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The True Flag Of Iran

There is a common misconception that the Lion and Sun flag is the symbol of the Pahlavi Dynasty. Though the flag was used during the Pahlavi Dynasty, it is an ancient, national symbol the history of which dates back to the twelfth century. It is, indeed, Iran’s symbol. It has been discovered on banners and as being used as a popular coat of arms to represent Iran as early as the fourteenth century. In the sixteenth century, during the Safavid Dynasty, the Lion and Sun first appeared on Iran’s official flag.

HISTORY OF IRAN'S FLAG

THE LION AND SUN OF MITHRA

In ancient Iran, the lion and sun symbolized kingship and divine power. As king of the animals, the Lion represented power and royalty. The sun was associated with Mithra, the Iranian deity of the sun and light in the pre-Zoroastrianism era. Mithra also epitomized justice, contractual agreements, and warfare.

The sun was also an emblem of Persian imperial power. Historical records from classical antiquity suggest that this symbol was prominently displayed on the exterior of King Darius III’s tent. Correspondences between the Persian monarch and Roman leaders typically commenced with salutations that reflected this imagery: 

“Persian king, the Sun of the East, to the “Roman Caesar, the Moon of the West”

DERAFSH KAVIANI CIRCA 227–651 (Sassanian Empire) 

Translated to English as “The Standard of Kays (Kings)”, this was the original banner of Shahnameh hero Kaveh, who famously used his own shirt to create the standard and unite Iranians against the tyrant Zahhak. 

The symbol consists of a yellow lotus representing the “royal stars” of Persia, planted in a purple field representing the Sassanian Empire’s longevity. Throughout the Sassanid Empire, the symbol became more intertwined with the concept of Eranshahr or “Iranian Empire”, and is widely considered to be the first true symbol of Iranian nationhood, being used in a variety of settings/depictions since the 3rd century.

EARLIEST-KNOWN IMPLEMENTATION OF THE LION AND SUN AS A BANNER DEVICE

CIRCA 826–1423

The earliest depictions of this banner are illustrated in book of epic poems, Shahnameh, by Persian Poet Ferdowsi. Horsemen are described as carrying this banner into battle.

CIRCA 1524–1576 

The lion and sun motif is depicted outside of Golestan palace with a sword in hand. It is engraved on the castle walls.

CIRCA 1576–1732 

This was the official state flag under the Safavid dynasty. The lion and sun motif continues, with its roots in Babylonian astrology. 

Under the Safavid dynasty it came to symbolize the two pillars of society: the state and faith.

CIRCA 1751–1794

This triangular silk flag was used during the Zand dynasty. The Zand dynasty came to power following the death of Nadir Shah. This flag shape also continued under the Qajar dynasty. 

Green represents faith, white symbolizes peace, and red represents courage.

PRESENT

Today, the motif of the lion changed to represent a “passant” or standing lion that holds a saber in its paw. The S-tail of the lion symbolizes Iran’s constitutional revolution in 1906. This flag is also the symbol of the anti-regime movement.

There are diverse interpretations and opinions regarding the origin of the lion and sun, though it is likely an amalgamation of various ancient Iranian, Zoroastrian, Islamic, Turkic, and other influences. For four centuries, the lion and sun, depicted in various artistic styles, adorned Iran's flag.

In 1980, the Islamic Republic, along with numerous other symbols of Iran's national identity and heritage, deemed the use of the flag a punishable offense, replacing it with the regime's current flag. However, among Iranians, the original flag remains regarded as the true standard of the country.