On 16 October 1796, a congress was held in Modena after the previous ruler, Duke Hercules III, had fled to Venice to escape the French advance. The congress was formed by representatives from the provinces of Modena, Bologna, Ferrara and Reggio Emilia. The congress was unofficially organized by Napoleon, whose French army had swept through northern Italy earlier in the year, and needed to settle the situation in Italy and gather new troops for an offensive against Austria. The congress proclaimed that the four provinces would form the Repubblica Cispadana and invited other Italian populations to join them. A civic guard, composed of mounted hunters and artillery, was formed. In the 7 January 1797 session, in Reggio Emilia, the congress decided to form a government. The flag, the first tricolore in Italy, was a horizontal tricolour, with red (top), white and green stripes. In the center was an emblem composed of a quiver, accolade to a war trophy, with four arrows that symbolized the four provinces forming the Republic, all within a crown of bay.