The design of the flag of Belgium has roots going back to medieval times. Belgium is a small European country on the North Sea, sandwiched between France and Germany. To the northeast, Belgium shares a border with the Netherlands. It is in the history of this northern region that you find the origins of the modern Belgian flag.
The flag of Belgium is a tricolor banner with three vertical stripes. The stripe next to the flagstaff is black and the center stripe is golden yellow. The stripe at the end is red. The official height to length proportion of the flag is 13:15. However, other proportions, such as 2:3, are often used and even displayed on government buildings. The Belgian navy uses a slightly different flag called the state ensign. It is like the regular flag except there is a black lion with a black crown above its head pictured in the yellow stripe.
The northern part of Belgium, together with a section of the Netherlands, once made up a feudal state called the Duchy of Brabant. Starting in 1183 the Duchy was first ruled by the Holy Roman Empire and later by Spain. The symbol of the Duke of Brabant was a black shield with the image of a stylized golden lion “rampant, meaning standing on its hind legs. The tongue and claws of the lion were red. Following the Eighty Years’ War that lasted from 1568 to 1648, the Netherlands became an independent nation. The southern part of the Duchy of Brabant was split off and now forms part of Belgium. The colors of the Duchy’s shield became the basis for the Belgian flag.
The first Belgian flags displayed the same black, yellow and red colors as today’s flag. However, the stripes were horizontal rather than vertical and there was no particular order to the colors. The modern vertical stripe design was officially adopted in 1831. In the same year, the order of the stripes, starting with black on the staff side, was standardized by the Belgian Navy and Department of the Interior.
The symbolic meaning of the colors on the Belgian flag are not certain. Generally, it is thought black symbolizes determination and yellow indicates generosity or the ancient lion of Brabant. Red is believed to symbolize courage and strength.