II. Rome‎ > ‎

2.12 Roman Salute


The idiom "When in Rome, do as the Romans" is quite profound in respect to the
Roman Salute, a gesture in which the arm is held out forward straight, with palm down, and fingers touching. In some versions, the arm is raised upward at an angle, while in others the hand is held out parallel to the ground. Historical depictions of the Roman Salute are scarce but can be found in the statue of Augustus of Prima Porta, as well as on the Decius Adventus coin which depicts the adventus, a ceremony in which the Roman emperor was formally welcomed into a city after a military campaign. The Roman rhetorician Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (c. 35 – c. 100) describes the Roman Salute in his “Institutio Oratoria: “Experts do not permit the hand to be raised above the level of the eyes or lowered beneath the breast; to such a degree is this true that it is considered a fault to direct the hand above the head or lower it to the lower part of the belly. It may be extended to the left within the limits of the shoulder, but beyond that it is not fitting.” Although the Roman Salute lay dormant since the alleged Fall of the Roman Empire, it was revitalized in Jacques-Louis David's painting entitled “The Oath of the Horatii(1784). The painting shows the three sons of Horatius swear on their swords that they will defend Rome to the death. Shortly after the painting was popularized in Europe, the Roman Salute was adopted by the governments of America, Germany and Italy, albeit under different names (i.e., the Bellamy Salute, the Nazi Salute, and the Italian Roman Salute).

Nazi Salute
Originally called the “Hitler Salute” (i.e., “Hitlergruß”), the
Nazi Salute (i.e., the Roman Salute) was first used by the Nazi Party (NSDAP) in 1923. A person performing the salute would say "Heil Hitler!" (Hail Hitler!), "Heil, mein Führer!" (Hail, my leader!), or "Sieg heil!" (Hail victory!). Similar to the Roman Salute, the Nazi Salute functioned both as an expression of commitment to the State as well as a declaration of loyalty to the outside world. The Nazi Salute became compulsory for all public employees of Germany following a directive issued by Reich Minister of the Interior Wilhelm Frick on July 13, 1933, exactly one day before an outright ban on all political parties not affiliated with the Nazi Party. Initially, members of the German military were only required to use the Hitler Salute while engaging in non-military encounters or while singing the Horst Wessel Lied and German National Anthem. However, after the unsuccessful Hitler Assassination Plot of July 20, 1944, the military forces of the Third Reich were ordered to replace the standard military salute with the Hitler Salute (i.e., the Roman Salute). Interestingly, the use of the Nazi Salute is currently a criminal offense in Germany, the Czech Republic, and Austria. In Germany, Section 86a of the German Penal Code provides for punishment of up to three years in prison for anyone using the salute, unless of course it is used for artistic, scientific, or educational purposes.

Modern Roman Salute
Since the rebirth of the
Roman Salute in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy during World War II, a plethora of Hollywood films have included the Roman Salute in their depictions of the fascist military state known as the Roman Empire, including but not limited to: “Quo Vadis” (1951); “Ben-Hur” (1959); “Spartacus” (1960); “Cleopatra” (1963); “Fahrenheit 451” (1966); “Caligula” (1979) and “Gladiator” (2000). Variations of the Roman Salute were also depicted in the television show “Star Trek” (episode "Mirror Mirror" which premiered on October 6, 1967), and in the television series entitled “Rome” (2005-2007). Variations on the Roman Salute have allegedly been used ad nausea by various “right-wing” and “neo-Nazi” political groups in Europe, Eastern Europe and South America, including but not limited to: the Jeunesses Patriotes of France (1925); the Vaps Movement of Estonia (1930’s); the Mouvement Franciste of France (1930’s); the Parti Populaire Français of France (1936-1945); the National Youth Organization of Greece (1936); the Solidarité Française of France (1927); the Brazilian Integralism of Brazil (1932-1938); the Romanian Front of National Rebirth of Romania (January 4, 1939); the Italian Social Movement of Italy (1971); the the Hlinka Guard of Slovakia (1938-1946); the Christian Falangist Party of Spain (since 1985); and by the Golden Dawn party of Greece (since 1985). The Roman Salute was also used by the Dictator of Spain, Francisco Franco, on April 27, 1937, and by the Yugoslavia Prime Minister Milan Stojadinović in December of 1937. In 2005, Italian footballer Paolo Di Canio twice directed the Roman Salute towards S.S. Lazio fans. Four years later in June of 2009, Italian politician Michela Vittoria Brambilla allegedly used the Roman Salute while greeting a crowd. Lastly, the Roman Salute is routinely performed by the University of Stanford Band during their rendition of the Spirit of Troy.

Italian Roman Salute
In the 1920’s,
Italian fascists adopted the Roman Salute as part of their quest to revitalized Italy based on the model and spirit of the Roman Empire. The Roman Salute was first used by the Prince of Montenevoso, Gabriele D'Annunzio, when Italian military occupied Rijeka, Croatia in 1919.  Like other neo-Imperial rituals utilized by D'Annunzio, the Roman Salute became part of the Italian fascist movement's symbolic repertoire. On January 31, 1923, the Italian Ministry of Education instituted a ritual honoring the Italian flag in schools using the Roman Salute. By December 1, 1925, Italian Dictator Benito Mussolini ordered that all state civil administrators of Italy were required to use it. Shortly thereafter, Achille Starace, the Italian Fascist Party secretary, pushed for a measure to make the use of the Roman Salute compulsory, denouncing hand shaking as bourgeois. By 1932, the Roman Salute was adopted as the substitute for the handshake. As of August 19, 1933, the Italian military was ordered to use the Roman Salute whenever an unarmed detachment of soldiers was called on to render military honors for the King of Italy or Mussolini himself. Shortly after World War II, fascist symbols along with the Roman Salute were banned by the postwar Italian Constitution.

Bellamy Salute
Bellamy Salute is the American version of the Roman Salute. It was first demonstrated on October 12, 1892 after Francis Bellamy published its instructions for the "National School Celebration of Columbus Day". Shortly thereafter, the Bellamy Salute was ordered to accompany the Pledge of Allegiance in the United States. Because of the obvious similarities between the Bellamy Salute and the Nazi Salute, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered that the hand-over-the-heart gesture be used during the Pledge of Allegiance and the U.S. National Anthem, instead of the Bellamy Salute. This change in policy was officially instituted by the U.S. Congress after it adopted the “Flag Code” on June 22, 1942. Unlike the countries of Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany and Italy, the Bellamy Salute (i.e., the Roman Salute) is not illegal in the United States.