A well-known mathematician passed away recently, and I happened to be in the Trinity College on the day after. As any Cambridge college undoubtedly would, they mourned the loss of a fellow by flying flags at half-mast.

How can I describe this mourning flag in Latin? Is there a set phrase for having a flag below the summit of the pole to express mourning? I want something that would be applicable for the event mentioned above, but it is of course convenient if it applies more broadly. I assume vexillum lugubre would be understood correctly, but I don't recall seeing it or any other phrase in use.

If Wikipedia is to be trusted, the tradition dates back to the 17th century, so I am not expecting ancient attestations. That said, I would never resist if there are any.

2 Answers 2


I suggest vexillum semidemissum, which seems a perfectly good usage, even though the idea of a flag at half-mast was probably unknown in classical times. It fits with the practice of the Armed Forces of the UK, which is to raise the flag to the masthead, break (i.e. unfurl) and then to lower it to a position halfway down the staff.


I couldn't find any classical reference to lowered flags, in mourning or otherwise. The closest I could find was in Catullus. Theseus' father instructs him to lower his black sails and to hoist white sails:

funestam antennae deponant undique vestem

lower your yardarms in their funereal vestments

Catullus, 64.234

The use of deponere might be useful, especially as it contrasts with the usual and well-attested vexillum proponere, raising the flag as a signal for action.

Otherwise, perhaps insigne maeroris would work, from:

Maerorem relinquis; maeroris aufers insignia.

You leave them their grief; [yet] you take away their emblems of grief.

Cicero, In Pisonem, 8

I wouldn't normally think of insigne as a flag but apparently it can be used to mean a standard or flag but perhaps you could use the more obvious signum or vexillum.

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