The Roman Salute?

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The Roman Salute?

Postby Anonymous on Wed Jun 30, 2004 8:26 pm

Ave!

Could anyone give me information on the supposedly Roman Salute supposedly used by Fascist Italy and National Socialist Germany? I have come across articles stating that the supposedly Roman Salute was not Roman at all. I was researching on the origins of the Roman Salute and have found such allegations. Now I am confused about the truth on the matter.

Here is an excerpt from said articles:

It is a myth that the straight-arm salute is an old Roman salute adopted by Mussolini. According to Dr. Martin Winkler in "The Roman Salute on Film" of the American Philological Association, the salute is not in any Roman art or text. The salute occurs in these films: the American "Ben-Hur" (1907), the Italian "Nerone" (1908), "Spartaco" (1914), and "Cabiria" (1914). In imitation of such films, self-styled Italian "Consul" Gabriele D 'Annunzio borrowed the salute as a propaganda tool for his political ambitions upon his occupation of Fiume in 1919. Earlier, D'Annunzio had worked with Giovanni Pastrone in his colossal epic Cabiria (1914). Mussolini worked with D'Annunzio. Even so, evidence shows that the National Socialist German Workers' Party officially adopted the salute before Mussolini did, not vice versa.


Does anyone have any information derived from Ancient Rome regarding the Salute?

Ave aqtue Vale!
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Postby Horatius Piscinus on Thu Jul 01, 2004 11:18 am

Salve Flave

I think we had this question come up before. The conclusion was as your quoted source gave. No mention or depiction of such a salute among Roman soldiers. The closet I can think of is the extended arm of the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, which is a gesture of greeting but not a salute, and quite different than used by fascists and nazis. A Roman gesture that is sometimes depicted, though rarely, was to greet a person or crowd by extending the index and middle fingers. Or as the gesture of the statue of Augustus Ostinensis with the index finger extended and the middle finger slightly bent. These were gestures of rhetoticians. There is mention of the gesture used to greet the celestial Gods with the right hand held manus supinus, which I suppose could be mistaken for a fascist salute, but I don't recall any mention of a specific kind of Roman military salute.

Vale bene
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Postby Anonymous on Thu Jul 01, 2004 12:49 pm

Salve Piscinus (Sorry if I got this wrong)

Thanks for the info, that possibly clears out a misconception. Now I begin to wonder why it is called a Roman Salute and what lead to it being called so. Seems like instead of researching Ancient Roman history I'll have to research Fascist Italy's history.

How is manus supinus positioned and what does it mean? Can you provide an image of such a greeting/salute.

Vale!
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Postby Horatius Piscinus on Sun Jul 04, 2004 11:50 am

Salve Luci Flave

Manus supinus means that the hand is held open, the fingers together and bent slightly back. The palm is faced towards whomever is being addressed. So if addressing the celestial Gods the hand is bent slightly back at the wrist. For the moment I can't think of an image. There is a bronze that was found at Cortona, known as "The Orator," which has the arm extended and an open palm held in greeting, but not in the manus supinus gesture. That is, his fingers are held loosely and apart.
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Salutem

Postby Aldus Marius on Tue Jul 06, 2004 11:37 pm

Salvete, collegi...

This would've been a good one for the Collegium Militarium. I even briefly considered kidnapping it [g]. But I'll meet it where it is, hopefully with something useful in my marching-kit...

As a reenactor who used to be a drill sergeant, I've had my own reasons to wonder just what a Roman salute was supposed to look like. I have seen exactly two images of a Roman foot-soldier doing anything that might be called a salute. (Cavalry had their own salute, generally thought to be the extended-arm "Marcus Aurelius" gesture.) Both infantry images are reproduced in the Osprey Elite series book The Praetorian Guard by Dr. Boris Rankov (illus. Richard Hook).

The first is a photo from the Domitius Ahenobarbus altar in Rome. The detail shows two Late Republican-era soldiers in chainmail (lorica hamata), one striding away while the other one either salutes or adjusts his helmet. (The two movements are so alike that, even nowadays, an enlisted man who salutes something he wasn't supposed to will, upon realizing his mistake, pretend to fiddle with the bill of his cap.)

The 'saluting' soldier is shown in a frontal view with his head turned to his right. His right arm is elbow-out in a brocket [<] position. His right hand is raised to his helmet, palm straight downwards, fingers together and somewhat curved, thumb touching fingers (due to wear of the reliefs, it is hard to tell which finger specifically), and fingertips touching either his forehead or the browpeak of his helmet.

The other image is actually a painted reproduction by Mr. Hook. It shows a Trajanic Centurion in scale armor (lorica squamata) from the front, his right arm also out to the side and bent at the elbow to bring his fingertips up to his helmet. His thumb is not visible the way the hand is being held (palm inwards), suggesting that it is either aligned with the other fingers modern-style, or that if it is tucked under the palm, it is only very slightly so--a tucked-under thumb is normally pretty obvious under extended fingers.

The Centurion's fingers are much less curved than those of the Republican Legionary, hinting perhaps at some development towards straightness in the intervening few centuries. The contact point on the helmet is rather higher, too--instead of just touching the brow-peak, it has moved to where the embossed eyebrows would be on an Imperial Gallic helmet...id est, about halfway between the brow-peak and the crest. Sources cited for this illustration are "a number of reliefs, including the funerary monument of Flavius Mikkalus recently unearthed in Turkey".

In short, what little guidance we have concerning the Roman infantry salute shows a gesture which is so like a modern salute, differing only in contact-point and some details of angulation, that it's almost a disappointment. I've seen these salutes on recruits who hadn't yet perfected the current American version. I've straightened enough fingers, tilted enough palms, and threatened to break many a tucked-under thumb. [feg]

And, sadly, I've realized that an accurate Roman salute would never sell in Hollywood or on a reenactor gig. It looks too much like a modern one. People would never believe it. They expect, even demand, to have the Mussolini monstrosity thrown up in their faces. You can explain the real thing all you like, they will cling to their fantasy: "We-l-l, I don't know..." or, in the case of one event sponsor: "Just do the movie one, just this once, OK?!?"

Hmmm...conflict between what-looks-like-was and what people would rather believe; this one's starting to sound like a Historicum topic after all...!! >({|;-)

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