First published in the May 2016 issue of History Today and on www.historytoday.com
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.
North Caucasian Emirate
A short-lived state formed in Chechnya during the tumultuous aftermath of the Russian Revolution, perhaps the North Caucasian Emirate’s greatest contribution to history was this distinctive flag, in which the familiar Islamic elements (the crescent, moon and stars) were arranged in a simulacrum of a smiling face.
Whether it was intentional or not we will probably never know: the North Caucasian Emirate’s six-month existence came to an end in March 1920, when it was incorporated into Soviet Russia.