In reverse-chronological order, here are some highlights (there were too many monuments and art works to come close to including them all!) in the history of how doves have been portrayed as a symbol of peace.
2010: The John Lennon Peace Monument was erected in Liverpool, England by the Global Peace Initiative. The sculpture, which was designed by a 19 year old American artist, features several doves in flight, in addition to musical notes, a white feather, a peace sign, and the inscription “Peace on Earth for the Conservation of Life.”
1997: Canada officially changed the definition of the word “veteran” to include people who served in global peace efforts. In Quebec’s National Field of Honor, a cemetery for veterans and their loved ones, a Peace Circle monument (one of monuments 13 in the cemetery) was erected to commemorate the change. The monument features a sculpture of dove perched on a granite block.
1994: Public schools in Azerbaijan adopted a literature series that included an Azerbaijani legend of how doves became the bird of peace: the mother of a Shaw who was on his way to battle beseeched her son to not wear his helmet, because a dove had built a nest inside of it. At the battle, the other Shaw questioned why the first Shaw went to war without his helmet, and was so moved by the story of the Shaw choosing not to disturb dove nest that he suggested they end the war, so as to not disturb all the people who were displaced by the battles.
1981: The International Day of Peace, September 21, was established by the United Nations. This day is celebrated throughout the world, and the symbol of the day is a dove carrying an olive branch.
1976: Evolutionary biologist John Maynard-Smith used the term “dove” in the game theory “Hawk vs. Dove” scenario (originally presented as hawk vs. mouse, in 1973). This game depicts a confrontation over a shared resource: the dove starts with an aggressive display, but two doves will share the resource and a dove will flee from a hawk, whereas the hawk starts with an aggressive display, which escalates to a fight between two hawks. Because a dove will either share the resource or back off, whereas a hawk will either dominate the resource or risk injury, neither strategy is 100% “better” than the other. The Hawk vs. Dove game shows, mathematically, why non-aggressive behaviors can evolve, even with aggressive behaviors also present.
1968: DC Comics introduced the superhero duo Dove and Hawk. Initially, the characters were brothers who worked together through their opposing strengths: Dove’s order and non-violence and Hawk’s chaos and aggression. The characters have existed in many contexts, including both their own series, and appearing in other titles. At one point in the series, Dove was killed, and the Dove role was later taken up by a female character.
1950: The World Peace Council, a non-governmental structure supporting global peace, disarmament, and global security, was founded. It is present in more than 100 countries, is an NGO member of the United Nations, and its symbol is a dove.
1949: Pablo Picasso’s lithograph “La Colombe” was chosen as the poster image for the Paris Peace Conference. Picasso went on to create many more Peace Dove images, some also including human faces. These stylized images have become iconic, and one is still used as the symbol for the World Peace Council. Doves were also personally meaningful to Picasso: he often sketched pigeons as a child, and they featured in his 1901 “Child With a Dove,” 1930 “Woman with Pigeons,” and 1957 “The Pigeons.” He also named his eldest daughter Paloma, which is Spanish for dove.
1920: In the first Olympic games since the end of WWI, doves were released during the opening ceremony as a symbol of peace. The release of live doves became a standard part of the opening ceremony until 1988, in Seoul, when there was an accident (when some birds tragically landed on the Olympic torch before it was lit). Since then, symbolic doves have been incorporated into the ceremony, such as cyclists dressed as doves in London 2012. Pigeon releases were also part of early Greek games, but then the birds were functional couriers to let communities know when they had a local winner to welcome back home after the Games.
1919: Japan released a peace commemoration stamp, with an image of a dove carrying an olive branch, to acknowledge the end of WWI.
1771: South Carolina released a £2 note which depicted a dove carrying an olive branch with the motto “Peace Restored.” In 1778, Georgia released a £40 note which depicted a dove, a hand carrying a dagger, and the words “Either war or Peace, Prepared for Both.”
16th Century: In Florence, the Government agency called the Ten of Liberty and Peace used a seal with an image of a dove holding an olive branch, and the words “S. Pax et Defensio Libertatis” (Peace and the Defense of Liberty).
Christianity: Doves are mentioned specifically in the Bible, including as symbols of beauty and endearment (in the Song of Solomon), as manifestations of the Holy Spirit, and in reference to followers of Christ. In early Christian art, doves were often depicted on tombs and catacombs. Doves are also common symbols in paintings, murals, and stained glass.
Great Flood stories: There are Great Flood stories from cultures in every continent and, in many, including the Old Testament story of the Noah and the flood, the Mesopotamian Epic of Gilgamesh, and in myths ranging from Massai in Africa, Altaic in Asia, Totonac in Mexico, Mandan in North America, a a dove (and sometimes other birds, too) was sent out to see if dry land was available. In several flood stories, the dove was sent out three times: first returning to the boat with nothing; second, returning with an olive branch; finally, not returning at all, implying that land was once again inhabitable.
Roman/Greek/Mycenaean/Minoan Mythology: In Minoan culture, doves were a common image in shrines, including as figurines or on ritual vessels. There was also a goddess that was often depicted with doves on or near her head. While doves do not appear to have been associated with a particular Mycenaean goddess, images of doves were often present in sacred places. In Greek, and then Roman, mythology Aphrodite/Venus, the goddess of love, was often depicted with doves.