Lithuania has been represented by flags since the early 15th century. At 1410’s Battle of Grunwald, two different flags represented Lithuanian regiments. A mounted knight on a red banner, called the Vytis, was carried by soldiers from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and they made up a majority of the field. The other Lithuania flag, also on a red banner, contained an image of the Columns of Gediminas. It was carried by soldiers serving Lithuania’s noble families. The Vytis would be Lithuania’s national flag until the end of the 18th century.
It’s unclear where the colors, which are yellow, green, and red, came from. They occurred commonly in traditional Lithuanian attire, and many scholars attribute their choice to Lithuanian exiles in the 1800s. It arose in prominence in 1905, earning favor over the Vytis for several reasons.
Lithuanians wanted to distance themselves from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which had also included areas that had since developed their own governments and national identities. Additionally, the old flag was complex. It wasn’t easy to reproduce, especially by sewing. The horizontal tricolor design was simpler.
The debates didn’t end with the 1905 decision, however. In 1917, concerned about the gloomy nature of the then red and green flag, delegates of the Vilnius conference considered adding yellow to the flag. Disagreement about its placement led them to decide to settle the matter with a special commission, which reached its conclusion the following year. Their recommendation was submitted to the Council of Lithuania. It called for a flag with a yellow top stripe, green middle stripe, green bottom stripe, and the Vytis image either in the upper left corner or in the center. While the Council accepted the commission’s proposal, the final language in the 1922 Constitution of Lithuania failed to mention the Vytis coat of arms.
Other debates about the Lithuanian flag occurred in the following years. Opponents of the official choice argued that the gold or yellow color shouldn’t be used because it violated the rules of heraldry. In 2004, a variant of the Vytis was established as the state flag, though the tricolor design remains the national flag and civil ensign.
Lithuanians were forced to adopt other flags for several periods of time between the adoption of the current national flag in 1922 and modern times. In World War II, for example, use of their own flag was prosecuted by Soviet and Nazi occupiers, but the horizontal tricolor is back in use today.