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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)

The current Mexican flag was adopted by the country in 1968. It has three colours running vertically: green, white and red. In the middle of the white section is the nation’s coat of arms, featuring an eagle facing left with serpent in its mouth and right talon, standing on a cactus, with laurel and oak branches draped underneath it. The three colours have been used since Mexico’s independence from Spain in 1821.

The flag’s emblem supposedly goes back to 1325 when the Aztecs were moving into the Mexican area and received a vision from one of their gods that they should build their main city where they saw an eagle with a serpent in its talon on a cactus on an island. They found this in Lake Anahuac, the current site of Mexico City.

Development of a national flag goes back to the War of Independence between Mexico and Spanish colonialists from 1810 to 1821. The first flag may have been the Virgin of Guadalupe standard carried by Catholic priest Miguel Hidalgo at the Grito de Dolores, or Cry of Dolores, revolt in the town of that name, near Guanajuato, on 16 September 1810, the first day of the war. This flag was the initial symbol of the Mexican army during the war.

Several other flags were used in the war. A standard used by rebel leader and priest Jose Maria Morelos included an image of the Virgin with a white and blue insignia and an eagle wearing a crown, perched on a cactus over a bridge with three arches. The letters VVM, meaning “Viva la Virgen Maria” or “Long live the Virgin Mary”, were written on the standard. A flag used by the rebel army had white, blue and red vertical stripes.

The first use of the three colours of the current flag was by the Army of the Three Guarantees who carried the “Bandera de las Tres Garantias”, or the Flag of the Three Guarantees. After the end of the war, the army marched triumphantly into Mexico City with the flag on 27 September 1821. The colours on the flag ran diagonally, sloping upwards from left to right. At top left was a red triangle with a white star. In the middle was a thick green band with a red star. At bottom right was a white triangle with a green star.

A new Mexican government was established after the war ended in August 1821. One of its early tasks was to come up with a national flag. It chose a standard of the same three colours used in the Flag of the Three Guarantees, but instead of the colours running diagonally, they would run vertically, with green on the left, white in the middle, and red on the right. The colours had the same meanings as those used in the Three Guarantees flag: green for independence, i.e. from Spain; white for religion, i.e. the Roman Catholic religion; and red for union, i.e. union between the new Europeans and the native Americans. The coat of arms featured a crowned eagle, representing the empire, or the First Mexican Empire. The flag was decreed in November 1821 and used officially from July 1822. Use of this first national flag ceased when the empire was abolished in 1823.

The First Federal Republic of Mexico was established in 1823 and adopted a very similar flag in April of that year, the second national flag. The crown was removed from the eagle’s head and a serpent placed in its mouth and right talon. The laurel and oak branches were added at this time, and are still used today. The secularisation of the country followed the civil war, the War of Reform, from 1857 to 1861, and the meaning of the flag’s colours were changed by the victorious Benito Juarez government. Green now stood for hope, white represented unity, and red stood for the national heroes’ blood. The republic was dissolved in 1864 and the flag no longer used.

The Second Mexican Empire was set up in 1864 and adopted a third national flag. The new flag was lengthened slightly from a 4:7 ratio to a 1:2 ratio. An eagle was placed in each corner with a crown above its head. The coat of arms was similar to the French arms but with a Mexican influence. It had an eagle with serpent on a rock in water. This was inside an oval frame with a crown on top of it. Two griffins, with their eagle’s head and wings and lion’s body, were positioned on each side. But the leader of the second empire, Maximilian I, was overthrown. He was executed and the flag abandoned in 1867.

On the re-establishment of the Mexican Republic, the second national flag was used again from 1867 to 1881. A slight change was made to the coat of arms in that year. In 1899, there was another small change in the emblem, and the flag’s shape was altered to a 2:3 ratio. A 1916 design by Venustiano Carranza had the eagle with serpent still standing on a cactus but the bird took a more side-on stance compared with previous versions, and was used from 1917. Then, from 1934, the laurel and oak branches formed a circle around the rest of the coat of arms.

Mexico’s fourth and current national flag was adopted on 16 September 1968, the 158th anniversary of the Cry of Dolores revolt and the start of the country’s War of Independence. It also coincided with the Summer Olympic Games that were held in Mexico City in 1968. The new flag’s coat of arms was designed by Mexican artist Francisco Eppens Helguera, based on Carranza’s 1916 design.

The flag wasn’t confirmed by law until 24 February 1984. Debate followed about how the coat of arms should be shown on the flag, including on the reverse side. A change in the law was proposed to permit the eagle to face right on the back of the flag. Finally, in 1995, the law was altered to allow the eagle to face to the right, stand on its right leg, and hold the serpent in its left leg on the reverse side.

Meanings for the colours are not specified in the Flag Law. Thus meanings have sometimes been given to the flag’s colours other than those set down after the Reform War, such as green for hope, white for purity, and red for religion. Another version has green for independence, white for Catholicism, and red for union. Several political parties have used the colours in their own logo. Some states have used part or all of the national flag in their coat of arms.

Mexico’s flag has great historical significance to the country, being set in place immediately after the War of Independence and going through a number of changes with successive regimes. The fundamental design has stayed the same since Mexico’s victory in 1821.

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