The Imperial Russian State Colour is a splendid flag symbolizing that which came to an end on 15 March 1917 when Nicholas II abdicated: More than twenty million square kilometres of empire and a thousand years of monarchy.
The State Colour of the Russian Empire was the principal and most prestigious military flag in pre-revolution Russia, treated always with full military honours. The latest version of the State Colour, from 1896, is kept in the Kremlin Armoury in Moscow. The image above shows the State Colour as depicted in Герб и Флаг России: X-XX века (1997).
On it are the full heraldic achievements of Nicholas II, Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias: the arms of all the realms and territories that made up the Russian Empire and, at the lower edge of the flag, the combined arms of his Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov dynasty. These armorial bearings were the same as in the Greater State Arms of the Russian Empire.
The central element of the flag is the crowned, double-headed Imperial Eagle carrying the sceptre and orb of the Empire and, on its breast, the arms with Saint George slaying the dragon, surrounded by the collar of the Order of Saint Andrew, the highest Russian order. On its wings the arms corresponding to a list of the Emperor’s titles:
Tsar of Kazan (a zilant), Tsar of Astrakhan (an oriental sword), Tsar of Poland (a single-headed eagle), Tsar of Siberia (two sables), Tsar of the Tauric Chersonesus (a double-headed eagle), Tsar of Georgia (Saint George and the dragon, among others), Grand Duke of Kiev, Vladimir and Novgorod (Saint Michael, a lion, a throne and two bears, respectively) and Grand Duke of Finland (a lion and roses).
At the edges of the flag, six shields surround the Imperial Eagle with arms of principalities, provinces and territories of the Empire. On an oak branch, from top to bottom: Great Russia (present-day Central Russia), Belarus and Lithuania, and the North-East (present-day Northern Russia). On a palm branch, from top to bottom: the South-West (Ukraine), the Baltic lands (e.g. Estonia, Livonia, Karelia) and Turkestan (Central Asia).
The State Colour was made of silk and adorned with different kinds of passementarie i.e. elaborate embroidery, edgings and braids, with gold and silver cords, and applications of coloured silk and gold leaf. Fringes and tassels were black, gold and silver. These are the colours of the Russian “heraldic flag”, a black-yellow-white tricolour introduced in 1858 and still used by Russian monarchists and nationalists today.
Two silk scrolls were embroidered with four important years. 862: The founding of the first Russian state by the viking Rurik. 988: The baptism of Grand Prince Vladimir the Great and the acceptance of Christianity by Kievan Rus. 1497: The introduction of a nationwide code of law by Grand Prince Ivan III; he was also the first Russian ruler to use the title Tsar and Autocrat. 1721: The founding of the Russian Empire by Peter the Great.
The year 1917 was as important as any in Russian history. The terrible World War brought about the fall of a deeply troubled monarchy. But in no way did the February Revolution and the abdication mean the end of hardship for Russia. The October Revolution, terror and civil war, decades of Communism and another World War followed. The last Tsar was killed, the legacy of the Empire and a millennium of Rurikid and Romanov rulers survived and is stronger in Russia today than for a long time.