When it comes to comparing national flags, the Welsh surely win every time with their iconic Red Dragon (Y Ddraig Goch in Welsh) on a green and white background. Although the symbol wasn’t officially recognised in its current iteration as the national flag until 1959, the red dragon is embedded within the history and culture of Wales.
The origins are believed to go back to the Roman era, when the dragon, or ‘Draco’ was a military standard, carried by the commanders of the cavalry. From these beginnings, the dragon appears in one of the oldest Welsh legends, thought to have been written in the 5th century.
The setting is the mountain Dinas Emrys in Snowdonia, where the Celtic King Vortigern had his castle. His attempts to create a stronghold against the Saxons were continually thwarted by the mysterious disappearance of tools and the destruction of the previous day’s work overnight.
Eventually, Vortigern resorted to the advice of magicians, who told him to scatter the blood of an infant who was born of a human mother and a father from the ‘other world’. Such a child from Carmarthen, named Myrddin Emrys, was found and brought to the site. Fortunately, the child was none other than Merlin the wizard.
Merlin soon persuaded Vortigern that two dragons, sleeping under a lake inside the mountain, were responsible for the destruction of his fortress. Vortigern ordered his men to dig into the mountain, and as Merlin foretold, a red and a white dragon were discovered sleeping under the lake.
The dragons fought until the white dragon fled, and the red dragon returned peacefully to its lair, allowing the fortress to finally be built. The red dragon thus evolved into a symbol of proud struggle and resistance, and was variously associated with King Arthur, Cadwaladr, King of Gwynedd, and the military leader Owain Glyndwr.
The dragon became the official symbol of Wales in 1901, before the familiar design known and admired throughout the world became the national flag. The symbol is celebrated in many forms, including in carvings on traditional Welsh love spoons.