Handshaking Is An Ancient Tradition - When, Where And Why Did Start To Clasp Hands?

Handshaking Is An Ancient Tradition – When, Where And Why Did We Start To Clasp Hands?

Conny Waters – Icestech.info – We are so used to shaking hands with others that we hardly think about how, where, and why this custom was born.

In most countries, handshaking is done upon meeting, greeting, or parting. In modern times the purpose of handshaking is to convey trust, respect, balance, and equality, but this was certainly not how this ancient tradition began.

The history of handshaking is not entirely clear, and it’s challenging to determine where this behavior emerged.

Handshaking Is An Ancient Tradition - When, Where And Why Did Start To Clasp Hands?

Relief depicting Assyrian King Shalmaneser III shaking hand with a Babylonian ruler. Credit: Public Domain

Archaeologists have discovered ancient texts, ruins, and artifacts that reveal handshaking was common among our ancestors. It seems the handshaking tradition goes as far back in time. There is a ninth-century B.C. relief of Assyrian King Shalmaneser III pressing the flesh with a Babylonian ruler to seal an alliance.

There is also a 5th-century B.C. funerary stele on display in the Pergamon Museum, Berlin, showing two soldiers who shake hands. Similar depictions of handshaking have been discovered in other funerary steles.

In the fourth and fifth century B.C., in Greek funerary art, there are depictions of a person shaking hands with family members, a gesture signifying either a final farewell or the eternal bond between the living and the dead. Ancient Romans considered handshaking to be a sign of loyalty and trust.

Scientists suggest the handshaking traditions started as a symbol of peace. Many men carried weapons and wielded them in their right hands in ancient times. If a man met someone he wanted to be friendly with, he extended an empty right hand showing that it contained no weapon.

“Then, to make absolutely sure that neither man could suddenly reach for a weapon, each man grasped the hand of the other and held it firmly until each was sure he was dealing with a friend. The actual shaking of the hand may have been for the purpose of dislodging any weapons hidden in sleeves.” 1

Handshaking was also a symbol of good faith when making an oath or promise. According to historian Walter Burkert,” an agreement can be expressed quickly and clearly in words, but is only made effective by a ritual gesture: open, weaponless hands stretched out toward one another, grasping each other in a mutual handshake.” By clasping hands, people showed that their word was a sacred bond.

The tradition of handshaking was also practiced in the Middle Ages when knights shook hands with each other in an attempt to shake loose any hidden weapons. Still, handshaking was not part of the knight’s code of chivalry.

It is also possible the tradition of handshaking is much older than previously thought. Handshake has existed in some form or another for thousands of years. This notion isn’t astounding, considering how old our other still used traditions are. As an example, we can mention clapping that has very ancient roots too.

The practice of clapping as a way of applauding can be traced to ancient Greece and ancient Rome.

Handshaking Is An Ancient Tradition - When, Where And Why Did This Custom Start?

Ancient Greek funerary naiskos, from the grave of Agathon and Sosykrates, exhibited in the entrance Cloister of the Kerameikos Archaeological Museum (Athens). Credit: Public Domain

Another example is the phrase hip hip hooray

which is still used in many countries as a cheering called out to express praise or approbation toward someone or something.

It’s not entirely clear who used the phrase for the first time. According to some sources, the expression can be traced to a Medieval battle, but there are also suggestions the words were first spoken by a German shepherd or yelled by 17th-century sailors. Yet, another possibility is the phrase can be traced to ancient Mongolia.

As a bonus, we may add that there was a proposal to ban handshaking in Italy in 1928. Handshaking was considered “to be unhygienic and “should” be absolutely eliminated in the daily contacts of Italian citizens.” This statement was issued by the Italian Balilla organization. 2

What we can say with certainty is that many ancient traditions have survived, but their meaning and purpose have often been modified to suit modern society.

Updated on June 5, 2022

Written by Conny Waters – Icestech.info Staff Writer

Copyright © Icestech.info All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or part without the express written permission of Icestech.info

Expand for references

  1. Smith, Douglas B..-  Ever Wonder Why?: Here Are the Answers!
  2. “Trend Of The Times.” The Journal of Education 107, no. 20 (1928): 595.

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