A salute that has its origins in 1764 and is done by raising the right arm

The history of the military salute of Portugal and Brazil when taking the oath to their Flag

Military rituals sometimes have forms that are unknown to many people and this can lead to certain controversies.

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Among the most traditional military rituals of many armies are those related to the Pledge of Allegiance ceremony, which in some cases include gestures with one hand. In the armies of German-speaking countries and in the Pontifical Swiss Guard, the "Schwurhand" is done, raising the right arm with the index finger and middle finger extended. In countries like Poland, Latvia or Hungary, a similar salute is given, but with the aforementioned two fingers joined together. In the US, the palm of the hand is raised to take the oath.

Without a doubt, one of the most curious salutes when swearing the Flag is that of the Armed Forces of Portugal and Brazil. In these two Portuguese-speaking countries, a gesture is practically identical to the Roman salute, which on some occasions has generated certain protests, since there are people who identify it with the salute used by fascists and more late by the Nazis (which, after all, was the Roman salute).

There are certain differences between the flag salute used in those two countries. In Portugal the gesture is made with the arm slightly higher than in Brazil. However, the custom in both countries is common: the salute is made by directing the arm to the National Flag. Here you can see some examples:

Soldiers of the Portuguese Army taking the oath of allegiance in November 2020(source).

Portuguese Air Force soldiers swearing the Flag after their basic training in December 2018 (source).

Riflemen and divers of the Portuguese Navy during their oath of allegiance to the Flag in December 2016 (source).

Students of the Portuguese Military Academy during their oath in October 2020 (source).

A video of an oath of the Portuguese Air Force in 2013, at the Air Force Military and Technical Training Center.

Soldiers of a Motorized Infantry Battalion of the Brazilian Army taking their oath to the Flag (fuente).

An oath to the Flag of the Brazilian Navy in 2018 (source).

Despite appearances, this gesture has no relation to the Nazi and fascist salute, in fact it is much older than it. In May 2021, the Portuguese Military Magazine published an article by João Andrade Nunes which indicates the origin of that salute. On August 25, 1764, the "Regulations for the exercise and discipline of the Infantry of the Armies" were approved in Portugal, by order of Frederick William of Schaumburg-Lippe, Count of Lippe, a nobleman born in London that two years earlier he had been appointed Marshal of the Anglo-Portuguese Army that fought in what was known as the Fantastic War (1762-1763), which pitted Portugal and Great Britain, on the one hand, against Spain and France.

Chapter XII of that Regulation established the procedures for the oath of allegiance to the flags or banners in the Portuguese Army. During the swearing-in ceremony, a chaplain said a prayer imploring God to grant each soldier the grace not to commit perjury and the courage to be faithful to his flag and defend it to the last drop of his blood. Next, the soldiers passed their weapons to their left arm and raised their right arm, proceeding to verbalize the oath formula. In 1866 this ceremonial became mandatory for all soldiers at the end of their training.

The custom of taking the oath by raising one hand, as a solemn gesture of someone who hides nothing, was captured years later in a famous event of the French Revolution: the Ball Game Oath of June 20 of 1789, pronounced by 577 deputies of the third estate. That oath was pronounced by raising his arms, as shown in this painting by the French painter Jacques-Louis David from 1791.

The gesture of raising the arm when swearing the Flag passed from Portugal to Brazil and was preserved after the independence of that American country in 1822, reaching the present day.

Although this salute had nothing to do with fascism, after the Carnation Revolution of 1974, which deposed the Portuguese dictatorship of the "Estado Novo", the arrival of the new regime, with a very clear socialist ideology in its beginnings, was reflected in the salute of the RALIS recruits on November 21, 1975, raising the fist instead of the extended hand, with a strongly ideological and socialist formula, very far from the uses of Western democracies:

We, soldiers, swear to be faithful to the Homeland and fight for its freedom and independence. We swear to always be at the side of the People, at the service of the working class, the peasants and the working people. We swear to fight, with all our capabilities, with voluntary acceptance of revolutionary discipline against fascism, against imperialism, for democracy and power for the People, for the victory of the Socialist Revolution.

Here is a video of that oath:

Despite that episode, the traditional 18th century oath ceremony was recovered. Nowadays, many defend its use because it is a traditional gesture and long before its use by fascism and Nazism, while some consider it anachronistic and criticize its close resemblance to the fascist salute. The current formula of the oath is the following:

I swear, as a Portuguese and as a soldier, to keep and enforce the Constitution and the laws of the Republic, to serve the Armed Forces and fulfill military duties. I swear to defend my homeland and to always be ready to fight for its freedom and independence, even sacrificing my own life.


Photos: Exército Português / Marinha Portuguesa / Força Aérea Portuguesa / Marinha do Brasil / Porto Nacional.

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