History of the Handshake

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Handshaking has an extended history.  

The handshake is thought to have originated as a symbol of peace by demonstrating that neither “shaker” had a weapon in their hand.

If two men met and displayed empty right hands, this presumably meant a basic level of trust existed and that neither would stab the other. Of course, this explanation, doesn’t account for left-handed men, who presumably would have been happy to extend the right hand in greeting while wielding a dagger in the left!

In variations of this story, it is said that the handshake evolved from an elbow-to-wrist “patdown” to check for hidden knives; in another, the shaking motion was supposed to dislodge any sharp objects that may have been kept in the sleeve. 

Archaeological ruins and ancient texts show that handshaking was practiced in ancient Greece from as far back as the 5th century BC, with a depiction of two soldiers apparently shaking hands found on part of a 5th century BC funerary stele which is on display in Berlin’s Pergamon Museum.

Another funerary stele of the 4th century BC depicts Thrasea and his wife Euandria handshaking (see left).

Some researchers have suggested the handshake may have been introduced in the Western world by Sir Walter Raleigh, in service with the British Court during the late 16th century.

A handshake is now entrenched in our culture and is commonly done upon meeting, greeting, parting, offering congratulations, expressing gratitude, or completing an agreement.  In sports or other competitive activities, it is also done as a sign of good sportsmanship.  The purpose of a handshake is to convey trust, balance, and equality.

Joseph Lazarow, Mayor of Atlantic City, New Jersey, was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records for a July 1977 publicity stunt, in which he shook more than 11,000 hands in a single day.  President Theodore Roosevelt had previously held the record with 8,513 handshakes at a White House reception on January 1, 1907.

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  • Paul Dunn


    September 2, 2010

    Haha. I love your first line. Great story too.

  • Dave Scott


    August 12, 2012

    Once a handshake, was a mans bond & his word.
    There was a time that a handshake was all it took to gain the respect and trust of any man!

    Those days are gone, as well as mans handshake on his honor….
    If we could only go back…