A national anthem is a patriotic musical composition symbolizing and evoking eulogies of the history and traditions of a country or nation.[2] The majority of national anthems are marches or hymns in style. American, Central Asian, and European nations tend towards more ornate and operatic pieces, while those in the Middle East, Oceania, Africa, and the Caribbean use a more simplistic fanfare.[3][failed verification] Some countries that are devolved into multiple constituent states have their own official musical compositions for them (such as with the United Kingdom, Russia, and the Soviet Union); their constituencies' songs are sometimes referred to as national anthems even though they are not sovereign states.


Early version of the "Wilhelmus" as preserved in a manuscript of 1617 (Brussels, Royal Library, MS 15662, fol. 37v-38r)[4]

In the early modern period, some European monarchies adopted royal anthems. Some of these anthems have survived into current use. "God Save the King/Queen", first performed in 1619, remains the royal anthem of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth realms [citation needed]. La Marcha Real, adopted as the royal anthem of the Spanish monarchy in 1770, was adopted as the national anthem of Spain in 1939. Denmark retains its royal anthem, Kong Christian stod ved højen mast (1780) alongside its national anthem (Der er et yndigt land, adopted 1835). In 1802, Gia Long commissioned a royal anthem in the European fashion for the Kingdom of Vietnam[citation needed].

Following the reinstating of La Marseillaise in 1830, in the wake of the July Revolution, as the national anthem of France, it became common for newly formed nations to define national anthems, notably as a result of the Latin American wars of independence, for Argentina (1813), Peru (1821), Brazil (1831) but also Belgium (1830). Consequently adoption of national anthems prior to the 1930s was mostly by newly formed or newly independent states, such as the First Portuguese Republic (A Portuguesa, 1911), the Kingdom of Greece ("Hymn to Liberty", 1865), the First Philippine Republic (Marcha Nacional Filipina, 1898), Lithuania (Tautiška giesmė, 1919), Weimar Germany (Deutschlandlied, 1922), Ireland (Amhrán na bhFiann, 1926) and Greater Lebanon ("Lebanese National Anthem", 1927). Though the custom of an officially adopted national anthem became popular in the 19th century, some national anthems predate this period, often existing as patriotic songs long before their designation as national anthem.

If an anthem is defined as consisting of both a melody and lyrics, then the oldest national anthem in use today is the national anthem of the Netherlands, the Wilhelmus.[5] Written between 1568 and 1572 during the Dutch Revolt, it was already a popular orangist hymn during the 17th century, though it would take until 1932 for it to be officially recognized as the Dutch national anthem. The lyrics of the Japanese national anthem, Kimigayo, predate those of the Dutch anthem by several centuries, being taken from a Heian period (794–1185) poem, but were not set to music until 1880.[6] If a national anthem is defined by being officially designated as the national song of a particular state, then La Marseillaise, which was officially adopted by the French National Convention in 1796, would qualify as the first official national anthem.

Holographic copy of 1847 of Il Canto degli Italiani, the Italian national anthem since 1946

The Olympic Charter of 1920 introduced the ritual of playing the national anthems of the gold medal winners. From this time, the playing of national anthems became increasingly popular at international sporting events, creating an incentive for such nations that did not yet have an officially defined national anthem to introduce one.[a]

The United States introduced the patriotic song The Star-Spangled Banner as a national anthem in 1931. Following this, several nations moved to adopt as official national anthem patriotic songs that had already been in de facto use at official functions, such as Mexico (Mexicanos, al grito de guerra, composed 1854, adopted 1943) and Switzerland ("Swiss Psalm", composed 1841, de facto use from 1961, adopted 1981).

By the period of decolonisation in the 1960s, it had become common practice for newly independent nations to adopt an official national anthem. Some of these anthems were specifically commissioned, such as the anthem of Kenya, Ee Mungu Nguvu Yetu, produced by a dedicated "Kenyan Anthem Commission" in 1963.[7]

A number of nations remain without an official national anthem adopted de iure. In these cases, there are established de facto anthems played at sporting events or diplomatic receptions. These include the United Kingdom (God Save the King) and Sweden (Du gamla, Du fria; the country also has a royal anthem, Kungssangen). Countries that have moved to officially adopt de iure their long-standing de facto anthems since the 1990s include: Luxembourg (Ons Heemecht, adopted 1993), South Africa (National anthem of South Africa, adopted 1997), Israel (Hatikvah, composed 1888, de facto use from 1948, adopted 2004) and Italy (Il Canto degli Italiani, composed 1847, de facto use from 1946, adopted 2017).


Star-Spangled Banner with the American flag (ca. 1940s). Anthems used during sign-on and sign-off sequences have become less common due to the increasing prevalence of 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week broadcasting.

National anthems are used in a wide array of contexts. Certain etiquette may be involved in the playing of a country's anthem. These usually involve military honours, standing up, removing headwear etc. In diplomatic situations the rules may be very formal. There may also be royal anthems, presidential anthems, state anthems etc. for special occasions.

They are played on national holidays and festivals, and have also come to be closely connected with sporting events. Wales was the first country to adopt this, during a rugby game against New Zealand in 1905. Since then during sporting competitions, such as the Olympic Games, the national anthem of the gold medal winner is played at each medal ceremony; also played before games in many sports leagues, since being adopted in baseball during World War II.[8] When teams from two nations play each other, the anthems of both nations are played, the host nation's anthem being played last.

In some countries, the national anthem is played to students each day at the start and/or end of school as an exercise in patriotism, such as in Tanzania.[9] In other countries the state anthem may be played in a theatre before a play or in a cinema before a movie. Many radio and television stations have adopted this and play the national anthem when they sign on in the morning and again when they sign off at night. For instance, the national anthem of China is played before the broadcast of evening news on Hong Kong's local television stations including TVB Jade.[10] In Colombia, it is a law to play the National Anthem at 6:00 and 18:00 on every public radio and television station, while in Thailand, "Phleng Chat Thai" is played at 08:00 and 18:00 nationwide (the Royal Anthem is used for sign-ons and closedowns instead). The use of a national anthem outside of its country, however, is dependent on the international recognition of that country. For instance, Taiwan has not been recognized by the International Olympic Committee as a separate nation since 1979 and must compete as Chinese Taipei; its "National Banner Song" is used instead of its national anthem.[11] In Taiwan, the country's national anthem is sung before instead of during flag-rising and flag-lowering, followed by the National Banner Song during the actual flag-rising and flag-lowering. Even within a state, the state's citizenry may interpret the national anthem differently (such as in the United States some view the U.S. national anthem as representing respect for dead soldiers and policemen whereas others view it as honouring the country generally).[12]

Various solutions may be used when countries with different national anthems compete in a unified team. When North Korea and South Korea participated together in the 2018 Winter Olympics, the folk song "Arirang", beloved on both sides of the border and seen as a symbol of Korea as a whole, was used as an anthem instead of the national anthem of either state.[13]

On 21 September 2021, to mark the International Day of Peace, Australian sisters Teresa and Augnes Joy set a world record for singing the national anthems of 193 countries in a hundred languages at an event hosted by the United Nations Association of Australia in Brisbane.[14][15]


Rouget de Lisle performing "La Marseillaise" for the first time

Most of the best-known national anthems were written by little-known or unknown composers such as Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle, composer of "La Marseillaise" and John Stafford Smith who wrote the tune for "The Anacreontic Song", which became the tune for the U.S. national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner". The author of "God Save the King", one of the oldest and best-known anthems in the world, is unknown and disputed.

Very few countries have a national anthem written by a world-renowned composer. Exceptions include Germany, whose anthem "Das Lied der Deutschen" uses a melody written by Joseph Haydn, and Austria, whose national anthem "Land der Berge, Land am Strome" is sometimes credited to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The music of the "Pontifical Anthem", anthem of the Vatican City, was composed in 1869 by Charles Gounod, for the golden jubilee of Pope Pius IX's priestly ordination. When Armenia was under Soviet rule, its anthem, the "Anthem of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic" used a melody by Aram Khachaturian.

The committee charged with choosing a national anthem for the Federation of Malaya (later Malaysia) at independence decided to invite selected composers of international repute to submit compositions for consideration, including Benjamin Britten, William Walton, Gian Carlo Menotti and Zubir Said, who later composed "Majulah Singapura", the national anthem of Singapore. None were deemed suitable. The tune eventually selected was (and still is) the anthem of the constituent state of Perak, which was in turn adopted from a popular French melody titled "La Rosalie" composed by the lyricist Pierre-Jean de Béranger.

A few anthems have words by Nobel laureates in literature. The first Asian laureate, Rabindranath Tagore, wrote the words and music of "Jana Gana Mana" and "Amar Shonar Bangla", later adopted as the national anthems of India and Bangladesh respectively. Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson wrote the lyrics for the Norwegian national anthem "Ja, vi elsker dette landet".

Other countries had their anthems composed by locally important people. This is the case for Colombia, whose anthem's lyrics were written by former president and poet Rafael Nuñez, who also wrote the country's first constitution, and in Malta, written by Dun Karm Psaila, already a National Poet. A similar case is Liberia, the national anthem of which was written by its third president, Daniel Bashiel Warner.



A national anthem, when it has lyrics (as is usually the case), is most often in the national or most common language of the country, whether de facto or official, there are notable exceptions. Most commonly, states with more than one national language may offer several versions of their anthem, for instance:

  • The "Swiss Psalm", the national anthem of Switzerland, has different lyrics for each of the country's four official languages (French, German, Italian and Romansh).
  • The national anthem of Canada, "O Canada", has official lyrics in both English and French which are not translations of each other, and is frequently sung with a mixture of stanzas, representing the country's bilingual nature. The song itself was originally written in French.
  • "Flower of Scotland", the unofficial national anthem of Scotland, features some words written and spoken in the Scots language[16]
  • "The Soldier's Song", the national anthem of Ireland, was originally written and adopted in English, but an Irish translation, although never formally adopted, is nowadays almost always sung instead, even though only 10.5% of Ireland speaks Irish natively.[17]
  • The current South African national anthem is unique in that five of the country's eleven official languages are used in the same anthem (the first stanza is divided between two languages, with each of the remaining three stanzas in a different language). It was created by combining two songs together and then modifying the lyrics and adding new ones.
  • The former country of Czechoslovakia combined the two national anthems of the two lands; the first stanza consisting of the first stanza of the Czech anthem "Kde domov můj", and the second stanza consisting of the first stanza of the Slovak anthem "Nad Tatrou sa blýska".
  • One of the two official national anthems of New Zealand, "God Defend New Zealand", is now commonly sung with the first verse in Māori ("Aotearoa") and the second in English ("God Defend New Zealand"). The tune is the same but the words are not a direct translation of each other.
  • "God Bless Fiji" has lyrics in English and Fijian which are not translations of each other. Although official, the Fijian version is rarely sung, and it is usually the English version that is performed at international sporting events.
  • Although Singapore has four official languages, with English being the current lingua franca, the national anthem, "Majulah Singapura" is in Malay and, by law, can only be sung with its original Malay lyrics, despite Malay being a minority language in Singapore. This is because Part XIII of the Constitution of the Republic of Singapore declares, "the national language shall be the Malay language and shall be in the Roman script […]"
  • There are several countries that do not have official lyrics to their national anthems. One of these is the "Marcha Real", the national anthem of Spain. Although it originally had lyrics, those lyrics were discontinued after governmental changes in the early 1980s after Francisco Franco's dictatorship ended. In 2007, a national competition to write words was held, but no lyrics were chosen.[18] Other national anthems with no words include "Inno Nazionale della Repubblica", the national anthem of San Marino, that of Bosnia and Herzegovina, that of Russia from 1990 to 2000, and that of Kosovo, entitled "Europe".
  • The national anthem of India, "Jana Gana Mana": the official lyrics are in Bengali; they were adapted from a poem written by Rabindranath Tagore.
  • Despite the most common language in Wales being English, the unofficial national anthem of Wales, "Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau" is sung in the Welsh language.
  • An unofficial national anthem of Finland, "Maamme", was first written in Swedish and only later translated to Finnish. It is nowadays sung in both languages as there is a Swedish speaking minority of about 5% in the country. The national anthem of Estonia, "Mu isamaa, mu õnn ja rõõm" has a similar melody with "Maamme", but only with different lyrics and without repeating the second halves of strophes. Finlandia has been repeatedly suggested to be the official national anthem of Finland.[19]
  • The national anthem of Pakistan, the "Qaumi Taranah", is unique in that it is entirely in Farsi (Persian) with the exception of one word which is in Urdu, the national language.

See also



  1. ^ A Welsh patriotic song, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, was sung in a rugby game against New Zealand in Llanelli in 1905, and came to be regarded as "unofficial national anthem of Wales" after this event.


  1. ^ "Which Country Has the Longest National Anthem?". 21 June 2018.
  2. ^ "National anthem - The World Factbook". www.cia.gov. Retrieved 27 May 2021.
  3. ^ Burton-Hill, Clemency (21 October 2014). "World Cup 2014: What makes a great national anthem?". BBC.com. Retrieved 26 March 2018.
  4. ^ M. de Bruin, "Het Wilhelmus tijdens de Republiek", in: L.P. Grijp (ed.), Nationale hymnen. Het Wilhelmus en zijn buren. Volkskundig bulletin 24 (1998), p. 16-42, 199–200; esp. p. 28 n. 65.
  5. ^ J. Leerssen: National Thought in Europe: A Cultural History, Amsterdam University Press, 2020, p. 103.
  6. ^ Japan Policy Research Institute JPRI Working Paper No. 79 Archived 2 October 2018 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ "Kenya". Retrieved 20 March 2015.
  8. ^ "Musical traditions in sports". SportsIllustrated.
  9. ^ "Tanzania: Dons Fault Court Over Suspension of Students (Page 1 of 2)". allAfrica.com. 17 June 2013. Retrieved 19 June 2014.
  10. ^ "Identity: Nationalism confronts a desire to be different". Financial Times. 29 June 2008. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. Retrieved 20 March 2015.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  11. ^ Yomiuri Shimbun Foul cried over Taiwan anthem at hoop tourney Archived 2 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine. Published 6 August 2007
  12. ^ "How national anthem became essential part of sports". USA TODAY. Retrieved 27 September 2017.
  13. ^ Watson, Ivan; Ko, Stella; McKenzie, Sheena (5 February 2018). "Joint Korean ice hockey team plays for first time ahead of Olympics". CNN. Retrieved 5 February 2018.
  14. ^ "Meet the sisters who can sing every one of the world's national anthems in the native tongue". ABC News. 14 June 2021. Retrieved 12 July 2024.
  15. ^ "Brisbane sisters set a world record singing anthems of 193 countries for World Peace Day". SBS. Retrieved 12 July 2024.
  16. ^ "O Flower of Scotland". Historic UK. Retrieved 27 April 2024.
  17. ^ "Census of Population 2016 – Profile 10 Education, Skills and the Irish Language - CSO - Central Statistics Office". 23 November 2017. Archived from the original on 12 February 2018. Retrieved 11 February 2018.
  18. ^ "Spain: Lost for words - The Economist". The Economist. 26 July 2007. Retrieved 20 March 2015.
  19. ^ YLE Uutiset: Sibeliuksen Finlandia syntyi vapauden kaipuusta, sävelet kertovat Suomen kansan noususta