The olive branch is a branch of an olive tree. In Western culture, derived from the customs of Ancient Greece, it symbolizes peace or goodwill. The original link between olive branches and peace is unknown. Some explanations center on that olive trees take a very long time to bear fruit. Thus the cultivation of olives is something that is generally impossible in time of war.
From the Book of Genesis
in the Hebrew Bible
, a white dove
carrying an olive branch is a sign of peace
. After the Great Flood
, in order to find land, Noah
released a dove
. The dove came back carrying an olive leaf in its beak (Noach 8:11), which informed Noah that God had taken mercy on humanity and caused the flood to recede:
God then caused a rainbow to appear in the skyas a symbol of his covenant with mankind never to destroy the earth by water again.
This story has led to the dove and the olive branch (combined with the classical tradition) to become symbols of peace. The rainbow may also represent peace, whereby God directs His "bow" toward Himself, an ancient symbol of a cessation of hostilities. The motif can also represent "hope for peace" or a peace offering from one man to another, as in the phrase "extend an olive branch".
Ancient Greece and Rome
In Greek mythology, Zeus bestowed the newly created city of Athens to the god providing the most useful gift to humanity. Poseidon offered a war chariot with a fully equipped war horse. Athena offered the olive tree. Olive wreaths were worn by brides and awarded to olympic victors.
The symbolism of the olive branch was carried on to Ancient Rome, where a defeated army would carry olive branches as a gesture of peace.
Olive branches are used throughout modern and classical works to represent peace. The eagle
on the Great Seal of the United States
grasps with its right talon an olive branch containing thirteen olives and leaves, while the flags of many nations and the seal of the United Nations
feature olive branches in their design. Images of olive branches are also used in many police patches and badges across the world to signify peace.