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Historical Flags of Tripoli

Last modified: 2011-04-15 by ian macdonald
Keywords: libya | tripoli |
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Reported Flags

Flag of Tripoli, 1771
[A former flag of Tripoli, 1771] image by Randy Young

Reported Flag of Tripoli
[A former flag of Tripoli] image by Jaume Ollé

Reported Flag of Tripoli
[A former flag of Tripoli]

Reported Flag of Tripoli, 19th century
[A former flag of Tripoli] image by Mario Fabretto

In the Turkish period Libya used various flags: red with three yellow or white crescents in different positions, and a horizontal red, green, white, red, white, green, red flag.

In 1912 the Ibadites in Djebel Nafusa proclaimed an independent imamate (1912-17) and hoisted a (probably) red flag. Fezzan was independent in 1914, but I don't know its flag. In 1917 a republic was proclaimed in Tripoli. The flag had a crescent and star (probably red or green), and was recognized by Italy in 1919. The republic became a sultanate in 1922. I don't know the flag but it was probably the same as that of the republic.
Jaume Ollé, 29 September 1996

Tripoli Flag Debate

Erroneously Reported Flag of Tripoli, 1897
[Flag of Tripoli in 1897] image by Željko Heimer

The flags shown for Tripoli were not official. As in all parts of the Ottoman Kingdom private ships flew many variations of red and red-green flags. The flag Željko shows is wrong, as the star must be upright, like in the Turkish flag. The only official flag flown in Turkish possessions was the Turkish flag.
Ralf Stelter, Archiv fuer Flaggenkunde. 24 June 1999

Regarding the "upside-down" 1897 flag of Tripoli, posted by me in 1996, there are few words to be said. I posted this image as a part of a series of flag images based on 1897 issue of Meyers Konversations Lexicon [mkl97]. The analysis of there flags showed that many of them are rather dubious and could not hold the test of serious vexillology, but still they are shown in sources, and should be noted on our pages.

In many flag charts of previous centuries there are many different flags shown for Tripoli (and other Ottoman possessions), which is indicative of two things - "western ignorance" of the real situation in those "far-away" places and probable certain level of anarchy regarding the flags there at the time (which is not necessarily typical only for that area).
Željko Heimer, 26 June 1999

All Turkish possessions had the Turkish flags for official use (so the text belongs to all Turkish regions of that time), and some had private variations, too. I do not know, whether there were any regulations or any prescriptions for what region, country or city had to fly which flag.

There were only three flags in the Ottoman Empire (in the whole!) that were official which were so called national flags: the red with crescent and star as the national flag, the red flag without devices as merchant flag, and a special merchant flag for those who had done the journey to Mecca, a red flag with a green stripe (horizontally red-green-red). That there might have been regulations according to flags in Turkish possessions is the fact that Greek ships had to fly a red flag with a blue stripe (red-blue-red horizontally), and Albanian ships a red flag with a black stripe (which makes the civil ensign of today). Meyers Konversationslexikon, 4th edition (ca. 1893) shows R-V-W-R-W-V-R in equal stripes, earlier encyclopedias (back to 1771 Enc. Britannica) show the same flag with varying stripes. Zedler's "Großes Vollständiges Universallexikon" of 1735 gives a simple green flag with split ends.

Meyers later 5th edition shows the Turkish flag for Tripolis (also mentioning it in the text) and shows both flags of Turkey and of Tripoli with crescent upside down. (INTERESTING: the 1892 edition of the same lexicon in three volumes shows both flags correctly, star pointing to the hoist!)

A fact: the green flag with three stars was a merchant flag under captains being retired Ottoman navy officers, similar to the British blue ensign for merchant ships! This could be seen everywhere in the Ottoman Empire.

Furthermore Turkish sources give a plain green flag for Tripoli (with some possibly important explaining text we still have not translated) and a second one with three crescents pointing to the center. The latter has the explanation "Tripoli Western" which could give the conclusion, that ships going into the western hemisphere hoisted that flag, but see above. (But it also can mean that only western sources showed that flag! We have to wait until someone translates the whole text into a western language).

There obviously were several flags for special occasions. Maybe some were used on merchant ships, others on war vessels. But when we talk about kind of national flags, all Turkish possessions had only the Turkish flags.
Ralf Stelter, Archiv fuer Flaggenkunde, 27 June 1999

[Editorial Note: See below for additional updated information]

From a note by L. Philippe in Franciae Vexilla #15/61, September 1999. His source is:

"A letter dated 20 December 1818 from France consul in Tripoli de Barabrie [of Barbaria], with a companion colour plate, now kept in file 3JJ434 in naval section of the French National Archives."

Tripoli was conquered in 1551 by the Turks of Soleiman the Magnificent. As soon as 1710, the governor Ahmed el Karamanli merged the three provinces of Tripolitany, Cyrenaique and Fezzan and created an hereditary principate (Tripoli Regency), granted by Constantinople in 1727. On 1 June 1835, Turkey got rid of the Karamanlis and submitted again the area to its direct administration, by the way of a pasha (or governor).

The Karamanli-era flags have always an uneven number of horizontal stripes, alternatively red and yellow. The flags of the Tripoli Regency were hoisted on forts and armed vessels in Tripoli, Benghazi and Derna. Civil ensigns were plain red, similar to the Ottoman Empire civil ensign.

The illustrations show :

  • a 13-striped ensign topped with a yellow wimpel with two red stripes

    [Wimple pictured with the 13-stripe flag]
    [13 stripe flag of Tripoli] image by Ivan Sache

  • an 11-striped ensign

    [11 stripe flag of Tripoli] image by Ivan Sache

  • a 5-striped ensign (also existing with 9 or 7 stripes according to the caption).

    [5-stryped ensign] image by Ivan Sache

Ivan Sache, 08 October 1999

Depictions of Tripoli Flags in Paintings

Tripoli's ensign 1797
[5-stryped ensign] image by Klaus-Michael Schneider, 13 September 2008

Description of flag: It is a horizontal 6-stripes flag of unknown ratio with alternating red and white stripes starting with a red one. The flag is hoisted on the foremast of a Tripolitanian vessel fighting against Danish ships Najaden and Sarpen. (painted by C.C. Parnemann).

Source: Per Eilstrup and Nils Eric Boesgaard; Fjernt fra Danmark; p.136
Klaus-Michael Schneider, 13 September 2008