History's Oddest Flags

Article written for History Today. View the full piece.

Flag of the Benin Empire

Flag of the Benin Empire

1. The Benin Empire

In 1897 British troops entered Benin City on a retaliatory mission, aiming to avenge the defeat of a previous expedition against the Kingdom of Benin, a pre-colonial empire located in southern Nigeria. The mission was, from the British perspective, a success: the king was captured and sent into exile, the city was razed to the ground and numerous artefacts carted back to London.

Among the objects was this unusual flag, showing one figure decapitating another using a sword against a red background. Little is known of the flag’s origins or meaning, nor even if it belonged to or was used by the Kingdom of Benin, though it is believed to be of Itsekri origin. The original is now located at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.

Dean Nicholas