The olive branch has long been known as a symbol of victory, peace, and purity. It has been historically worn by brides, carried by doves and made into wreaths. But where does this symbol originally come from, and what has been its impact throughout history as a symbolic image?
Here is a bit about the history of the olive branch as a symbol throughout several regions and time periods:
ANCIENT GREECE – The “Mories” Olives of Athens
One of the earliest imagery involving olive branches comes from ancient Greek mythology. One story involves a competition between the Gods Athena and Poseidon to take control of Athens. After Poseidon sticks his trident into the ground to create a well of sea water, and Athena plants an olive tree. The Olive Tree, which was planted by Athena on the Acropolis, was called “Moria Elea” and was considered as the first olive tree to exist in Athens and around the world.
From this very holy olive tree of the Acropolis, according to legends, were created the twelve olive groves of the Athens Academy, which represented the twelve gates of the city, and from them originates The Sacred Forest of Athens. All the sanctuaries of Athens had olive (Mories) trees and many of them were surrounded by whole olive groves. The protector of the sacred olive trees was considered Zeus, and there was a statue of “Moriou Zeus” in the nave on the Acropolis.
The court of gods determined that Athena’s gift to Athens was superior. This is just one example of appearances of olive branches and wreaths in ancient legends and literature, including Virgil’s Aeneid.
Early Christian art often depicts a dove flying and holding an olive branch in its beak. The dove is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, and it brings the olive branch (a symbol of peace) down to the people on Earth. Christian tradition also adds a dove carrying an olive branch to the story of Noah and his ark, a sign for Noah and his family that the flood and storm had finally ended after 40 days and 40 nights.
A dove carrying an olive branch has also been translated into more secular usages in Britain and the United States, and has even appeared on currency. The use of olive branches as peace symbols has also been extended into treaties. The American Continental Congress originally drafted a document called the Olive Branch Petition to deliver to Great Britain in hopes of avoiding what became the Revolutionary War.
Today, “extending an olive branch” is a phrase often used for when people make efforts to resolve fights or disputes, big and small.