What does It Mean to "Extend an Olive Branch"?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The term "to extend an olive branch" means to make an offer of peace or reconciliation. This term has Biblical origins, coming from the section of the Old Testament that deals with the flood; the sign that the flood is over is an olive branch brought back to the ark by a dove. Olive branches were also symbols of peace in Ancient Greece and Rome, and they continue to be used in various works of art that are meant to suggest peace, from murals to patches.

In the ancient world, defeated armies offered up olive branches when a battle ended.
In the ancient world, defeated armies offered up olive branches when a battle ended.

Some people have suggested that the olive was a very deliberate and well-considered choice as a metaphor for peace, because olive trees famously take years to mature. War is typically very hard on the trees because people cannot take the time to nurture them and plant new ones. Therefore, the offer of an olive branch would suggest that someone is tired of war, whether it be an actual war or a falling out between friends.

An olive grove.
An olive grove.

In Ancient Greek and Roman times, people would offer literal olive branches. In Rome, for example, defeated armies traditionally carried olive branches to indicate that they were surrendering, and the Greeks incorporated them into weddings and other ceremonies. In the modern era, the branch is usually metaphorical, rather than literal, not least because the plants can be a bit difficult to obtain.

An olive branch with black olives.
An olive branch with black olives.

Many people agree that peace negotiations at all levels of society are a good idea. Between nations, obviously, it is important to extend an olive branch to ensure mutual safety and to help the world run more smoothly. This act can also be important on a personal level, as resolving conflict and learning to get along with others is viewed as an important life skill in many cultures.

At some point in their lives, many people will be advised to extend an olive branch to settle a dispute or resolve an issue. Some people believe that it takes an immense amount of courage to take this action, as it often comes with an admission of wrongdoing and regret. When an olive branch is offered with ulterior motives, such as trying to get someone else to admit that he or she was wrong, the attempt at reconciliation often goes awry, and this is a very important thing to remember. People who genuinely believe that someone else has wronged them should either wait for that person to make the first move toward peace or find a way to forgive them so that there can be an attempt at genuine reconciliation.

People may extend an olive branch during a meeting to resolve and issue.
People may extend an olive branch during a meeting to resolve and issue.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


The key to forgiveness is to extend the forgiveness olive branch to the person who has harmed you. Sometimes people are not as strong spiritually as you and have lower self esteem. If you have high self esteem you will not be diminished by reaching out.

The person you are reaching out to may not be able to apologize, and may be so fearful of rejection. They may feel that being sorry means they are lessened. The story of the Prodigal Son is instructional. The father was strong and could reach out. His son was too weak to say anything but Father please let me be your servant.

The father's inner strength allowed him to reach out and bring his son back into the fold of love. Only the strong have the self esteem to reach out and forgive.


It all depends on what level I want to be in. If I want to be at a lower level, I wait for others to repent and come to me. If I want to be at a higher level, I forgive them even though they don't repent. And even more, I extend friendship to them no matter what.

The true challenge comes when I face those who seem to be hard to get along with in person. Sometimes they have a good reason to cause trouble, sometimes they simply want to control me in their way of doing things. When I'm able to get along with them, I have succeeded and moved to a higher level. Even when I don't agree with them, I can either keep quiet or express myself in a calm manner and avoid getting emotionally involved.

Just be polite and keep the discussion impersonal, and know when to end the conversation before it goes uncontrolled. A friendly, outgoing, funny personality also helps in getting along with others.


I disagree as far as waiting for the person who has wronged you for them to make the contact first. I have been waiting for five years for my brother to do this and he has not.

I am going to make the first move and extend an olive branch -- today, in fact. Life is too short, as they say, and someone needs to break the ice. If he does not accept this offer, then I guess I know then and can move on with my life. Hope this helps someone.


I agree wholeheartedly with what you have written, Anne!


That was a great article and the comment from anon32906 was also great.


Your statement below is not in line with God's Truth because it is not what the Scriptures tell us to do when we have conflict with someone. I feel before you advise others you need to be sure what you are saying is the Truth so that it will be of help to others and not cause more problems. Although we are to forgive others we don't wait for them to reach out to us first, we seek to make reconciliation, yes they may not accept it and reject us but we just don't pretend it didn't happen and people can't accept our forgiveness unless they are sorry for what they have done in the first place. So yes we can forgive but for true reconciliation there needs to be repentance by those who have hurt us. If we have hurt them then we to need to ask forgiveness but as often is the case it starts with a misunderstanding and this needs to be resolved from the start.

Kind regards Anne Stocks

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