The Flag of Ethiopia: History, Meaning, and Symbolism

Written by Taiwo Victor
Updated: December 4, 2022
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Officially called the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Ethiopia is a country in the Horn of Africa, also known as the Somali Peninsula. Ethiopia is the largest nation in the Horn of Africa, with its capital, Addis Ababa, located almost exactly in the middle of the nation. The nation has been around for over 2,000 years, making it the oldest sovereign African country and one of the oldest nations in the world.

Because of how old the country is, it has over 80 ethnic groups and even more languages, and unlike many African countries, it is one of the two (the other’s Liberia) that have never been colonized. As a country that has existed for over 2,000 years, it is only normal to wonder what the flag looked like long before now and if it has undergone any modifications. Let’s look at the history, meaning, and symbolism of the Ethiopian flag.

Ethiopia

Officially called the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Ethiopia is a country in the Horn of Africa, also known as the Somali Peninsula.

©Luisa Puccini/Shutterstock.com

Founding of Ethiopia

Ethiopia was formerly named Abyssinia and has existed for thousands of years. Although there’s no precise date, it is believed that the Ethiopian kingdom was founded in the 10th century (BC). Early in the Solomon era, Ethiopia underwent certain military reforms and expansions. This gave it the power to rule the Horn of Africa. Also, the presence of Portuguese missionaries became more noticeable, bringing modern weapons and baroque architecture into Ethiopia. As the years went by, the country began to experience a more rapid modernization, particularly under Menelik II and Haile Selassie. 

Ethiopia is the only other African nation that managed to avoid colonialism due to its geographic location, economic sustainability, and unity. However, despite not experiencing direct colonization, the country still went through an occupation phase by Italy between 1936 and 1941. Italy had tried invading Ethiopia long before 1936; their earliest invasion attempt goes back as far as 1895. The first Italo-Ethiopian war between 1895 and 1896 ended with the Ethiopians crushing the Italian troops. Italy signed the Addis Ababa Treaty on October 23, 1896. This put an end to the conflict and recognizing Ethiopia as a sovereign nation.

Characteristics of Ethiopia

Ethiopians are a heterogeneous ethnic group, with the biggest distinctions based on linguistic classification. The country has over 100 spoken languages that are further divided into four distinct groups. A total of 1,100,000 square kilometers (420,000 sq mi) make up Ethiopia. Currently, about 121.7 million citizens live in Ethiopia. It ranks as the 12th most populous nation in the world and the second most populous in Africa, behind Nigeria. Apart from being multilingual, Ethiopia is also a multiethnic state with almost 100 different ethnic groups. The country is also multireligious, with Christianity as its most practiced religion. Followed by Islam and then other smaller traditional faiths. 

One of the most notable features of Ethiopia is that it belongs to several world-class organizations. The country is a founding member of the United Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Group of 24, the Group of 77, and the Organisation of African Unity. The African Union’s headquarters is located in Addis Ababa, the nation’s capital. Numerous other international non-governmental organizations with an emphasis on Africa also call it home.

History and Symbolism of the Flag of Ethiopia

Ethiopia

The color green symbolizes the wealth and fertility of the land, as well as hope. The yellow symbolizes hope, and the red represents the sacrifices made by the ancestors who shed their blood to defend the nation.

©Hyotographics/Shutterstock.com

The green-yellow-red horizontal tricolor, with the crowned Lion of Judah in the center, was approved as Ethiopia’s first official flag in 1897. The flag was partly modified in 1974 after the overthrow of Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I. The staff was replaced with a spear, and the crown was taken off the lion’s head. 

After the emperor’s overthrow, between 1974 and 1987, the Derg, a committee coordinating armed forces, ruled the country. The socialist People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia was established in 1987 after the collapse of the Derg. The flag changed again. Although the tricolor remained the same, its dimensions were elongated. There was a communist symbol at the center of the tricolor. However, by 1991, the communist symbol was removed. 

On October 31, 1996, Ethiopia adopted its current flag. The National Emblem, a golden pentagram on a blue disc, is overlaid in the middle of the tricolor, which is composed of green, yellow, and red. The tricolor was first approved on October 11, 1897, by Menelik II. The colors green, yellow, and red together have had symbolic significance since at least the early 17th century. 

Present Day Flag Creation

A year after the Ethiopian troops defeated Italy in the Italo-Ethiopian war, Menelik II ordered that the three available pennants be combined. Creating a tricolor rectangle with red at the top, followed by yellow, and then green. The first letter of his name somewhere on the flag. However, after his death in 1913, the letter of his name was taken off the flag. For other unknown reasons, the flag was flipped, making green the first color and red the last. 

Prior to being chosen as the state colors for unexplained reasons, the Ethiopian church had historically utilized the colors on the flag. The color green symbolizes the wealth and fertility of the land, as well as hope. The yellow symbolizes hope. The red represents the sacrifices made by the ancestors who shed their blood to defend the nation. These three colors were adopted by several newly independent African nations in honor of Ethiopia‘s resistance to foreign control after they won their independence from colonial oppression. The colors are sometimes also referred to as the Pan-African colors. Pan-Africanist polities and organizations utilize these colors for their activities.

The Emblem of the Flag of Ethiopia

The flag’s emblem, a yellow star with rays emanating from it on a blue disc, signifies Ethiopia’s bright future. The yellow rays that seem to be emanating from the star are equidistant and represent the equality of all Ethiopians regardless of race, sex, or creed. In 1996, the Ethiopian emblem was added to the center of the tricolor flag. Its initial color was light blue, but it was altered to dark blue eight months later. The blue background of the flag’s emblem is also meaningful, signifying unity. 

Some of the emblems used before this present one include the coat of arms of the Ethiopian empire, the emblem of the Derg, the communist emblem, the emblem of the people’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, and the emblem of the Transitional Government of Ethiopia.

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The photo featured at the top of this post is © Olleg/Shutterstock.com


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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.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What do the colors on the flag symbolize?

The color green symbolizes the wealth and fertility of the land, as well as hope. The yellow symbolizes hope. The red represents the sacrifices made by the ancestors who shed their blood to defend the nation. These three colors were adopted by several newly independent African nations in honor of Ethiopia’s resistance to foreign control after they won their independence from colonial oppression.

What does the emblem on the flag symbolize?

The flag’s emblem, a yellow star with rays emanating from it on a blue disc, signifies Ethiopia’s bright future. The yellow rays that seem to be emanating from the star are equidistant and represent the equality of all Ethiopians regardless of race, sex, or creed. In 1996, the Ethiopian emblem was added to the center of the tricolor flag.

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Sources
  1. Mappr, Available here: https://www.mappr.co/flag-maps/ethiopia/
  2. Flags of the World Website, Available here: https://www.fotw.info/flags/et.html
  3. Gettysburg Flag Works, Available here: https://www.gettysburgflag.com/flags-banners/ethiopia-flags