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Did the Roman Empire Have a Flag?

The Roman Empire had Two Types of Flags - Find Out Why

The Roman Empire lacked a national flag in the contemporary sense but utilized two main symbols to represent power and unity: the vexillum (plural: vexilla) and the imperial image.


These were the legionary standards, essentially small square pieces of cloth mounted on poles, used formally by the Roman legions. An existing example made of red linen, found in Moscow, demonstrates their typical appearance—about 50 cm square with a fringe. The designs varied, featuring images like the goddess of victory, various animals, or simply the unit's name. While they were flag-like, they didn't serve as a national or imperial flag in the modern understanding.

flag poles and assorted roman flags against a background of roman buildings, ruins and people's dress in roman times. in roman times
The Flags of Rome

Imperial Image:

Functionally, the closest entity to a national symbol was the image of the reigning emperor, representing the Empire's unity and power. This image was widespread, appearing in public spaces, on coins, and even on household items throughout the Empire. A letter from Fronto to Marcus Aurelius illustrates the ubiquity of the emperor's likeness, noting its presence in common places despite the quality of representation. This omnipresent image of the emperor became a unifying symbol for the Empire, especially before the Christian Christogram took on a similar symbolic role.

SPQR seal as imagined in the Roman Times
SPQR - The Senate and People of Rome

What does SPQR Mean?

SPQR stands for "Senatus Populusque Romanus," translating to "The Senate and People of Rome." This phrase epitomizes the governance structure of the Roman Republic, highlighting the dual sovereignty of the Senate and the Roman people.

The acronym SPQR symbolized Roman authority and identity, featuring prominently on Roman flags, standards, coins, and public monuments, though the Roman Empire itself did not have a flag in the modern sense.

The symbols and standards used, such as military banners adorned with SPQR, the Roman eagle (aquila), and other legion-specific emblems, served as identifiers for military units and represented the might and unity of Rome.

The Roman eagle symbolized the empire's power, while laurel wreaths depicted victory and honor. Although not a flag in the contemporary understanding, these standards functioned similarly, rallying soldiers in battle and signifying Roman dominion. The use of SPQR continued throughout the Roman Republic and Empire eras, enduring as a powerful emblem of Rome's lasting legacy on governance, law, and societal structure.

The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire - Find Out More

The Roman Empire and, as often called in later years, The Holy Roman Empire fascinates people around the world.

Birdy Slade's book on Rome contains 2000 fascinating facts, figures and stories that impress, shock, and help you learn more about the Roman Empire.


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