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One of the most enduring symbols for peace, the olive branch has been used by various cultures, religions, political movements, and individuals to communicate harmony and reconciliation. Like many traditional emblems, the association has ancient roots, and dates back thousands of years. Here’s a closer look at the olive branch symbol.
Ancient Greece and Rome
The origins of the olive branch as a peace symbol can be traced back to ancient Greek. In Greek mythology, Poseidon, the god of the sea, claimed the ownership of the region of Attica, striking his trident into the ground and creating a saltwater spring. However, Athena, the goddess of wisdom, challenged him by planting an olive tree in the region, which would provide citizens with food, oil and wood.
The court of gods and goddesses intervened, and decided that Athena had the better right to the land since she had given a better gift. She became the patron goddess of Attica, which was renamed Athens to honor her, and the olive tree thus became a symbol of peace.
The Romans also adopted the olive branch as a peace symbol. There are records of Roman generals holding an olive branch to plead for peace after being defeated in war. The motif can also be seen on Roman Imperial coins. In Virgil’s Aeneid, the Greek goddess of peace Eirene was often depicted holding it.
Judaism and Early Christianity and Islam
One of the oldest mentions of the olive branch as a symbol of peace can be found in the Bible, in the Book of Genesis, in the account of the Great Flood. Accordingly, when the dove was sent out from Noah’s ark, it returned with an olive branch in its beak, which suggested that the floodwaters were receding, and God had made peace with mankind.
By the 5th century, a dove with an olive branch became an established Christian symbol of peace, and the symbol was portrayed in early Christian art and Medieval manuscripts.
In Islam, the olive is mentioned several times in the Quran, often referring to its light-giving oil as a metaphor for divine light. While it’s not directly used as a symbol of peace, it’s connected with blessings and spiritual enlightenment, creating a sense of harmony.
In the 16th and 17th Century
During the Renaissance and Baroque periods, it became fashionable for artists and poets to use the olive branch as a peace symbol. In Sala dei Cento Giorni, a large frescoed gallery in Rome, Giorgio Vasari referred to peace as having an olive branch in hand.
The motif is also featured in the Chamber of Abraham (1548), a religious painting depicting a female figure carrying an olive branch, in Arezzo, Italy, as well as in the Refectory of Monteoliveto (1545) in Naples, and Peace Bearing an Olive Branch (1545) in Vienna, Austria.
Olive Branch Symbol in Modern Times
The olive branch symbol also had political significance during the American independence movement. In 1775, the American Continental Congress adopted the Olive Branch Petition, as a reconciliation between the colonies and Great Britain, and desiring a peaceful separation from Great Britain
Designed in 1776, the Great Seal of the United States features an eagle grasping an olive branch in its right talon. Also, the United Nations’ flag features the olive branches to signify its commitment to peacekeeping. The symbol can also be seen on coins, coat of arms, police patches and badges across the world.
Olive Branch in Jewelry
The olive branch is a beautiful and elegant symbol, making it an ideal motif in jewelry and fashion designs.
It’s often used in nature-inspired pendants, rings, bracelets, earrings and on charms. The design can be adapted and stylized, giving jewelry designers endless options and the symbolism of the olive branch makes it a suitable gift on many occasions to friends and loved ones.
A gift featuring the olive branch symbolizes being at peace with oneself, calmness, relaxation, confidence and strength. It’s an excellent option for someone going through difficult times, or for those embarking on a new chapter in their lives, as a reminder to maintain a sense of peace at all times.
Olive branch tattoos are also popular ways to keep the symbol close. These are typically graceful and elegant, symbolizing inner peace. When combined with a dove, the symbol takes on a more religious meaning.
Nowadays, the olive branch as a symbol of peace is widely used to bring together many different people, beliefs and values. So popular is the symbol that it has entered the English lexicon, with the phrase extending an olive branch used to indicate peaceful efforts to resolve conflicts.