No one knows the precise origin of today’s hand salute. From earliest times, when meeting another warrior, the right hand or "weapon hand" was raised as a greeting, a symbol of friendship, and to show that the hand did not hold a weapon. Courtesy required that the inferior make the gesture first. There seems to be a connection between this old gesture and our present salute.
One legend has it that today’s military salute descended from the medieval knight's gesture of raising his visor to reveal his identity as a courtesy on the approach of a superior. Another legend is that it symbolizes a knight's shielding his eyes from the dazzling beauty of some high-born lady sitting in the bleachers of the tournament.
The military salute has in fact had many different forms over the centuries. At one time, it was rendered with both hands! In old print, one may see left-handed salutes. In some instances, the salute was rendered by lowering the saber with one hand and touching the cap visor with the other.
The most likely origin of the hand salute is that it was a long-established military custom for juniors to remove their headgear in the presence of superiors. In the British Army, as late as the American Revolution, a soldier saluted by removing his hat. However, with the advent of more cumbersome headgear in the 18th and 19th centuries, the act of removing one’s hat was gradually converted into the simpler gesture of grasping the visor, and issuing a courteous salutation. From there it finally became conventionalized into something resembling our modern hand salute.
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