The palm branch is a symbol of victory, triumph, peace, and eternal life originating in the ancient Near East and Mediterranean world. The palm (Phoenix) was sacred in Mesopotamian religions, and in ancient Egypt represented immortality. In Judaism, the lulav, a closed frond of the date palm is part of the festival of Sukkot. A palm branch was awarded to victorious athletes in ancient Greece, and a palm frond or the tree itself is one of the most common attributes of Victory personified in ancient Rome.
In Christianity, the palm branch is associated with Jesus' Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday, when, according to John's gospel, "they took palm branches and went out to meet Him" (12:13 HCSB). Consequently, palms are not mentioned in any of the other three canonical gospel accounts. The palm has meaning in Christianity as well Christian iconography to represent victory, i.e.,the victory of the spirit over the flesh, Revelation 7:9.
In Assyrian religion, the palm is one of the trees identified as the Sacred Tree connecting heaven, represented by the crown of the tree, and earth, the base of the trunk. Reliefs from the 9th century BC show winged genii holding palm fronds in the presence of the Sacred Tree. It is associated with the goddess Ishtar and is found on the Ishtar Gate. In ancient Mesopotamia, the date palm may have represented fertility in humans. The Mesopotamian goddess Inanna, who had a part in the sacred marriage ritual, was believed to make the dates abundant. Palm stems represented long life to the Ancient Egyptians, and the god Huh was often shown holding a palm stem in one or both hands. The palm was carried in Egyptian funeral processions to represent eternal life. The Kingdom of Nri (Igbo) used the omu, a tender palm frond, to sacralize and restrain. Some argue the palm in the Parthian poem Drakht-e Asurig serves as a reference to the Babylonian faith.
In Archaic Greece, the palm tree was a sacred sign of Apollo, who had been born under a palm on the island of Delos. The palm thus became an icon of the Delian League. In recognition of the alliance, Cimon of Athens erected a bronze statue of a palm tree at Delphi as part of a victory monument commemorating the Battle of the Eurymedon (469/466 BC). In addition to representing the victorious League, the bronze palm (phoinix) was a visual pun on the defeated Phoenician fleet. From 400 BC onward, a palm branch was awarded to the victor in athletic contests, and the practice was brought to Rome around 293 BC.
The palm became so closely associated with victory in ancient Roman culture that the Latin word palma could be used as a metonym for "victory", and was a sign of any kind of victory. A lawyer who won his case in the forum would decorate his front door with palm leaves. The palm branch or tree became a regular attribute of the goddess Victory, and when Julius Caesar secured his rise to sole power with a victory at Pharsalus, a palm tree was supposed to have sprung up miraculously at the Temple of Nike, the Greek counterpart of Victory, in Tralles, later known as Caesarea, in Asia Minor. The toga palmata was a toga ornamented with a palm motif; it was worn to celebrate a military triumph only by those who had a previous triumph. The toga itself was the garment of the civilian at peace, and was worn by the triumphator to mark his laying down of arms and the cessation of war. The use of the palm in this setting indicates how the original meaning of "victory" shaded into "peace" as the aftermath of victory.
Coins issued under Constantine I, the first Christian emperor, and his successors continue to display the traditional iconography of Victory, but often combined with Christian symbolism such as christograms. The Roman senator Symmachus, who tried to preserve Rome's religious traditions under Christian domination, is pictured on an ivory diptych bearing a palm branch in an allegorical triumph over death.
Palms on an Achaemenid seal impression, 5th century BC. The iconography of palm was commonly used by ancient Babylonians.
Victorious charioteer holding a palm branch on a Roman mosaic
In Judaism, the date palm (Lulav) is one of the Four Species used in the daily prayers on the feast of Sukkot. It is bound together with the hadass (myrtle), and aravah (willow). The Midrash notes that the binding of the Four Species symbolizes the desire to unite the four "types" of Jews in service of God.
During the Roman Empire, the date palm represented Judaea and its fecundity to both Romans and Jews. Roman sources praise the date as the produce of the province. The date palm was a frequent image for Judaea on Imperial coinage, most notably on the Iudaea Capta series, when the typical military trophy is replaced by the palm. The palm appears also on at least one Hasmonean coin and on coinage issued in 38–39 AD by Herod Antipas. Palm ornaments are found also on Jewish ossuaries.
In 1965, Judean date palm seeds dated at around 2000 years old were recovered during excavations at Herod the Great's palace on Masada in Israel. In 2005, some of the seeds were planted. One grew and has been nicknamed "Methuselah".
In Christianity, the palm branches distributed during Palm Sunday services originate in the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem. Early Christians used the palm branch to symbolize the victory of the faithful over enemies of the soul, as in the Palm Sunday festival celebrating the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Many churches of mainstream Christian denominations, including the Lutheran, Catholic, Methodist, Anglican, Moravian and Reformed traditions, distribute palm branches to their congregations during their Palm Sunday services. Christians take these palms, which are often blessed by clergy, to their homes where they hang them alongside Christian art (especially crosses and crucifixes) or keep them in their Bibles or devotionals. In the period preceding next year's Lent, known as Shrovetide, churches often place a basket in their narthex to collect these palms, which are then ritually burned on Shrove Tuesday to make the ashes to be used on the following day, Ash Wednesday, which is the first day of Lent.
In western Christian art, martyrs were often shown holding a palm frond as an attribute, representing the victory of spirit over flesh, and it was widely believed that a picture of a palm on a tomb meant that a martyr was buried there.
Origen calls the palm (In Joan, XXXI) the symbol of victory in that war waged by the spirit against the flesh. In this sense it was especially applicable to martyrs, the victors par excellence over the spiritual foes of mankind; hence the frequent occurrence in the Acts of the martyrs of such expressions as "he received the palm of martyrdom." On 10 April 1688 it was decided by the Congregation of Rites that the palm when found depicted on catacomb tombs was to be regarded as a proof that a martyr had been interred there. Subsequently, this opinion was acknowledged by Mabillon, Muratori, Benedict XIV and others to be untenable; further investigation showed that the palm was represented not only on tombs of the post-persecution era, but even on tombs of those who did not practice Christianity.
The general significance of the palm on early Christian monuments is slightly modified according to its association with other symbols (e.g., with the monogram of Christ, the Ichthus (Fish), or the Good Shepherd). On some later monuments the palm was represented merely as an ornament separating two scenes. Palms also represented heaven, evidenced by ancient art often depicting Jesus in heaven among palms.
In the Middle Ages, pilgrims to the Holy Land would bring back palms for deposit at their home churches. Crusaders would carry or wear an image of one, seen today in the Catholic Order of the Holy Sepulchre, which still awards a Palm of Jerusalem decoration. In addition, the Custody of the Holy Land, courtesy of the Catholic Church, bestows the Jerusalem Pilgrim's Cross on Catholic pilgrims to the city.
Gallery of Martyrs Bearing Palms
The palm is richly significant in Islamic culture, and the palm symbolizes rest and hospitality in many cultures of the Middle East. The presence of palm trees around an oasis showed that water was the gift of Allah.  In the Quran, the palm appears in the paradisical imagery of the Garden (Jannah). In one prophetic tradition, the Dome of the Rock will stand on a palm tree issuing from one of the rivers of Paradise. Muhammad is said to have built his home out of palm, to have leaned against a palm while speaking, and to have raised the first mosque as a roof placed on palm trees.
In northern Sudan, the doum palm is the symbol of endurance (doum), and particularly of the Muslim saint who gave his name to Wad Hamid. The palm also appears on a number of coins from Islamic states, for example the 1 Tunisian dinar issue honoring the Food and Agriculture Organization from 1970, and several Iraqi coins of the 1970s like the 5 fils.
The Latin motto of Lord Nelson is Palmam qui meruit ferat, "Let him bear the palm who has deserved it". The motto has been adopted by numerous other organizations, including the University of Southern California.
Today, the palm, especially the coconut palm, is a symbol of a tropical island paradise. Palms appear on the flags and seals of several places where they are native, including those of Malta, Haiti, Paraguay, Guam, Florida, Poland, Australia and South Carolina. It also appeared on the flag of the short-lived Tripolitanian Republic (1918–1923), though not followed in later Libyan flags.
Flags and seals
Village flag of Drnovice, Czech Republic
Coat of arms of Saint-Étienne, France
Coat of arms of Fiľakovo, Slovakia
Allegories of Victory and Peace
Army of India Medal (reverse), with palm tree in background, created 1851
- Chase, Holly (1990). The Date Palm: Pillar of Society. Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 1989: Staples. Prospect Books. p. 64. ISBN 9780907325444.
- Rustomji, Nerina (2009). The Garden and the Fire: Heaven and Hell in Islamic Culture. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0231140850.
- Vioque, Guillermo Galán (2002). Martial, Book VII: A Commentary. Translated by J.J. Zoltowski. Brill. ISBN 978-90-04-12338-0.
- Nigosian, Solomon A. (2004). Islam: Its History, Teaching, and Practices. Indiana University Press. p. 124. ISBN 978-0253216274.
- Giovino, Mariana (2007). The Assyrian Sacred Tree: A History of Interpretations. Academic Press Fribourg Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht Göttingen. ISBN 978-3525530283.
- Chase 1990, p. 65.
- "Sex Life of the Date". University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.
- Lanzi, Fernando; Lanzi, Gioia (2004). Saints and Their Symbols: Recognizing Saints in Art and in Popular Images. Translated by Matthew J. O'Connell. Liturgical Press. p. 25. ISBN 978-0814629703.
- Nyang, Sulayman; Olupona, Jacob K. (1995). Religious Plurality in Africa: Essays in Honour of John S. Mbiti. Mouton de Gruyter. p. 130. ASIN B07G4R2J49.
- Ahmad Tafazzoli. Draxt ī āsūrīg [The Babylonian tree]. Encyclopædia Iranica. Retrieved 29 April 2011.
- Apollo's birth is described in the Homeric Hymn to Delian Apollo.
- Harrison, Evelyn B. (1996). Pheidias. Personal Styles in Greek Sculpture. Cambridge University Press. p. 27.
- Kuiper, Kathleen (2011). Ancient Greece: From the Archaic Period to the Death of Alexander the Great. Britannica Educational Publishing. p. 89.
- Vioque 2002, p. 411.
- Vioque 2002, p. 61, 206, 411.
- Vioque 2002, p. 205-206.
- Rosenberger, Veit (2007). Republican Nobiles: Controlling the Res Publica. A Companion to Roman Religion. Blackwell. p. 302. ISBN 978-1405129435.
Caesar, Bellum Civile 3.105
- Clark, Anna (2007). Divine Qualities: Cult and Community in Republican Rome. Oxford University Press. p. 162. ISBN 978-0199226825.
- Vioque 2002, p. 61.
- Vayikra Rabbah 30:12
- Fine, Steven (2005). Between Rome and Jerusalem: The Date Palm as 'Jewish Symbol'. Art And Judaism in the Greco-Roman World: Toward A New Jewish Archaeology. Cambridge University Press. pp. 140–145. ISBN 978-0521145671.
- Rose, Deborah Bird (2011). On the Spot: In the Red Center. The Face of the Earth: Natural Landscapes, Science, and Culture. University of California Press. p. 209. ISBN 978-0520269262.
- Kirk, Lisa (25 March 2018). "Ideas for Displaying Palm Sunday Palms Around Your Home". Blessed Is She. Retrieved 4 April 2020.
- "This Sunday at Grace: February 4, 2018". Grace Episcopal Church. 3 February 2018. Retrieved 4 April 2020.
- "Shrove Tuesday". The Times-Reporter. 18 February 2020. Retrieved 4 April 2020.
- Hassett, M. (1911). "Palm in Christian Symbolism". The Catholic Encyclopedia.
- Eva March Tappan. "When Knights Were Bold". gatewaytotheclassics.com. Archived from the original on 16 October 2004.
- Chase 1990, p. 64.
- Rustomji 2009, p. 43, 67.
- Rustomji 2009, p. 132.
- Gauding, Madonna (2009). The Signs and Symbols Bible: The Definitive Guide to Mysterious Markings. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc. p. 289. ISBN 9781402770043.
- Ipgrave, Michael (2005). Bearing the Word: Prophecy in Biblical and Qur'ānic Perspective. Church House Publishing. p. 103. ISBN 978-0898694949.
- Bahnassi, Afif (2003). Art and Aesthetic Creativity. Culture and Learning in Islam. UNESCO Publishing. p. 566. ISBN 9789231039096.
- Quran 19:16–34
- Glassé, Cyril, ed. (2001). Sûrah XIX: 23, 25, 26, as cited by Chase, "The Date Palm"; entry on "Mary. The New Encyclopedia of Islam (2 ed.). Stacey International. p. 297. ISBN 978-0742562967.
- Bürgel, Johann Christoph (2010). Islam Reflected in the Contemporary Literature of Muslim Peoples. Islam in the World Today: A Handbook of Politics, Religion, Culture, and Society. Cornell University Press. p. 825. ASIN B0066AG06G.
- "1 Dinar FAO". Numista. Retrieved 3 March 2020.
- "5 Fils". Numista. Retrieved 3 March 2020.
- "Viscount Lord Nelson's Arms". Retrieved 26 March 2020.
- "Motto". USC. Retrieved 23 February 2020.
- "Introduction". Virtual Palm Encyclopedia.
- Anderson, Lisa (1982). Joffe, George; MacLachlan, Keith (eds.). "The Tripoli Republic". Social and Economic Development of Libya. Wisbeck: Menas Press. ISBN 9780906559109.
- "Arabic Song Lyrics and Translations". 22 March 2013. Retrieved 4 November 2010.
- "World Statesmen-Libya". Retrieved 12 December 2009.
- Domanig, Karl (1896). Porträtmedaillen des Erzhauses Österreich von Kaiser Friedrich III. bis Kaiser Franz II. Vienna. p. xix.
Created by Alessandro Abondio. The motto in Latin is from Catullus 62.16, and reads Amat Victoria Curam, "Victory loves Prudence"
- Atkins, Stuart (2002). Renaissance and Baroque Elements in Goethe's Faust: Illustrative Analogues. Goethe Yearbook. Goethe Society of North America. p. 7.
on the translation of cura as "prudence" rather than the more usual "care, concern"
- Christiansen, Keith; Mann, Judith W. (2002). Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi. Yale University Press. p. 211.
- "Allegory of Victory". Louvre. 1635.
- Media related to Palm fronds at Wikimedia Commons