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Origin of the Austrian Flag

Posted By Lillian Anderson On May 16, 2014 @ 5:56 pm In general,Legends | Comments Disabled

My roommate this semester is from Austria, from a tiny village about half an hour by car from Vienna, and I asked her if she knew of any national legends. She then began to tell me the legend of how the Austrian flag came to be what it is.

She said, “So you know how the Austrian flag is red-white-red? Well there was a king, and he supposedly wore a white mantle/cloak and he fought in a war and he got bloody all over, but he won in the end,  but his mantle at the end of the battle/war, was bloody over here [as she gestures to one area of her body] and bloody over here [she gestures to the opposite side of her body] and was white in the middle. And that’s how the Austrian flag developed.” She then told me that she had been told that legend while in elementary school by her teacher.

I did a bit of research, and the king mentioned in the tale was not a king, but a duke, Leopold V, and he fought in the crusades. During the battles, he was soaked in the blood of his enemies and his white cloak turned red. However, the small strip of his coat that was underneath the belt remained white, and so when he took of his belt, there was a horizontal strip of white separating the two swathes of blood-soaked cloth. Leopold V was from the first ruling dynasty of Austria, and this red-white-red became a part of their coat of arms and eventually came to represent Austria as a whole.

I believe that this legend is a classic example of a national legend, or origin story. It is based in fact, after all, many European nobles traveled to the Middle East to fight in the on-again-off-again wars called the Crusades in the late Medieval Period (11th-13th centuries, mainly). Whether or not Leopold V actually wore a white coat on the battlefield, which is not too much of a stretch of imagination, as the Knights Templar wore white cloaks emblazoned with a red cross, or whether or not he actually got so soaked in his enemies blood that it turned that white coat red, is up for debate. However, it is a Romanticized tale that is at the very least based in facts; whether or not it is true does not really matter. This story also reveals something about the Austrian people, Leopold V was a great warrior who accomplished great feats on the battlefield. To have adopted the colors he wore at the end of one of the bloodier wars of the Middle Ages shows that the Austrians are proud of their military might, of their warriors.

 


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