Standard (דֶּגֶל, degel, prop. the banner; while נִס, nes, was prop. the staff; but the terms are used somewhat indiscriminately). Standards and ensigns are to be regarded as efficient instruments for maintaining the ranks and files of bodies of troops; and in Nu 2:2 they are particularly noticed, the Israelites being not only enjoined to encamp "each by the standard of his tribe and the ensign of his father's house," but, as the sense evidently implies, in orders or lines. It is clear, when this verse is considered in connection with the religious, military, and battle pictures on Egyptian monuments, that the Hebrews had ensigns of at least three kinds, namely, (1) the great standards of the tribes (אוֹת of a single tribe, דֶּגֶל of three tribes together), serving as rallying signals for marching, forming in battle array, and for encamping; (2) the divisional standards (מַשׁפָּחוֹת, mishpachoth) of clans; and (3) those of houses or families (בֵּית אָבוֹת, beth aboth), which after the occupation of the Promised Land may gradually have been applied more immediately to corps and companies, when the tribes, as such, no longer regularly took the field. That there were several standards may be inferred from the uniform practice of the East to this day; from their being useful in maneuvers, as already explained, and as shown in the Egyptian paintings; and from being absolutely necessary; for had there been only one to each tribe, it would not have been sufficiently visible to crowds of people of all ages and both sexes, amounting in most cases to more than 100,000, exclusive of the encumbrance of their baggage. Whole bodies, therefore, each under the guidance of the particular clan ensign, knew how to follow the tribal standard; and the families offered the same convenience to the smaller divisions. It may be doubted whether these three were enough for the purpose; for if they were carried in the ranks of the armed bodies, it must have been difficult for the households to keep near them; and if they were with the crowd, the ranks must have had others to enable them to keep order, as we find that even in the Roman legions, thoroughly trained as they were, numerous vexilla were still held to be necessary. That there were others might be inferred (Isa 13:2; Jer 51:27) from the circumstance of their being planted on the summit of some high place, to mark the point where troops were to assemble; these last, therefore, were not ensigns of particular bodies, but signals for an understood purpose, such as both the Greeks and Romans employed when the general gave notice of his intention to engage, by hoisting above his tent a red tunic, or when Agamemnon recalled his troops in order to rally them, by the signal of a purple veil.
The invention of standards is attributed by ancient authors to the Egyptians, and this with great probability, as they had the earliest organized military force of which we have any knowledge. We may therefore feel tolerably certain that the Hebrews had the idea of at least the use of ensigns from the Egyptians, for it is not at all likely that the small body of men which originally went down into Egypt had any such articles, or any occasion for them. Diodorus informs us that the Egyptian standards consisted of the figure of an animal at the end of a spear. Among the Egyptian sculptures and paintings there also appear other standards, examples of which are given in our engraving. These latter are attributed to the Graeco-Egyptians; but we are unable to find any satisfactory data to show that they were other than varieties of most ancient Egyptian standards.
Among the ancient Assyrians standards were in regular use, chiefly of two kinds — one a pole with a ball and a flag at the top; the other having the figure of a person, probably a divinity, standing over one or two bulls and drawing a bow. The former kind are more likely to have been connected with religious than with military purposes, as they are found standing in front of an altar. The military banner appears to have been usually fixed on a long staff, and supported by a rest in front of the chariot, to which it was attached by a long rod or rope (Layard, Nineveh, 2, 267).
The early Greeks employed for a standard a piece of armor at the end of a spear; but Homer makes Agamemnon use a purple veil with which to rally his men. The Athenians afterwards, in the natural progress which we observe in the history of ensigns, adopted the olive and the owl; and the other Greek nations also displayed the effigies of their tutelary gods, or their particular symbols, at the end of a spear. Some of them had simply the initial letter of their national name. The ancient Persian standard is variously described. It seems properly to have. been a golden eagle at the end of a spear fixed upon a carriage. They also employed the figure of the sun, at least on great occasions, when the ling was present with his forces. Quintus Curtius mentions the figure of the sun, enclosed in crystal, which made a most splendid appearance above the royal tent. We therefore presume it was the grand standard, particularly as even at this day, when Mohammedanism has eradicated most of the more peculiar usages of the Persians, the sun continues to partake with the lion the honor of appearing on the royal standard. Among the very ancient sculptures in Persia we discover specimens of other standards, as exhibited in our engraving. One sort consists of a staff terminating in a divided ring, and having below a transverse bar from which two enormous tassels are suspended. The other consists of five globular forms on a cross bar. They were doubtless of metal, and probably had some reference to the heavenly bodies, which were the ancient objects of worship in Persia. The proper royal standard of that country, however, for many centuries, until the Mohammedan conquest, was a blacksmith's leathern apron, around which the Persians had at one time been rallied to a successful opposition against the odious tyranny of Zohauk. Many national standards have arisen from similar emergencies, when any article which happened to be next at hand, being seized and lifted up as a rallying point for the people, was afterwards, out of a sort of superstitious gratitude, adopted either as the common ensign or the sacred banner. Thus also originated the horse tails of the modern Turks, and the bundles of hay were ensigns intended to be placed upon the ends of spears. In the East the use of standards fixed upon cars seems to have been long continued. We have observed that this was a usage in ancient Persia, and at a period long subsequent we find it existing among the Saracens. Turpin, in his History of Charlemagne, mentions it as belonging to them. He says, "In the midst of them was a wagon drawn by eight horses, upon which was raised their red banner. Such was its influence that while the banner remained erect no one would ever fly from the field" (Meyrick, Ancient Armor, 1, 50). This custom was afterwards introduced into Europe, and found its way to England in the reign of king Stephen; after which the main standard was borne, sometimes at least, on a carriage with four wheels. The main standard of Henry V at the battle of Agincourt was borne thus upon a car, being too heavy to be carried otherwise.
After this rapid glance at ancient standards, it remains to ask to which of all these classes of ensigns that of the Hebrews approached the nearest. We readily confess that we do not know; but the rabbins, who profess to know everything, are very particular in their information on the subject. They leave out of view the ensigns which distinguished the subdivisions of a tribe, and confine their attention to the tribe standards, and in this it will be well to follow their example. They by no means agree among themselves; but the view which they most generally entertain is illustrated by the distinction given above, and is in accordance with the prevailing notion among the Jewish interpreters. They suppose that the standards were flags bearing figures derived from the comparisons used by Jacob in his final prophetic blessing on his sons. Thus they have Judah represented by a lion, Dan by a serpent, Benjamin by a wolf, etc. But, as long since observed by Sir Thomas Brown (Vulgar Errors, bk. 5, ch. 10), the escutcheons of the tribes, as determined by these ingenious triflers, do not in every instance correspond with any possible interpretation of Jacob's prophecy, nor with the analogous prophecy of Moses when about to die. The latter Jews were of opinion that, with respect to the four grand divisions, the standard of the camp of Judah represented a lion, that of Reuben a man, that of Joseph an ox, and that of Dan an eagle; but this was under the conception that the appearances in the cherubic vision of Ezekiel alluded to this division. The Kargumists, however, believe that the banners were distinguished by their colors, the color for each tribe being analogous to that of the precious stone for that tribe in the breastplate of the high priest, and that the great standard of each of the four camps combined the three colors of the tribes which composed it. They add that the names of the tribes appeared on the standards, together with a particular sentence from the law, and, moreover, accompanied with appropriate representations, as of the lion for Judah, etc. Aben-Ezra and other rabbins agree with the Targumists in other respects, but they insert other representations than the latter assign. Lastly, the Cabalists have an opinion that the bearings of the twelve standards corresponded with the: months of the year and the signs of the zodiac the supposed characters of the latter being represented thereon; and that the distinction of the great standards was that they bore the cardinal signs of Aries, Cancer, Libra, and Capricorn, and were also charged each with one letter of the tetragrammaton, or quadriliteral name of God. Thus much for Rabbinical interpretation. Most modern expositors seem to incline to the opinion that the ensigns were flags, distinguished by their colors or by the name of the tribe to which each belonged. This is certainly as probable in itself as anything that can be offered, unless the instances we have given from the early practice of other nations lead to the conclusion that flags were not the earliest, but the ultimate, form which standards assumed. We have in most instances seen them preceded by any object that would serve as a distinguishing mark, such as leathern aprons, wisps of hay, pieces of armor, and horse tails; then by metallic symbols and images, combined sometimes with feathers, tassels, and fringes; and then plain or figured flags of linen or silk. Besides, the interpretation we have cited is founded on the hypothesis that all sculpture, painting, and other arts of design were forbidden to the Hebrews; and as we are not quite prepared to admit the existence of such a prohibition, we do not feel absolutely bound, unless on its intrinsic probability, to receive an explanation which takes it for granted (Kitto, Pict. Bible, note at Nu 2; Nu 2).
From the kind of service which each class of ensign was to render, we may assume that the tribal standard (דגל, degel), at all times required to be distinguishable "afar off," would be elevated on high poles with conspicuously marked distinctions, and that therefore, although the mottoes ascribed to the twelve tribes, and the symbolical effigies, applied to them, may or may not have been adopted, something like the lofty flabelliform signa of Egypt most likely constituted their particular distinction; and this is the more probable, as no fans or umbrellas were borne about the ark, and, being royal, no chief, not even Moses himself, could assume them; but a priest or Levite may have carried that of each tribe in the form of a fan, as the distinction of highest dignity, and of service rendered to the Lord. They may have had beneath them vittoe, or shawls, of the particular color of the stone in the breastplate of the high priest (although it must be observed that that ornament is of later date than the standards); and they may have been embellished with inscriptions, or with figures which (at a time when every Hebrew knew that the animal forms and other objects constituted parts of written hieroglyphic inscriptions, and even stood for sounds) could not be mistaken for idols — the great lawgiver himself adopting effigies when he shaped his cherubim for the ark and bulls for the brazen sea. In after ages we find typical figures admitted in the ships carved on the monuments of the Maccabees, being the symbol of the tribe of Zebulon, and not even then prohibited, because ships were inanimate objects. As for the "abomination of desolation," if by that term the Roman eagle was really meant, it was with the Jews more an expression of excited political feeling under the form of religious zeal than of pure devotion, and one of the many signs which preceded their national doom.
There is reason to believe that the mishpachoth, or clan ensigns, and the oth, or tribal ensign, were, at least in the earlier ages, symbolical figures; and that the shekels ascribed to David, bearing an olive or citron branch, to Nehemiah with three lilies, to Herod Agrippa with three ears of corn, and to Trypho with a helmet and star, were so many types of families, which may all have been borne as sculptured figures, or, when the purism of later times demanded it, may have been painted upon tablets, like the supposed family or clan motto on the ensign of the Maccabees (מכבי). The practice was equally common among the heathen Egyptians, Persians, and Greeks; and perhaps the figures of those actually used in Jerusalem are represented in the sculptured triumphal procession on the Arch of Titus, where the golden candlestick and other spoils of vanquished Judah are portrayed. A circumstance which confirms the meaning of the objects represented upon the Jewish shekels is that on. the reverse of those of Herod Agrippa is seen another sovereign ensign of Asia — namely, the umbrella (chattah, chutah, of India) — always attending monarchs, and sculptured at Chehel Miuar, and at Nakshi-Bustan, where it marks the presence of the king. It is still the royal token through all the East and Islam Africa; and it appears that in the Macedonian era it was adopted by the Groeco-Egyptian princes; for Antony is reproached with joining the Roman eagles to the state umbrella of Cleopatra —
"Interque signa (turpe!) militaria Sol aspicit conopeum" (Horace, Epod. 9).
The ensign of the family or clan of the royal house then reigning, of the judge of Israel, or of the captain of the host was, no doubt, carried before the chief in power, although it does not appear that the Hebrew kings had, like the Pharaohs, four of them to mark their dignity; yet from analogy they may have had that number, since the practice was also known to the Parthian kings subsequently to the Byzantine emperors, and even to the Welsh princes. SEE BANNER; SEE ENSIGN; SEE FLAG.
In Daniel the symbols on several standards are perhaps referred to, as the Medo-Persian "ram with two horns;" the he goat with one horn for Alexander; the goat with four horns for Alexander's successors; and the goat with the little horn for Antiochus Epiphanes (Da 8:3-25; comp. 7:3-27.) SEE STANDARD BEARER.