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Friendly physical contact among Romans

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I read in Florence Dupont's "Daily Life in Ancient Rome" that Romans, especially during the Republican times, avoided as much as possible physical contact. I don't know how to consider this statement since written sources and art show us that handshakes and kisses as greetings existed. Maybe she just spoke in general terms, so I wonder if slaps on the back and so on were uncommon: historical novels are plenty of this type of friendly gestures and it would be interesting understand if they are just a consequence of the authors' modern mentality. 
Do you know something more about it?

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Yours is a very subtle cultural question that includes the proper way in Ancient Rome to greet strangers or friends, shake hands, make eye contact, etc. 

I don't have an answer to your question, but I have frequently thought about these often-ignored and subtle cultural aspects.

Consider, for example, the difference between North American and Asian (or other cultures):


Consider eye contact. In many faiths and cultures, it is not appropriate to hold eye contact the same length of time that is considered “normal“ in North American business culture. For example, in school Japanese children are taught to direct their gaze at the other person`s neck or knot of their tie. This carries into the workplace where Japanese adults lower their eyes when speaking to a superior as a gesture of respect. In East Asian cultures and many African nations, it is respectful not to look a more senior person in the eye, but in North American culture this behaviour is often interpreted negatively. Although the person giving the minimum eye contact feels that their behaviour is appropriate, it can be interpreted as suspicious or seen as an effort to dodge truthful disclosure. We even may have said that someone “wouldn`t look me in the eye“ to refer to someone who has done something dishonest and is hiding the fact.



Numismatist Doug Smith has noted that Ancient Roman coins typically show a light touch of of palms and hands with straight fingers for the possible hand greeting (as opposed to the usual tight hand clasp found in modern Western cultures). This lighter handshake might have been seen as a less aggressive and less confrontational gesture than the "hand crush."




Even today, the handshake is not universal:





Don’t shake hands! The person will offer what’s called a “wai,” placing their palms together at chest level and bowing. Return the gesture. If you’re a man, greet then with “Sawadee-krap.” If you’re a woman, say “Sawadee-kah” (both mean “Hello). Shake hands only if a wai is not offered.





Of course, there is the frequent movie depiction of the ancient Roman greeting using the forearm grasp, supposedly to reassure that no one has a hidden weapon. I have not found an ancient Roman source for this type of greeting, so it might possibly be a Hollywood creation. 





guy also known as gaius


Edited by guy

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Thanks for your reply.

Yes, it's really difficult to find information about cultural questions. I think it's quite sure that the "roman forearm handshake", like the last one you mentioned, is just a modern invention. There are no proves that in ancient times men greeted like this, while we have a lot of mentions of kisses and handshakes.

These posts have some good examples: 

It could be possibile, that handshakes were more formal and people used them to demonstrate a political alliance or in religious rituals (reliefs show both this type of scenes) and kisses and handshakes again were typical of more informal situations, like greeting relatives and friends. 

Military salute is another question, but in the forum there's already a good discussion about it (https://www.unrv.com/forum/topic/14819-salute/).

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I am reminded of Ovid, the poet who wrote some stuff about how to get a girl, and banished by Augustus for his trouble. He says that a man should lightly brush the breast of the lady he fancies, pretending to wipe away dirt. Well. That will get her attention.

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