Why don’t country flags use purple color?

There are 196 countries in the world today. And virtually none of them have purple on their national flag. Throughout history, purple was never used to represent a kingdom, civilization, or Empire. So what’s wrong with this color? It’s such a popular color today.

Why would no country use it in their flag?

The answer is really quite a simple purple was just far too expensive those times. No countries have purple on their flag. Because up until the 1800s it was worth more than its weight in gold. Purple color has been associated with royalty, power, and wealth for centuries. In fact, Queen Elizabeth the first forbade anyone except close members of the royal family to wear it.

Purple’s elite status stems from the rarity and cost of the dye originally used to produce it. The dye initially used to make purple came from the Phoenician trading city of Tyre, which is now in modern-day Lebanon. Fabric traders obtained the dye from a small sea snail. That snail was only found in the tire region of the Mediterranean. A lot of work went into producing the dye as more than 10,000 snails were needed to create just one gram of Tyree and purple. Since only wealthy rulers could afford to buy and wear the color it 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. Sometimes however the dye was too expensive even for royalty.

Third century Roman Emperor Aurelian famously 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. A single pound of dye cost three pounds of gold which is the equivalent of fifty-six thousand dollars today. So since the sheer price of purple was so astronomically high no one, not when the richest nations could afford to have purple on their flag.

Accidental discovery

The hue became more accessible to the lower-class is about a century and a half ago in 1856. 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 be used to dye fabrics. So he patented the dye, manufactured it, and got filthy rich. This dye was then mass-produced so just about everybody could afford it. The elite stopped valuing purple and the status symbol faded away. But the country flags remain the same since 1900. A handful of new national flags have been designed and a few of them have opted to use purple in their flag.

Yet hopefully you found this interesting. Sometimes the simplest questions have the most fascinating answers. For more such questions and answers do check other posts. And if you have any such questions let me know in the comments. I will do research and provide a detailed answer.

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