The Historic Olive Branch Meaning

olive branch meaning
An olive branch is a sign of harmony and peace. In ancient Greece and Rome, olive branches were often used as a sign of truce or to signify the end of an ongoing conflict. The Bible also mentions the olive branch as a sign of abundance, beauty, and dignity. Currently, the olive branch represents political peace.

What Does An Olive Branch Symbolize?

However, like many traditional emblems, the association has ancient roots that date back thousands of years. An olive branch has long been a marker of peace and reconciliation.

Olive Branch Symbolism in Greek Mythology

In ancient Greek mythology, the goddess Athena is often associated with the olive tree and its fruit, the olive. According to one legend, Athena and Poseidon were competing for the patronage of the city of Athens. 

Athena offered the city the gift of the olive tree. In contrast, Poseidon offered a spring of salt water. The people of Athens chose Athena’s gift, and the city became known for its olive groves. As a result, Athena became known as the goddess of wisdom and peace, and the olive branch symbolized her influence.

olive branch meaning
Greek goddess Athena depicted with olive branches

Greek Art & Culture

In Greek art and culture, the olive branch was often depicted in the hands of peace-loving deities, such as Eirene, the goddess of peace, or Hermes, the messenger of the gods. In some depictions, the olive branch was shown entwined with a white ribbon, symbolizing the cessation of hostilities.

Over time, the olive branch came to be seen as a universal peace symbol, and it is still used in this way today. It is often depicted as a branch with olives still attached, as a reminder of its origins in Greek mythology. 

olive branch meaning
A laureate woman holding an olive branch

Is An Olive Branch An Apology?

An olive branch symbolizes peace and is often associated with an apology or an offering of reconciliation. It’s an ancient symbol used for this purpose for many centuries. 

The olive branch also shows that someone wants to end a disagreement or conflict. The person holding the olive branch is willing to make amends and move forward positively.

What Does It Mean When Someone Says To Extend An Olive Branch?

To extend an olive branch signifies a gesture of peace or reconciliation. The phrase is derived from the ancient practice of using an olive branch as a sign of peace. In ancient Greece, for example, a victorious army would often send a branch of the olive tree to the defeated army. 

It was a sign that they were willing to put aside their differences and make peace. Today, the phrase is often used figuratively to refer to any gesture or action intended to show goodwill or a desire for reconciliation.

Olive Branch Meanings in the Bible

The olive branches are tokens of peace, victory, and abundance. In the Bible, it is often associated with the story of Noah or Noah’s ark and the great flood. In Genesis 8, Noah sent a dove to see if the waters had decreased after the flood. 

The dove came back with an olive twig in its mouth. It indicated that the earth was once again habitable. This symbolized the end of the flood and the beginning of a new era of peace and prosperity.

olive branch meaning
An up-close image of an olive branch

Why Is An Olive Branch A Symbol Of Peace?

The branch of an olive tree symbolizes peace because it represents abundance, goodwill, and eternity. The olive tree was considered sacred in ancient Greek and Roman mythology because of its many uses and long life. 

In the story of the great flood, a dove carrying an olive branch in its beak was the first sign that the waters had receded and the land was once again visible. This story and the tree’s association with Athena, the goddess of wisdom, have led to the olive branch being seen as a sign of peace, abundance, and wisdom.

What Does An Olive Branch Symbolize In Modern Times?

The Great Seal of the United States, created in 1776, depicts an eagle carrying an olive branch in its right talon. In addition, the olive branches appear on the United Nations flag to symbolize the organization’s commitment to peacekeeping. The symbol can be found on coins, coats of arms, police patches, and badges.

The olive branch emblem also had political significance during the American independence movement. The American Continental Congress embraced the Olive Branch Petition in 1775 as a conciliation between the colonies and Great Britain and a desire for a friendly separation from Great Britain.

olive branch meaning
The Great Seal of the United States, as seen on U.S. currency, contains an olive branch (left).

The Olive Branch in Modern Jewelry

The olive branch is a lovely and elegant symbol that works well as a motif in jewelry and fashion designs.

It’s popular in nature-themed pendants, rings, bracelets, earrings, and charms. The design is adaptable and stylized, providing jewelry designers with limitless possibilities. In addition, the olive branch’s symbolism makes it a suitable gift for many occasions to friends and loved ones.

A gift featuring an olive branch represents inner peace, calm, relaxation, confidence, and strength. It’s an excellent choice for someone going through a difficult time or starting a new phase in their lives as a reminder to keep a sense of peace at all times.

What Does It Mean When Someone Says to Branch Out?

To branch out can mean to try new things or to expand one’s interests or activities. It’s often used when exploring new opportunities or taking on new challenges.

The phrase may be derived from the symbolism of an olive branch, which is often associated with peace and new beginnings. In this context, branching out could imply moving beyond conflicts or difficulties and pursuing a fresh start.

If you’ve found this article helpful, check out this post on the deep symbolism behind the laurel wreath.


Vanessa's liberal arts background has prepared her well for Symbol Scholar. A self-proclaimed theology nerd, Vanessa has interests in world religions, Reformation theology, history, and more. When she's not working, Vanessa enjoys spending time with her family, reading, exercising, and watching professional basketball.

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