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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Why an Olive Branch Is Sign of Peace

Updated: Nov 10, 2021

The tree outside my back door


I look upwards only during the olive harvest. Standing under the silvery green leaves of a tree, it seems like a world unto itself.

There are the riper black and sepia olives, deep reds, many with variegated colors, and the younger bright green ones, which give a peppery taste to the oil.

Olive tree branches are pliant. They bend easily toward me as I pull them down for their bounty.

Is flexibility the reason that olive branches are offered as a sign of peace?

An early reference to the olive branch dates back to ancient Greece. In Greek mythology, Athena competed with Poseidon for control of Athens. Poseidon claimed possession by thrusting his trident into the rock of the high citadel, Acropolis, where water gushed out. Athena, on the other hand, planted an olive tree there. The ruling court of gods and goddesses deemed that Athena had the right to Athens because she had given the more precious gift.


A past harvest


The Roman poet, Virgil, associated the “plump olive” with the goddess of peace, Pax. He featured the olive branch as a symbol of peace in his epic poem, the Aeneid. Written between 29 BC and 19 BC, the poem tells the story of Aeneas, a Trojan, who flees the fall of Troy and travels to Italy, where he becomes the ancestor of the Romans.

Olive branches also have been used in treaty names: the American Continental Congress originally drafted the Olive Branch Petition for Britain in hopes of avoiding the Revolutionary War.

Two hundred years later, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat brought an olive branch to the United Nations 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.”

People “extend an olive branch” when making an effort to resolve disputes. Accepting the branch seals the flexibility necessary for compromise.

Pliability must have everything to do with the olive branch’s link with peace. None of the parties arrive at the table with rigid agendas and, therefore, peace becomes a possibility.


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