The Strange Gesture
There are so many things we take for granted every day of our lives. For example, why do we shake hands? Most cultures are comfortable with the practice, but when did we start to interlock thumbs and palms?
The more simple explanation is that we simply have always done it, at least this is one of the theories. But there must have been a first time. In a form or another we started hugging, give pats on the back, and clasping forearms in salute. One day we managed to get to our hand clasping. Doing it is one thing, but when did it become a custom and a tradition? When did it become rude not to shake hands?
As it often happens there are many different theories on when we as humans started handshakes, let’s analyze some of the more accredited:
Almost 4,000 Years Ago in Babylon
The Babylonians believed that Gods could transmit incredible powers by clasping hands with humans. Every year during a sacred ceremony the Babylonian King would shake hands with the statue of the gods. He was the one that was going to receive powers from the gods. Although not an everyday event it surely brought this strange gesture to surface. in the 9th Century it had become more of a custom. The Babylonians left us the first proof of a human handshake on a stone showing King Shalmaneser III shaking hands after a treaty was signed (see Featured image).
Greek and Roman Times
Homer, the famous Greek writer of the Odyssey and Iliad often describes handshakes in his masterpieces. Most of the times, this gesture is correlated to a sign of sharing trust or to seal a deal.
The clever Romans started shaking hands to make sure you were not hiding a knife in your hand. Apparently, it is also why we now shake our right hand as most people were naturally of forcefully right-handed. In fact, even the shaking up and down was just an extra precaution to make sure your new friend did not hide anything dangerous up his or her sleeve. For example a knife, you can never be too careful!
The Egalitarian Quakers
It is a well-respected theory that the handshake became more common in the 17th century thanks to the Quakers. The Quakers preferred a firm nice handshake versus bowing. It was simply more egalitarian putting both parties at the same level instead of someone bowing in front of what considered a higher class individual.
Want to learn more and read some more scientific theories? Here are some references for all of you.
Why Do We Shake Hands? | SiOWfa15: Science in Our World: Certainty and Controversy (psu.edu)
The History of the Handshake – HISTORY
Handshake – Wikipedia
When Did We Start Shaking Hands? Plus The History Of 5 More Gestures – HistoryExtra