Recursive National Flags

The are plenty of flags to be found with other flags on them. Just look at how many flags use the flag of the United Kingdom in their canton, or most naval ensigns, for that matter. Few flags, however, actually display themselves. Because many countries put their coat-of-arms on their national flags, and some of those coats in turn incorporate the national flag in their designs, ihere are a half-dozen countries that currently have semi-recursive flags.

Dominican Republic


The basic flag (minus the coat-of-arms) was designed by Juan Pablo Duarte, who helped lead the country to independence from Haiti in 1844 only to be exiled the following year. Interestingly, the colours of the flag were actually based upon those of the Haitian flag, with a white cross added to symbolise the secret Trinitarian society (of which Duarte was a prime leader) that was fighting for independence. Initially a cross in the centre of the flag, the cross was extended to the flag’s edges by the time of independence, and the colours of the bottom panels were switched to create the chequered pattern we know today by around 1849. Sometime later, the partial recursion was created by adding the coat-of-arms to the centre of the cross, which itself contains four separate Dominican flags in front of a shield patterned after the flag. The version with the coat-of-arms remains the country’s merchant ensignThis Dominican culture website cites 1908 as the date the coat-of-arms was added to the flag, while Flags of the World cites a presidential decree from 1913.



Speaking of Haiti, the horizontal blue-red arrangement came about in the 1810s; prior to this, the stripes were vertical (legend holds that it was simply the French tricolour with the white stripe removed). The flag has been adorned with the current coat-of-arms since 1859, save for the 1964-1986 Duvalier regime, in which the blue was replaced with black. The coat-of-arms, featuring six blue-red flags, appears to have been adopted around 1843.

Ecuador, Colombia, and Venzuela

Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela inherited their yellow-blue-red tricolour from their mutual predecessor, the Republic of Colombia (better known today as Gran Colombia to distinguishing it from the modern state). Designed and flown by the Venezuelan revolutionary Francisco de Miranda  from his familial colours, Gran Colombia adopted the colour scheme as its own after achieving independence, although it did change the proportion of the colour bands and alter the coat-of-arms on the flag four separate times during its 12-year existence.


Ecuador retained the Gran Colombia flag until 1845, a full 15 years after seceding. After a short-lived switch to a pale-blue-and-white scheme following the 1845 Marcist Revolution, Ecuador returned to the Miranda flag with its current proportions (2:1:1 yellow/blue/red) in 1860, adding the coat-of-arms upon its adoption in 1900 and creating the recursion we see today (seen in the above image) as the coat-of-arms employs four unfurled Miranda flags.


Oddly enough, while modern Colombia doesn’t use its coat-of-arms in its national flag (which is otherwise identical to Ecuador’s save for marginally darker colouring; Colombia switched to the 2:1:1 proportion the year after Ecuador did), it does use its coat-of-arms in its naval ensign (seen above) and presidential flag, meaning both of those have recursions. Even more notable is that the design of the Colombian coat-of-arms is rather similar to Ecuador’s, right down to the four unfurled Miranda flags.


The Venezuelan version of the Miranda tricolour has used the 1:1:1 ratio since indepedence, but with numerous different arrangements for the flag’s stars. The placement of the coat-of-arms in the canton is a relatively recent addition, being added in 1956. It’s a bit hard to see, but the semi-recursion is there: three Miranda flags in the upper right corner of the coat-of-arms’ shield.

Costa Rica


You’ll have to look very closely at the state flag of Costa Rica to find the recursion. Click on the image above and view it at full size. Now look very closely at the right side of the boat in the coat-of-arms. It’s flying the country’s civil flag/ensign. While the ship has been present on the coat-of-arms since 1848, the flag was added to the ship in 1934.

Cispadane Republic


We end with a historical example of a semi-recursive national flag; that of the the extremely short-lived Cispadane Republic, a Napoleonic client state based out of Bologna that existed in northern Italy from October 1796 to July 1797, when it was merged into the larger and better-known (although also short-lived) Cisalpine Republic. What is perhaps most notable about the Cispadane Republic is that it was the first state to employ the Italian Tricolore, although here the striped were arranged horizontally. The red and white came from the flag of Milan while the green came from the uniforms of the city’s civil guard.

Further Reading

Flags of the World (2013). Flags of the World. Available at Accessed 25 September 2013.

Minster, C. (n.d.). Francisco de Miranda, Precursor of Latin American Independence. Latin American History. Available at Accessed 25 September 2013. (2013). Dominican Republic Flag. Available at Accessed 24 September 2013.

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