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What is the meaning of olive branch?

Olive Branch 6

 

“A branch of the olive tree as an emblem of Peace.”

 

Why does the olive branch mean peace?

The Olive branch has been used as a symbol for peace and goodwill for thousands of years. The symbolism is related to the biblical story of Noah and the great flood. Noah sends out a dove to find and bring back evidence of dry land. The dove returns with a olive leaf in its beak, as proof that the flood had subsided.

This symbol, deriving from the customs of Ancient Greece, is strongest in Western culture. However, it has been found in every culture and religion to thrive in the Mediterranean basin.

 

Ancient Greece and Rome

In Greek mythology, Athene competed with Poseidon for possession of Athens. Poseidon claimed possession by thrusting his trident into the Acropolis, where a well of sea-water gushed out. Athene took possession by planting the first olive tree beside the well. The court of gods and goddesses ruled that Athene had the better right to the land because she had given it the better gift. Olive wreaths were worn by brides and awarded to olympic victors.

The olive branch was one of the attributes of Eirene on Roman Imperial coins. For example, the reverse of a tetradrachm of Vespasian from Alexandria, 70-71 CE, shows Eirene standing holding a branch upward in her right hand.

For the Romans, there was an intimate relationship between war and peace, and Mars, the god of war, had another aspect, Mars Pacifer, Mars the bringer of Peace, who is shown on coins of the later Roman Empire bearing an olive branch. Appian describes the use of the olive-branch as a gesture of peace by the enemies of the Roman general Scipio Aemillianus in the Numantine War and by Hasdrubal the Boeotarch of Carthage.

Although peace was associated with the olive branch during the time of the Greeks, the symbolism became even stronger under the Pax Romana when envoys used the olive branch as tokens of peace.

 

Early Christianity

The olive branch appears with a dove in early Christian art. The dove derives from the simile of the Holy Spirit in the Gospels and the olive branch from classical symbolism. The early Christians, according to Winckelmann, often allegorised peace on their sepulchres by the figure of a dove bearing an olive branch in its beak.

Tertullian (c.160 – c.220) compared Noah’s dove in the Hebrew Bible, who “announced to the world the assuagement of divine wrath, when she had been sent out of the ark and returned with the olive branch”. with the Holy Spirit in baptism “bringing us the peace of God, sent out from the heavens”. In his 4th century Latin translation of the story of Noah, St Jerome rendered “leaf of olive” (Hebrew alay zayit) in Genesis 8:11 as “branch of olive” (Latin ramum olivae). In the 5th century, by which time a dove with an olive branch had become established as a Christian symbol of peace, St Augustine wrote in On Christian Doctrine that, “perpetual peace is indicated by the olive branch (oleae ramusculo) which the dove brought with it when it returned to the ark.”

 

Modern Usage

An olive branch held by a dove was used as a peace symbol in 18th century Britain and America. A £2 note of North Carolina (1771) depicted the dove and olive with a motto meaning: “Peace restored”. Georgia’s $40 note of 1778 portrayed the dove and olive and a hand holding a dagger, with a motto meaning “Either war or peace, prepared for both.” The olive branch appeared as a peace symbol in other 18th century prints. In January 1775, the frontispiece of the London Magazine published an engraving: “Peace descends on a cloud from the Temple of Commerce,” in which the Goddess of Peace brings an olive branch to America and Britannia. A petition adopted by the American Continental Congress in July 1775 in the hope of avoiding a full-blown war with Great Britain was called the Olive Branch Petition.

On July 4, 1776, a resolution was passed that allowed the creation of the Great Seal of the United States. On the Great Seal, there is an eagle grasping an olive branch in its right talon. The olive branch traditionally has been recognized as a symbol for peace. It was added to the seal in March of 1780 by the second committee appointed by Congress to design the seal. The olive branch has thirteen olives and thirteen olive leaves to represent the thirteen original colonies. Later on, the bald eagle and bundle of arrows were added. The idea of the olive branch opposing the bundle of arrows was to “denote the power of peace & war which is exclusively vested in Congress.”

The flag of Cyprus and coat of arms of Cyprus both use olive branches as symbols of peace and reflections of the country’s ancient Greek heritage. Olive branches also appear in many police patches and badges across the world to signify peace…

 

Other Uses

Several towns have been named Olive Branch as a symbol of peaceful living, such as Olive Branch, Mississippi.

The olive branch is a symbol of peace in Arab folk traditions. In 1974, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat brought an olive branch to the UN General Assembly and said, “Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom-fighter’s gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.”