metz, the insurgents' Council occupied the city hall, on which was hoisted a Turkish flag whose crescent and star had been coloured with red lead paint.

Source: Didier Daeninckx , 11 novembre 1918: le drapeau rouge flotte sur Strasbourg et l'Alsace proclame la République des soviets... Amnistia. net, 10 November 2000.

Ivan Sache, 26 November 2001

Modern period (1919-)

After the First World War, the only official flag was the French Tricolor. As the return to France was somewhat difficult, an autonomist movement appeared in Alsace, with as flag, the red-white flag. This flag is reported to have been used mainly in the Alsatian countryside. The Lorraine flag had vanished. The Second World War had as consequence the definitive vanishing of the emblems used during the period 1870-1919 in Alsace and Moselle. Today the most commonly seen Alsatian flag is a banner of its provincial arms, as well as the Lorraine flag. The red-white flag is now used by the Alsatian People Union.

Source: Pascal Vagnat. Les identités régionales, nationales et supranationales dans la grande région Saar-Lor-Lux à travers les emblèmes : histoire, perceptions, conflits". University memory (unpublished)

Pascal Vagnat, 6 August 1998

Pascal Vagnat, 21 September 1998