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Austro-Hungarian Empire

Last modified: 2023-10-28 by martin karner
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[Austria-Hungary War Ensign] 2:3   by Željko Heimer, 22 September 1996

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About the "national flag"

Up to the end of Austria-Hungary there was no concept of the "national flag" as we know it today. The closest thing to the modern flag was the civil merchant ensign, used on the ships.
Željko Heimer, 20 September 2007

Red-white-red with shield in the first third of the white stripe golden bounded and crowned in red stripe above. Adopted as Merchant Ensign: 20th March 1786, effective 20 March 1786, modified in 1869. Also used as war ensign 1880 until abandoned, 10th October 1915.
Željko Heimer, 22 September 1996, Norman Martin, 2 December 2001

What flag would the pre-1918 Austro-Hungarian Empire's diplomatic missions (embassy, legation) and consulates fly – the 'civil ensign', the 'naval ensign', or some other flag(s)?
Miles Li, 21 December 2008

Regarding the practice in Austria-Hungary, I would guess that various black and yellow flags (bicolour, but possibly yellow flags with black eagles and similar) were used until 1786 when the Josephine triband was introduced. We know that the introduction of these flags was relatively slow and unknown world-wide. There was an incident in China when a ship with the new flag arrived being considered "pirate" for displaying an unknown flag, and this was some decades after the introduction of the Josephine ensign. Presumably, the Austrohungarian mission there did not publicize its new flag much. Since, 1786 (or whenever the actual change came to the mission) there is little doubt, I guess, that the Josephine tribar would have been used.

With the introduction of the dual ensign in 1869, I do not think it was used on diplomatic missions – as someone pointed out, this dual flag was reserved for use on sea (it was even not used on inland waterway, rivers, etc.) and it is highly likely that the tribar flag would have been continued to have been used (just as it was continued to be used in the Navy). I wouldn't be surprised if it was used so until the end of the Monarchy.
Željko Heimer, 22 December 2008

At least one well known source, "Album of Standards, Flags and Streamers of the Russian Empire and Foreign Governments" 1890 edition with later corrections [available for download] indicates at the table VIII number 4 that the "Dual flag" is the "National civil flag" and "Commercial ensign".

The First Geneva Convention ( was first adopted in 1864. Austria ratified it 21.7.1866 ( Article 7 of the Convention states that any field hospital should be equipped by two flags: a national flag and the special Red Cross flag. So a national flag should
exist at least in this strict sense. Documents should be traced between military regulations. If they are dated earlier than 1869 I suppose it was the black-yellow flag.

It is interesting that during WWI in German and Austrian propaganda Austria-Hungary was designated by black-yellow flag:
Germany: (picture) (picture)
Whereas in Russian and French propaganda Austria-Hungary was designated by the dual flag (or red-white flag): (picture) [expired] (picture)
Yuri Pirogov, 5 January 2013

On the Wikipedia page on Austria-Hungary there is this note:
"The civil ensign, as a symbol of "corporate identity", doubled as the consular flag, as decreed on 18 February 1869. It came into use on 1 August 1869. Legations, however, flew the black-and-yellow flag of Austria alongside the red-white-green flag of Hungary, while embassies flew the two national flags alongside the imperial standard."
The source given is Rudolf Agstner, Austria(-Hungary) and Its Consulates in the United States of America since 1820 (LIT Verlag, 2012), p. 45.
Given Rudolf Agstner (1951–2016) was an Austrian diplomat himself, I believe this information can be reasonably relied upon.
Miles Li, 26 March 2019