Why there is no purple in national flags?

photo by Wikipedia

There are 196 countries in the world today, which means there are 196 kinds of national flags. However, none of them have color purple. Through history, purple was never used to represent a kingdom civilization or empire, since it’s such a popular color today, so what’s wrong with purple?

Actually the answer is quite simple. Purple was just too expensive. Up until 1800s, purple was worth more than its weight for centuries, and the normal civilians couldn’t afford any of it. In fact, Queen Elizabeth is the first forbade anyone except close members of the royal family to wear in purple. Purple’s elite status stems from the rarity and cost of the dye originally used to produce it. The dye which initially was used to make purple came from the Phoenician trading city of Tyre in modern-day Lebanon. Fabric traders obtained the dye from a small sea snail that was only found in the Tyre region of the Mediterranean. More than 10,000 snails were needed to create just one gram of purple; not to mention a lot of work went into producing the dye, which made purple dye so expensive.

Since only wealthy rulers could afford to buy and wear the color. Purple became associated with the imperial classes of Rome, Egypt and Persia. Purple also came to represent spirituality and holiness because the ancient Emperor’s kings and queens that wore the color were often thought of as gods or descendants of the gods. However, sometimes the dye was too expensive even for royalty, third century Roman Emperor wouldn’t allow his wife to buy a shawl made from tyree and purple silk because it literally cost three times its weight in gold.

(Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press via AP)

A single pound of dye was equivalent to fifty six thousand dollars today. Therefore, since the sheer price of purple was so high that no one could afford, even the richest countries couldn’t spend an excess budget to have purple on their flag. Until about a half a ago in 1856, the color became more accessible to lower-class. A 18-year-old English chemist William Henry Perkin accidentally created a synthetic purple compound while attempting to synthesize quinine an anti-malaria drug he noticed that the compound could dye fabrics, so he patented the dye manufactured it and became very rich. Purple dye has be so mass-produced that about everybody could afford it, and the elite topped valuing purple and the status symbol faded away.

Since 1900, a handful of new national have been design and a few of them have opted to use purple in their flag. For instance, there are Nicaragua in 1908, Second Republic of Spain from 1931 to 1939 and Dominica in 1967 using purple in their national flag.

Flag of Second Republic of Nicaragua (photo by Wikipedia)
Flag of Second Republic of Spain (photo by Wikipedia)
Flag of Second Republic of Dominica (photo by Wikipedia)