The Flag of Eritrea: History, Meaning, and Symbolism

Flag of Eritrea
© Lana2016/Shutterstock.com

Written by Taiwo Victor

Updated: January 10, 2023

Share on:

Advertisement


The State of Eritrea, popularly known as Eritrea, is a country in the Horn of Africa in the East African region. The country’s name is derived from the ancient Greek name for the Red Sea, Erythra Thalassa, and was first adopted in 1890. Although there are not that many records showing how old the country is or when the first people moved to the area that is now known as Eritrea, there is proof that human remains found in Eritrea date as far back as a million years old. This shows that there were people living in the area a long time before the country, even before it became official. 

Before contemporary Eritrea, the Kingdom of Aksum covered most of the area, extending up to northern Ethiopia. The other part that remained uncovered fell under the Medri Bahri kingdom and part of Hamasien. Eritrea, as it is known today, was formed by merging these independent kingdoms under Italian colonization. Keep reading to know more about the colonization of Eritrea and how it affected their choice of flag, as well as the meaning and symbolism of their flag.

Founding of Eritrea

The history of Eritrea dates back thousands of years ago, beginning about 1000 BCE. Their story starts out with people from the South Arabian kingdom migrating across the Red Sea. These travelers already had a developed culture and settled down to form the Aksum kingdom. The capital of Aksum was Tigray, which is now a province of Ethiopia, and its principal port was at Adulis, which is now known as Zula in Eritrea. As mentioned earlier, this kingdom was established by Semitic people with ties to Arabia and was based on trade over the Red Sea. The main religion in Aksum was Christianity, which had been spread there via commerce with nearby nations.

After the Muslim conquest of Adulis in 710 AD, the ancient kingdom of Aksum began to fall. The area became a distant, isolated community for several centuries after that, only to reemerge as Abyssinia at the beginning of the 16th century. By the mid-19th century, there was an increase in European interest in the area. The first visit of the Italians to Abyssinia was in 1840, under one Father Giuseppe Sapeto. However, by 1882, the Italian government took over the land completely and began to control it. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Italians ruled indirectly through regional chiefs. However, by the 1920s, there was an influx in the number of Italians in the country, causing more locals to lose their land. 

By 1935, Italians had succeeded in running over the area, adding it to Italian East Africa, but by 1940, there were clashes between the British and the Italians. Removing the color ban, which the Italians had imposed, was one of the most significant developments under the British. This made civil service jobs for Eritreans officially legal. But in 1944, as World War II’s tide began to turn, the British discontinued its support for Eritrea. After suffering at the hands of the Italians, the country also suffered under the imperialism and military rule of Ethiopia before finally gaining independence under the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) in 1991 after a war that lasted nearly three decades. 

Map of Eritrea

Eritrea gained independence under the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) in 1991.

©iStock.com/PeterHermesFurian

Characteristics of Eritrea

With land that has a total area of 45,406 square miles and a total coastline of 1,388.1 miles, Eritrea is the 22nd smallest country in Africa and the 101st in the world. Nearly seven million people live in the nation. Asmara, the capital and biggest city, is situated on a high plateau in the country’s middle and sits at 7,600 feet above sea level. Eritrea today is a multi-ethnic nation with nine recognized ethnic groups. The nine officially recognized ethnic groups speak a total of nine different languages, with Tigrinya being the most common. However, the three working languages are Tigrinya, Arabic, and English.

In the Horn of Africa, religion has always served as a key marker of ethnic identity. Recent research showed that more than half of the entire population of Eritrea practice Christianity. The majority of the rest practice Islam, and others practice other traditional African religions. 

Asmara, capital of Eritrea

Asmara, the capital and biggest city in Eritrea, is situated on a high plateau in the country’s middle at 7,600 feet above sea level.

©Homo Cosmicos/Shutterstock.com

History and Symbolism of the Flag of Eritrea

On December 5th, 1995, Eritrea officially adopted its flag. This flag combines the basic design and hues of the flag of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front with an insignia made out of a wreath and an upright olive branch that was taken from the flag that was in use from 1952 to 1962. The Eritrean national flag displays red, green, and blue triangles. The base of the red isosceles triangle is on the hoist side, while the triangle’s point is on the fly side. This part of the flag signifies the bloodshed endured by the forefathers in their fight for freedom. 

A vertically placed gold olive branch encompassed by a gold olive wreath is located inside the red triangle. The olive wreath’s 30 leaves stand for the duration of Eritrea’s civil war, during which it fought to become independent. The wreath, olive branch, and red triangle collectively stand for the nation’s independence. The green color on the flag represents the nation’s livestock and agricultural sector, while the blue represents the sea’s abundance. 

Flag of Eritrea waving in the wind.

The wreath, olive branch, and red triangle in the flag of Eritrea collectively stand for the nation’s independence.

©iStock.com/Sven Loeffler

How Did Colonization Affect the Flag of Eritrea?

Eritrea, as it is known today, was created by the union of various kingdoms that had existed in the area. After the British army defeated the Italians in 1942, Italian Eritrea became a British-administered region until 1952. Following the departure of the British and while still operating as an independent territory under Ethiopia, Eritrea adopted a new flag on September 15, 1952. The Eritrean flag at the time had a light blue background with a six-leafed plant around an olive wreath in the middle, symbolizing peace and the country’s six administrative divisions. 

The Eritrean People’s Liberation Front flag, which represented a rebellion against Ethiopia, was flying in place of the previous flag. However, this flag was banned in 1962 when the country was on the verge of breaking away from Ethiopia. In this rendition of the flag, there was a golden five-pointed star in the red triangle. When the people finally gained independence in 1993, the golden star was replaced by the olive branch and wreath, and the proportions were altered. 

Click here to learn about every single flag in the world!

Up Next


Share this post on:
About the Author

For six years, I have worked as a professional writer and editor for books, blogs, and websites, with a particular focus on animals, tech, and finance. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games with friends.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.