Where Does the Crescent and the Star Icon Come From?

The beautiful adornments of our red flag, the crescent and the star, are explained in many different ways. As Mehmet Akif addresses the Turkish red flag with the crescent and the star during the Turkish National Anthem, which is sung by the children with a lot of enthusiasm at ceremonies, many works today emphasize that the crescent and the star are the symbols of Turks. We may surprise you by saying that the crescent and the star that are used in our flag to symbolize our independence actually can be traced to Constantine, namely the Byzantine period.

The Crescent and the Star Usage in the Past

The studies of iconography show that the crescent and the star, especially the “crescent and star” are quite valuable icons that have been used since the ancient times. The use of these icons does not start with the Turkish history as it is supposed. Today, when the flags of the countries of East, Middle East and Central Asia are examined, in many of them we come across a crescent and a star in different forms. Correspondingly, it is accepted that the crescent and star, which are generally regarded as the symbols of Islamic countries, have emerged in these geographical regions.

Where Does the Crescent and the Star Icon Come From?
Today’s Turkish Flag

When we go to the time of Sumerians, we can see that the crescent and star figures were used in very different forms. The crescent represents Sin, the Moon God. The star represents Venus in the ancient Roman mythology. Records show that they were used together for the first time in the Kingdom of Israel in the 13th and 14th Centuries BC. Further, the crescent and star figures were mostly used in the seals of that turn.

When we also look at the 2nd and 1st Centuries BC, we find coins on which these two symbols were pressed in the Mesopotamian civilization. In the Anatolian geography, VI. Mithridates the King of Pontus is remarkable in the use of crescent and star. The crescent and star are used together on the flag of king.

Usage in the Hellenistic Period and the Roman Empire

Elagabalus Marcianpolis rare ancient Roman coin, crescent moon 4 stars
Star and crescent on a coin of Uranopolis, Macedon. ca. 300 BCE.

When we look at the times of AC, in the Late Hellenistic period, the use of crescent and star is seen especially on the coins. In the First Roman ages, the crescent and star were used on many coins as well. Many goddesses in Greek mythological narratives are symbolized by the crescent and star figures. Within this framework, the crescent and the star were also used during the Roman Empire period.

In 4th Century AC., on the coins of the Roman Empire, the crescent and star were depicted together. The most important reason is that the combined use of the crescent and star carries the meaning of “unifying”. Thus, when Rome was having a difficult time, there was a desire to unite the inside against the outside, and that was reflected in the coins.

Double headed eagle Byzantine Empire
The symbols of the Constantinople before the conquest are as follows: double-headed eagle, four different cross icons, the crescent and the star.

Crescent and Star in Ottoman Empire

In 1299, the use of the crescent and star appears also in Ottoman Empire, rising near the Byzantium. But the point to note here is that the figures of crescent and star used by Rome and the Byzantium for a very long time were also the symbol of İstanbul in the period when it was conquered by the Ottomans. The symbols of the Constantinople before the conquest are as follows: double-headed eagle, four different cross icons, the crescent and the star.

After conquering İstanbul, Fatih Sultan Mehmet accepted the crescent and the star symbols, which are closest to the Turkish and Islamic culture, in order to ensure the continuity in the city and prevent the interruption of commercial life.

During the Gokturk times in the 8th century AC., the crescent and the star were the first icons that were used in Central Asia. The identification of it as the symbol of the Ottoman coincided with the conquest of the Constantinople.

Ottoman Flag
Ottoman Flag

Not only do we see the crescent and star used together on Ottoman coins, but also when we look at tughras (the Sultans’ signatures), the figures of crescent and star are in interlocked form.

Even though the crescent is interpreted as “Islam” and the star is interpreted as “Turkishness” in our day, when we look from a historical perspective, the meanings of the crescent and the star on our flag are far deeper.