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Early flag-like symbols (called "vexilloids") were three-dimensional symbols on a staff, made from from metal, wood or stone (also feathers, plant material etc), not from cloth. They came in a wide variety, different from culture to culture. In most cases we only have depictions of the vexilloid, without knowledge of the material. Ancient textile flags ("flags proper") are very rarely preserved, so we have not much knowledge on the material. We know, that silk played an important role in China; in Europe and adjacent areas, wool and linen were more important. The oldest preserved textile flag of an European origin is a Roman "vexillum" cloth found in Egypt (3rd century AD ??); this was made from crude linen.
Animal figures played a prominent role, though. We know different animals as parts of standards from Egypt; the Romans used an eagle standard (earlier on some other animals as well). If we assume (as Smith does), that textile flags have their origin in China, we don't know much about the actual design of these Chinese flags. If we assume that textile flags were "invented" simultaneously on several places, it is even more difficult.
The early flag-like symbols we know of were already pretty elaborate. However, due to our lack of knowledge, we can assume, that either we just know the flags/vexilloids several hundreds or probably thousands of years after their invention, or we know early vexilloids, but do not recognize them, because they are too simple to be recognized as flags/vexilloids.
Flag-like vexilloids seem to have no common origin, but had been obviously invented several times simultaneously. Cloth flags perhaps were first used in China (according to Smith); how they spread, is unknown. My personal opinion, however, is that also cloth flags had been invented several times simultaneously.
Marcus Schmöger, 9 March 2004
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