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by Ivan Sache
The French historical period concerning Paris from March to May 1871 is called La Commune de Paris. Most people know it for the insurrection it was. The word commune without a capital C is used in French to designate a municipal territorial administration, and France has more than 36,000 such communes. Using that meaning, the first commune of Paris was set up by the sections of the city in 1789, and it was later replaced by a short-lived insurrectional commune on 10 August 1792. However, this page is dedicated to the 1871 historical period Commune de Paris, hereafter called Commune for the sake of simplicity.
The history of the insurrection is related in detail on this page.
A detailed report of the flags used during the Commune is given by Pierre Charrié in his book Drapeaux et étendards du XIXe siècle [chr92].
On 15 March 1871 (three days before the beginning of the insurrection), the Federation of the National Guard was made up of 26 legions, broken into 215 battalions. On 23 March, 25 marching battalions were created. Other units joined the Federation such as the Cecilia Franc-Tireurs, the France Volunteers of Commandant Olkowicz, and the sailors of the Commune gunboats.
The Tricolore flag was used by the units of the National Guard during the siege of Paris. In January 1871, however, a few plain red flags appeared. On 22 January, the 101st Battalion attached red pennons to the ends of their baionets. On 7 March, the 199th Battalion hoisted the red flag over the Bastille Column.
On 18 March, when the insurrection started, a red flag was raised on the City Hall, and the 130th Battalion used a red flag too. Not all of the battalion flags were red, but more and more battalions adopted red flags. These red flags were initially square pieces of scarlet fabric. Those which were too dirty or destroyed by bullets were later replaced by new silk flags with a golden fringe, provided by the Central Committee of the Commune, although the Tricolore flag was never abolished. The 147th Battalion used a new Tricolore flag.
There were no rules as to the flag designs, and most of these short-lived flags were destroyed during the fightings and repression by the Versailles Army. Only nine of these flags have been preserved or recently seen. Except the last flag described, all of these flags have letterings on the obverse only.
The flag used by the 147th Battalion is preserved in the Army Museum, Paris.
This flag is made of tricolor silk, with three equal vertical stripes and a golden fringe. The size of the flag is 123 x 159 cm and the fringe is 5 cm long.
is written in gold lettering on the white stripe, perpendicular to the hoist.
269th Battalion (Tirailleurs de la Marseillaise)
The flag used by the 269th Battalion is preserved in the Museum of Living History, Montreuil (east of Paris).
This flag is made of red fabric. It is lettered with :
DEMQUE stands for DEMOCRATIQUE, NLE for NATIONALE and ARRT for ARRONDISSEMENT (district).
In the middle of the flag is placed the allegory of the Republic with the Phrygian cap.
Below, the flag is lettered with 1er Bon [Bataillon] des TIRAILLEURS DE LA MARSEILLAISE
The flag used by the 164th Battalion is preserved in the Historical Library Feltrinelli, Milan (Italy).
This flag is made of red fabric. It has a golden fringe on the three flying sides.
At the top of the flag, it is lettered with REPUBLIQUE FRANCAISE. COMMUNE DE PARIS is lettered in an arched pattern. Below that, it is lettered with:
Below that, in an arched pattern is EREG GERMAIN et ses frères de la VILLETTE [and his brothers from la Villette]. This is probably the name of the funders of the flag.
The flag used by the 226th Battalion is cited by Bouillé (Le Drapeau français, Paris, 1875). Its current location is unknown.
This flag is made of red fabric. It is lettered in gold with 226e BATAILLON.
The flag used by the 220th Battalion is preserved in the Central Museum of the Societ Armed Forces, Moscow (Russia). It was displayed for the 100th anniversary of the Commune. First preserved by a Polish volunteer fighter in 1871, seized by the Germans in 1939, it was finally taken by the Russians from a Gestapo building in Silesia.
No description of this flag is available.
The flag used by the 30th Battalion is preserved in an unnamed museum in Moscow (Russia). It might have been the flag which was hoisted close to Lenin's mausoleum.
No description of this flag is available.
The flag used by the 67th Battalion was sold by auction in Hôtel Drouot, Paris, c. 20 years ago.
This flag was made of red silk and lettered with:
The flag used by the 143rd Battalion is preserved in the Museum of Art and History, Saint-Denis (north of Paris).
This flag is made of red silk with a golden fringe. The size of the flag is 112 x 115 cm and the fringe is 5 cm long. It is lettered with
in black. Between these tow words, it is lettered with 143e Bon [Bataillon] Cies [Compagnies] DE GUERRE [of war].
The current location of the flag used by the 117th Battalion is unknown.
This flag is made of red muslin with a golden fringe. The lettering is painted in gold. At the top, there is:
Below that, there is:
The reverse of the flag is identical to the obverse.
Other flags were only partially described and cannot be accurately reconstituted, except if plain red:
Ivan Sache & Suzette Tanis-Plant, 19 January 2003
Few flags used during the insurrection have been preserved, however, those flags have been represented on several so-called historical pictures. The following list discusses the accuracy of these representations
All of these representations do not prove that red flags were actually used during the events they depict. They only prove that the red flag was considered to be the emblem of the Commune and was used to identify it.
The black-and-white photograph of the barricade erected on Chaussée de Ménilmontant is more historically relevant but unfortunately not very helpful to vexillology. A man standing on the barricade is bearing a flag with a cravate. The flag appears white and the cravate black, but no other details can be seen.
Ivan Sache & Suzette Tanis-Plant, 11 May 2003Red dog casino