Where does the military salute come from?
Its performance, following regulations, exactly measures the spirit of the commanders, troops and soldiers
Rigid ceremonious, formal and almost patriarchal, the military salute is brought to our head as an evocation of patriotic values in defense of the State. Many American movies have shaped this mechanical and not graceful salute when soldiers salute their superiors. Its performance, following regulations, exactly measures the spirit of the commanders, troops and soldiers. It consists of bringing the right hand with the fingers together towards the right temple of the head or to the visor of the cap if it is on. It is a familiar scene, easily to recognize; however, it is difficult to find its origin.
Some historians record the origin of the military salute in the Roman Empire whose soldiers used a hand gesture to protect from the sun when they looked at the face of their high commands. Thus, recalling some famous films like Ben-Hur or Quo Vadis that enhance the Roman power, once the military carried out this action, they could have a clear field of vision and be on alert. Another theory is that salutation was used, when visiting an officer, for letting him know that he was unarmed.
The most widespread and probable hypotheses comes from the middle age. The most debated one is that the dress of the knights, by protocol and security, demanded an armor to cover the whole body, including the head. That is why, when they had to give an explanation to a monarch, to identify themselves and show respect, they had to take off their helmet and carefully stare at the king's eyes. Other theory considered valid is that, the knights took off their helmet to greet each other, on paths and public roads, to see who was the other person and his intentions. The salute, starting for the subordinate as a friendly sign of respect, should be reciprocated as proof of esteem and gratitude. Therefore, it was a system that, beyond education, gave a state of alert representing, in some cases, a challenge to death.
Protect from the sun
The origins of the salute also have a wide recognition during the British Empire featuring the dominions, colonies, protectorates and other territories governed or administered by the United Kingdom between XVI and XX centuries, until 1949. During the reign of Queen Isabel I, she had to visit the colony of Senegal on the West African coast. The soldiers who received her made this gesture to protect themselves from the sun, while she descended from her carriage. The monarch took the gesture, which continued being issued in the British army, as a symbol of respect for her.
In the early nineteenth century the Coldstream Guards, infantry regiment of the British Army, modified the traditional greeting from tipping the hats to give a light touch with the hand on the cap, which resulted in the military salute we know today.
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