I’m working on a paper, and ran across a pretty random question for which I can’t find an answer:
Were there Asian and Middle Eastern practices comparable to flag-planting: symbolic displays marking discovered territory and claiming possession? If so, what were they? And where can I find an article or a book covering the subject?
One of you nerds knows the answer to this off the top of your head. Admit it.
How prevalent was flag-planting in the West, for that matter?
I mean, sure, “I claim this new land in the name of the King of Spain [thrusts pole into the sand]” – but did anyone actually ever do that, really?
No doubt everyone puts flags or other heraldic markings on their prominent new possessions and forts and so on, but did anyone really go about the symbolic process of claiming new land with a flag ceremony? The only examples I can think of for sure are from rather recent explorers who weren’t really claiming territory so much as claiming they had achieved some particular exploratory goal.
Very prevalent, and yes, every European seafaring nation did it, with only relatively slight variations. Very solemn ceremonies including acts of moving earth and clearing vegetation, signing “legal” documents at the site of discovery, and especially erecting flags, crosses or (in the case of some Portuguese nutjobs) marble pillars.
It was questionable, even at the time, whether such actions had any real effect in international relations. But any party claiming to have discovered land would want to be able to claim that they had “formally taken possession,” so they invented a bunch of very specific, very bureaucratic formalities.
There’s plenty of information readily available about Asian nation heraldry and standards, but I doubt it’s easy to get from there to colonization, exploration, and conquest ceremony practices, most of which would have occurred prior to commonplace contact with the West. You would have to look for highly detailed accounts of individual events, or for some scholarly work on just that subject.
Well, it’s been a long time since Asia had any spare land to “discover” in the sense of the Europeans discovering the New World, so the various imperialist nations probably didn’t make that kind of claim historically. But of course you also raise a flag when conquering people, and it seems likely that happened – the problem is finding the evidence and documentation of it.
I’d be shocked if the pre-Mongol Chinese didn’t do something formal and ceremonial when they conquered or subjugated a new kingdom. The question is whether that included the use of a flag, banner, or other national or imperial symbol.
No clue about Mongol, Indian, Persian, or most other Asian practices, though.
There is at least one data point, but it may be too recent to be relevant: I have no doubt the Japanese raised the army and imperial standards in formal ceremonies over their WWII conquests.