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Almohads & Hafsids

Banu Thabit

Spanish Possession

Knights Hospitaller

Ottoman Possession

Italian Rule

British Rule

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History and Heraldry


The city of Tripoli was founded in the 7th century BC, by the Phoenicians, who gave it the Libyco-Berber name of Oea (or Wy't), suggesting that the city may have been built upon an existing native town. The city then passed into the hands of the rulers of Cyrenaica, although the Carthaginians later wrested it from the Greeks. As a part of Carthago the region was called Emporio.

In the second and third Punic Wars the region became a part of the Kingdom of Numidia  until its end in 46 BC.

In the Roman Empire the region, then called Regio Syrtica became a part of Africa Proconsularis and after the reform of Diocletian the province of Tripolitana, so called after the three cities of Oea (i.e., modern Tripoli), Sabratha and Leptis Magna.

In the Notitia Dignitatum the province is represented by the walls of 14 cities. Its dux has a Book of Mandates and a codicil for emblems of his function.  On the Book of Mandates is written “FL intali Comord P.R.” the abbreviation of  Floreas Inter Allectos Comites Ordinis Primi (Mayst thou prosper amongst the chosen counts of the first rank). The codicil are early letters of credence. [1]


The dux Tripolitania had 14 commanders and their limitanei units or detachments of units under his command:


Praepositus limitis Talalatensis

Praepositus limitis Tenthettani

Praepositus limitis Bizerentane

Praepositus limitis Tillibarensis

Praepositus limitis Madensis

Praepositus limitis Maccomadensis

Praepositus limitis Tintiberitani’

Praepositus limitis Bubensis

Praepositus limitis Mamucensis

Praepositus limitis Balensis

Praepositus limitis Varensis

Milites Fortenses in castris Leptitanis

Milites Munifices in castris Madensibus

Praepositus limitis Sarcitani


corresponding with the cities or encampments of the province. No emblems of these units however are known. The strength of the Roman troops in Tripolitania of the time can be explained by the invasions of tribes from the south in 363 and 366 AD.

After 455 the region was occupied by the Vandals who had their capital in Carthago, but in 533 it was occupied by Belisarius who incorporated it in the Exarchate of Carthago of the Empire of Justinanus.

Arab campaigns of Oqbah ibn Nafi in 669 and 675 resulted in arab control of the region and the rule of the Omayyads, the Abassids and the Aghlabids.


Almohads and Hafsids


In the 11th century Arab invaders were in the service of local rulers and fought in Morocco and Cyrenaica but they did not succeed to found a kingdom with a real dynasty of their own. The situation changed when Tripoli was occupied in 1146 by George of Antiochia, the great-admiral of the Normans of Sicily. After they were dislodged in 1158, the citizens of Tripoli accepted the reign of a local family and recognized the sovereignty of the Almohads who had founded a kingdom in North Africa in 1130. During Almohad rule which ended in 1269, an adventurer by name of Qaraqush invaded Cyrenaica and Tripolitania and occupied Tripoli in 1177. He ruled 1177-’89 / 1191-’95 was murdered in 1212. A village west of Tripoli called Qarqaresh bears his name.

A coat of arms of this Qaraqush, his lieutenant Yakut al Iftikhar (1195) or of his Almohad successors in Tripoli is documented by Wijnbergen Roll (n° 1283): le de gaquart roi: Argent, a lion rampant Azure, and a bordure Gules strewn with besants. [2]


It seems it was also borne by the Hafsid Governors (1247-1324) until the Bani Thabit succeeded to attain a certain autonomy in Tripoli in 1327. A banner charged with a (blue?) lion passant is documented at Tripolli de Barbaria by Pietro Sanuto in about 1321.


Detail of a map of  the North African coast, 1321 ca.

From: Pietro Sanuto: Liber Secretorum Fidelium Crucis (Vatican Library)

At ‘Tripolis de Barbaria’ a flag with a lion passant; at ‘Gabes’ a flag with a palm-tree.


Rulers of Tripoli, 1324-1398

Banu Thabit Dynasty

Thabit ibn Muhammed al-Wishahi

Hàfsid governor 1324

Ahmed ibn Tahir

Hàfsid governor 1324

Thabit I ibn Muhammad al-Wishahi (2nd time)

Hàfsid governor 1324-1327

Muhammed ibn Thabit


Thabit II ibn Muhammad


Filippo Doria de Gènova


Banu Makki of Gabès dynasty

Ahmed ibn Makki


Abd al-Rahman ibn Ahmed ibn Makki


Banu Thabit Dynasty

Abu Bakr ibn Muhammad


Ali ibn Ammar


Yahya ibn Abu Bakr


Abd al-Wahid


Hafsid Rule 1398-1510

8 Hafsid Governors

Spanish Rule 1510-1530

5 Spanish Governors


Banu Thabit


The Banu Thabit Dynasty ruled over Tripoli until 1398 when Hafsid supremacy was restored.

Its emblem was a green palm-tree between two red keys. It apparently refers to the palm-tree of Carthago as depicted on its coins. Such a palm tree was also borne by the Banu Makki of Gabès Dynasty and is depicted on the banner on the map of Pietro Sanuto.

The palm-tree between two keys is documented by Angelino Dulcerta on his map of 1339 and also by the Book of Knowledge where it is announced as:

“I departed from the Gulf of Sçin and came to Puerto Magro and thence to Tripul of Berberia. It is called Tripul because it is bounded bythe Triplicana mountains. This Tripul is a rich city and the King of it has for his device a white flag with a green palm tree and two red keys.”


1339 Angelino Dulcerta: Tripolis de Barbaria: White, a green palm-tree between two red keys



Flag and arms of Tripoli as in the Book of Knowledge.


Such a flag is also documented on a Catalan Atlas from 1375 (today in the National Library of Paris) and the map of Guillelmo Soleri (1385).

After the restoration of Hafsid rule, the Palm-tree and the keys were maintained at first as we can see on the map of Gabriel de Vallseca of 1439, today in the Museo Maritim of Barcelona.)


Map of Gabriel de Vallseca, 1439.

At Tripoli de Barbaria: White, a green palm-tree between two red keys.

The white much discoloured on this map


Somewhat later they disappeared and were replaced by the flag of Tunisia as we can see on 15th century maps of the North African coast. (for example Gabriel de Vallseca, 1447 and Jacobo Bertran, 1456)

At the end of Tunisian Hafsid rule Tripoli escaped from Hafsid control and became governed by sheiks appointed by the local population. As a result the flag with the palmtree disappeared and was replaced by an all red flag like in other places along the Libyan coast.


Libyan coast on the portolan of Pietro Russo, 1508.

Red triangular flags, the one of Tripoli (Tripolli)square


Spanish Rule      



The Spaniards  captured Tripoli on 25 July 1510 and establihed a lordship ruled by a governor of which there have been five. In this time the flag of Castilla and Leon flew over the territory. A coat of arms was probably used for the lordship. It is documented by a 17th century Spanish roll of arms in which it is blasoned:


Trípoli: campo de azul con una luna llena de plata. (Azure, a full moon Argent). [3]


No additional information about the adoption of these arms is available.


Knights Hospitaller of Jeruzalem                                



In 1530 Tripoli and Malta were given to the Knight Hospitaller of Jeruzalem who had been expelled from Rhodos in 1523.

In the time of the rule of the Order there were four Grandmasters of the Order and 9 (10) Governors of Tripoli.

The arms of the order were: Gules, a cross Argent.



A flag blasoned of the arms of the Order is documented at Tripoli Barbari on a sea chart by Vesconte Maggiolo from 1537. [4]

Vesconte Maggiolo: Tripoli and Tunis after 1530.


Ottoman Rule



In 1551 Tripoli was captured by an Ottoman fleet and an eyâlet was established with the name of Trablusu-Garb..

The eyâlet was ruled from 1551 to 1609 by thirteen pasha’s and a red flag with a yellow crescent was seen above the region



From 1610 to 1711 the eyâlet was ruled by 30 Dey’s and a red flag with a white crescent was seen above the region.


From 1711 the eyâlet was ruled by autonomous pasha’s from the Karamanli Dynasty.


Karamanli Dynasty



The Qaramanli (also Karamanli) dynasty directed autonomous Tripolitanian domestic and foreign policies, including the signing of international treaties. Their economy was based on international trade and sea piracy; their pirates were the scourge of the Barbary Coast, known as the Barbary pirates. During Ali's reign the region suffered from epidemics, plague, and famine, as well as from power struggles among Ali's sons. Algerian strongman Ali Burghul (Bulghur) took advantage of the situation and with Ottoman approval ruled Tripoli between


Rulers of Tripoli 1711-1835

Karamanli Dynasty

Ahmad I Pasha Karamanli


Mehmed I Pasha Karamanli


Ali I Pasha Karamanli


Ahmad II Pasha Karamanli,

bey 1791-1793

Ali Burghul Pahsa Çezayrli


Ahmad II Pasha Karamanli


Yusuf Pasha Karamanli


Ali II Pasha Karamanli


Mehmed II Pasha Karamanli

1832-1835 (in rebellion)

1793 and 1795, causing the population severe hardship. Under Yusuf, the European powers and the newly independent United States went to war against the Barbary pirates, ending the taking of ships, cargoes, and men (who were often sold into slavery). This forced Yusuf to impose high taxes, which caused a popular revolt. On 27 May 1835 an Ottoman naval force landed in Tripoli following a local request for Ottoman intervention. Its commander was proclaimed governor, and members of the Qaramanli family were arrested or exiled. [5]


The flag of Tripoli between other North African flags, about 1750 [6]


Flag of Tripoli


Achievement of Youssouf Pasha Karamanli, bey of Tripoli  (1795 – 1832).

On the frame of a mirror.

Picture by courtesy of Carlton Hobbs LLC,  New York.


The achievement shows:

Arms: Vert, “May Allah grant victory to Youssouf Pasha Karamanli, Amen.” in arab in golden lettering.

Crown: A royal crown of  four pearls and five hoops, crested with a ball and crescent

Supporters: A trophy of four flags barry of five red and yellow, cannon, drums, cannon balls, two cornucopia and  two lions statant.


Flag of Yousouf  [7]


This indicates the mirror and frame was made, or commissioned by the regency of Tripoli during the reign of Youssouf Pasha Karamanli, bey of Tripoli from 1795 to 1832. [8]


Yousouf Pasha Karamanli  in official dress

From William Adams Modern Voyager..... [9]


In 1835 direct Ottoman rule was restored and until 1918 the province was ruled by Wali’s (Governors) with the title of Pasha.

A flag of the eyâlet is documented in 1878 by Maximilian Gritzner and consists of seven stripes red-green-white-red-white-green-red [10]:


At the same time its ensign was an all red flag.



The badge of rank however of the pasha seems to have been three white crescents on a green field. An achievement, probably made up by by the German heraldist O.T. von Hefner shows:


Arms: Vert, a crescent , an crescent increscent and a crescent points upwrds Argent.

Mantle: A lion’s hide upheld by two tugh’s (horse-tails) and crowned with a beylical cap.


Von Hefner remarks: Tripolis, also a former pirate-state the regent of which is a Dey of Tripoli since 1841 almost non tributary and subordinated to Turkey. His arms could be.... etc. [11]


This achievement cannot be confirmed by any other source but probably refers to the flag at Danckerts, 1750 ca.


Italian and British Rule


In 1911 Italy invaded Tripoli and by Treaty of Ouchy of 17 October 1912 Turkey ceded Cyrenaica and Tripoli to it. The occupation of Tripoli by the Italians took some years because of  WWI but on 16 July 1919 the first civil governor could be appointed.

A coat of arms for the colony was adopted a few months earlier on 3 April 1919. It is:


Arms: Azure, a palm-tree proper, fructed Or, rising from a base of the same and a five-pointed star in chief Argent.

Crown: An ancient Roman crown.


In Italian the arms were blasoned as follows:


Tripolitania (Colonia) D'azurro, al palmizio al naturale fruttato d'oro, nodrito nel terreno dello stesso e sormontato da una stella d'argento. Lo scudo timbrato da corona antica romana (D.L. 3 aprilie 1919 - RR.LL.PP. 8 guigno 1919).  [12]


Next 16 November the Repubblica Tripolitana was proclaimed by arab rebels but this Republic was abolished by the Italians in 1923.

It is said that the Republic used a flag blasoned of the arms, but no documents preserved confirm this. It seems unlikely anyhow that a rebellious movement has used  the symbols adopted by its opponent.


In 1934 Cyrenaica and Tripoli were united into the Colony of Libya. The colony was occupied in WWII by the British Army in 1942.

The British ruled the region until it became a part of the United Kingdom of Libya in 1951.

In 1943 Banknotes were issued by the British Military Authority in Tripolitania. On it was the royal crest of the United Kingdom consisting of a royally crowned lion passant guardant standing on the royal crown. This crest was also the crest of the British Army.


ð See illustration in the head of this essay.


It was the last heraldic emblem used in Tripoli before the establishment of the United Kingdom of Libya.



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© Hubert de Vries 2011-10-12. Updated 2019-12-11



[1] Notitia Dignitatum Dux provintiæ Tripolitanie: fol. 216 r°

[2] Adam-Even, Paul & Léon Jéquier: Un Armorial français du XIIIe siècle, l'armorial Wijnbergen. In: Archives Heraldiques Suisses. 1951 pp. 49-62, pp. 101-110, 1952 pp. 28-36, 64-68, 103-111, 1953 pp. 55-77.

[3] Real Biblioteca de San Lorenzo del Escorial Ms. h-11-21, fol. 382-386. (between 1621-1700). Published: Vicente Cascante, Ignacio: Heraldica General y Fuentes de las Armas de España. Salvat. Eds. S.A.. Barcelona, 1956. pp. 533-537

[4] Musée Nationale Maritime, Rochefort (Charente Mar.) 9NA24.

[5] Dearden, Seton. A Nest of Corsairs: The Fighting Karamanlis ofTripoli. London: J. Murray, 1976. Folayan, Kola. Tripoli during the Reign of Yusuf Pasha Qaramanli. Ife, Nigeria: University of Ife Press, 1979. Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/qaramanli-dynasty#ixzz1ZikF2FOI

[6] Danckerts, Cornelisz: Nieuwe Tafel van alle de Zee-varende Vlagge des Werelts. op nieuws van alle voorgaande Fouten gesuyvert.  ca. 1750

[7] https://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/ly_trip.html

[8] The mirror showed up in December 2019  at a vintage furniture trader in New York

[9] William Adams (M.A.): The Modern Voyager & Traveller Through Europe, Asia, Africa, & America: America... 

[10] Gritzner, Maximilian: Flaggen und Banner Landesfarben aller Zivilisierten Staaten der Erde. Nürnberg, 1878.

[11] Hefner, O.T. von, M. Gritzner & A.M. Hildebrandt: Die Wappen der Ausserdeutschen Souveräne und Staaten. Baner & Raspe. Nürnberg, 1856. Repr. Neustadt a/d Aisch, 1978.

[12] Rivista Araldica, 1933 pp. 318 & 336.

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