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Norwegian Flag: History, Meaning and Symbolism

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Flags have been flown around the world for centuries as a way to represent a locality, monarchy or political movement. They can also be used to symbolize things like the past, future, war or loss. Flags are visual symbols that can have many shapes, colors, images and even text. Crosses are some of the most commonly used symbols on national flags, and the Norwegian flag has a Scandinavian cross. Join us as we discover exactly what that is and what it means. We'll also learn about Norway's former flag and some history of the country.

about norway

Norway is a Nordic country in Europe whose mainland is located in Scandinavia. Norway is an incredibly diverse country, with miles of rugged coastline and hundreds of islands and fjords. It's also often referred to as "The Land of the Midnight Sun" because the sun never dips below the horizon in parts of the country north of the Arctic Circle between May and July. In other parts of the country, daylight can also last up to 20 hours.

Norway also has a long and varied history. From 872 to 1397, the region existed as the Kingdom of Norway, also known as the Kingdom of Norway. The next period was the Union of Kalmar, which joined Denmark, Norway and Sweden between 1397 and 1523. However, Sweden left the Union in 1523, and Norway tried, without success, to follow suit.

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During the Napoleonic Wars, Denmark was allied with France and was subsequently forced to cede Norway to Sweden. However, many Norwegians do not like having no choice over the issue, and rising nationalism led to a brief two-week war with Sweden. Ultimately, their efforts for independence were unsuccessful. Despite brief skirmishes, Norway formed a fairly peaceful alliance with Sweden until it finally gained independence in 1905.

Norway is an incredibly diverse country, with miles of rugged coastline and hundreds of islands and fjords.


History of the Norwegian Flag

The current Norwegian flag was adopted in 1821. It consists of a red base color and a navy blue Scandinavian cross with a white border. Because it's a Scandinavian cross, it's off center and closer to the hoist side.

The flag was designed by Frederick Meltzer during the early days of the merger between Norway and Sweden. However, the Swedish king refused to sign the law that would allow the flag to be used universally in Norway. Instead, he approved it for civilian use only and insisted that the Army and Navy continue to fly the Union flag. This includes the Swedish flag with a white cross on the state's red background to denote Norway.

The new Swedish king decided in 1844 to use the new union emblem. This combined the colors and designs of the two flags in equal parts to represent the Union. Beginning in 1844, each state was allowed to display its own flag, but within the states the new Union emblem was used. However, many Norwegians remain unhappy because they want to be allowed to fly their own flag in the state without any markings. As a result, Norway has enacted a law proposing to remove the union emblem. In 1898 it was approved by the King of Sweden – finally allowing the Norwegians to fly their own "clean" flag a few years before Norway and Sweden separated.

Norwegian flag waving in the wind
The current Norwegian flag was adopted in 1821 and has a red base and a navy blue Scandinavian cross with a white border.


symbolic meaning

The current Norwegian flag is based on the Danish flag – Dannebrog – which is red with a white cross on it. This is to symbolize the previous union of the two countries. However, the blue cross added on top of the white cross also represents Sweden – Norway was allied with Sweden when the flag was designed. In addition, red, white and blue are considered to represent freedom and independence.

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The use of the Scandinavian cross (also known as the Nordic cross) is a tradition used by most of the independent Nordic countries, and the design of the cross represents Christianity. Finland, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway all use the Nordic cross on their flags, with Greenland becoming the only country without a Nordic cross. Norway was also the first country to use the three-coloured Nordic cross.

norwegian flag
The red, white and blue colors used in the Norwegian flag represent freedom and independence.

© Tatohra/Shutterstock.com

former norwegian flag

Norway has many previous flags – not surprising given its long history. The first flag used by Norway was from 872 as the Kingdom of Norway. The design is still used today as the Royal Ensign (the monarch's flag). It is based on the Norwegian heraldry and consists of a red field and a lion with a golden crown holding an axe.

Norwegian Royal Standard
The Norwegian Royal Flag, still in use today, has a red background with a golden lion holding an ax in the centre.


The flag of the Kalmar Union is likely to be the next flag used by Norway. It was also the first Nordic cross flag to represent the country. This flag is known as the "Flag of the Domain" and consists of a yellow field with a red cross.

We already mentioned that the current Norwegian flag is based on the Dannebrog , and this flag flew over Norway after the Kalmar Union ended. However, at the end of the Danish period, around the same time that the Swedish flag was replaced, another flag was flown. During the time when the Norwegians were trying to rebel against Sweden, a Danish flag was flown. However, it also has a slightly different golden lion version of the state's Norwegian coat of arms. This flag remained in use to some extent until the current flag was adopted in 1821.

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  • Red Cross and White Flag: History, Meaning and Symbolism of England's Flag
  • Danish Flag: History, Meaning and Symbolism
  • Blue flag with yellow cross: History, meaning and symbolism of the flag of Sweden

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featured image

Norwegian flag, flag of Norway.
Norwegian flag, flag of Norway.

© iStock.com/flowgraph

about the author

For many years, I have been writing professionally, with an emphasis on animals and wildlife. I love spending time outdoors, and when I'm not writing I'll be found on a farm surrounded by horses, dogs, sheep and pigs.

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