Who Invented Clapping? (Invention Timeline Explained)

Everyone knows how to clap, right? It’s the simple putting together of the hands in succession to create a distinctive sound that carries a message. For example, people clap to express appreciation for something spectacular that they just witnessed. Likewise, many people clap to encourage someone who faces an adversary, to give them that psychological boost to help them overcome such obstacles. Typically, when an audience claps, they also accompany it with words of admiration, but there are also times when the opposite can be true. 

Now, have you ever thought about who invented clapping? Or how it came to be? In this article, we’ll try to trace how it began and how it evolved through the years. 

Who invented clapping?

Historians honestly couldn’t trace who first clapped, but they surmise that even prehistoric men clapped. However, they think that they clapped not to show appreciation, just like what we’re accustomed to, but because they wanted to communicate if there was danger lurking around. They also believe clapping is so hardwired to our psyche that even babies know how to do it. 

If one is to narrow down where and who made clapping commonplace, historians point to the ancient Greeks and Romans as the ones who did it. Several historical accounts state that it was the civic duty of Greeks to clap after watching performances in their public squares and theaters. It was also said that the Roman Emperor Heraclius had to meet a barbarian king despite having a decimated army. He was said to have hired men not to augment the Roman army but to make noise by clapping to intimidate the barbarian king. While it didn’t work, it does give us an insight into how Romans perceived applause or clapping. 

The Romans are known for their public spectacles. They made it their tradition to express their approval of the performance in the arena. Roman audiences showed their appreciation by snapping their fingers, clapping with the hollow or flat palm, and waving the flaps of their voluminous togas. According to records, Roman audiences would also shout their appreciation, and because Emperor Aurelian decreed the use of napkins instead of toga flapping, the orarium was also used. 

Specific accounts also point to the roman playwright Plautus who in the 3rd Century BC included directions in his plays for the audience to clap and show their participation and appreciation. For example, Plautus would instruct one of his actors at the end of the presentation to step up after the end of the speech and tell the audience to clap as they say goodbye. 

Clapping ’s key contributors (and evolution)

  • Ancient Greeks
    Greeks clapped after a performance as civic duty 

    The Greeks clapped to show appreciation for an excellent performance as part of their civic duty.

  • Ancient Romans
    Romans clapped after public performances.

    Romans demonstrated their approval of a spectacle when they clapped, snapped their fingers, or moved the flaps of their togas. Emperor Aurelian decreed the use of napkins to express approval in a process they call orarium.

  • Plautus
    Roman playwright Plautus asked audience to clap after his plays ended 

    Notable Roman playwright Plautus routinely asked one of his actors to step up after the delivery of the final speech and tell the audience to clap. This practice is the first record of people getting asked to clap as a form of approval.

  • Emperor Heraclius
    Emperor tried to intimidate barbarian horde with clappers

    Emperor Heraclius tried to intimidate a barbarian king with hired clappers to augment the decimated Roman army.

  • French
    French professional applauders created illusion of audience approval during theatre and opera performances 

    Some French performers hired professional applauders to create the impression of increased audience approval at the end of their shows.

When was clapping invented?

Historians agree that they cannot pinpoint when the first clap originated. Still, they surmise that even prehistoric man could clap, perhaps not out of pleasure but probably as a way to communicate that there’s either food or danger lurking nearby. 

What historians could agree on, however, is that the ancient Greeks and Romans were among the first ones to attribute a social component to clapping. Greeks and Romans clapped to show their approval at the end of theatrical performances. For the Greeks, it was part of their civic duty to clap, which is probably what can be said of the Romans. Romans clapped, snapped their fingers, and waved napkins or the flaps of their voluminous togas at the end of public spectacles to show their approval of the performance. 

Renowned Roman playwright Plautus also incorporated clapping at the end of his shows during the 3rd century BC. He would instruct one of his actors to step up after the end of the final speech and ask the audience to participate in applauding the performers. 

A brief history of clapping 

Historians cannot account for the first instance of clapping. However, they surmise that even prehistoric men knew how to clap. They state that they clapped not because they were happy or wanted to express their admiration but because they wanted to communicate if food or danger was lurking nearby.

Historians agree, however, that it was the ancient Greeks and Romans who attributed a social component to the action of clapping. Both cultures used clapping to show that they appreciated public spectacles. The Greeks understood it was part of their civic responsibility to clap after such an event. The same could be said about the Romans, who also clapped, snapped their fingers, or waved the flaps of their togas or napkins to show that they approved of the show or the gladiator combat. Historians also believe that the audience added shouting as part of the process. 

According to several accounts, renowned Roman playwright Plautus incorporated the act of clapping or applauding at the end of their theatrical performances in the 3rd century BC. He instructed one of the actors in the play to step up right after the end of the final speech and ask the audience to clap. It was the first act where the audience was asked to show their appreciation through the action. 

It was also said that Emperor Heraclius hired several men to augment the weakened Roman army when they faced a barbarian horde led by their king. But, of course, the emperor didn’t hire the men to strengthen the manpower; but he wanted to intimidate the barbarians through sound.  

French performers also hired professional applauders called claque to energetically clap at the end of their shows. They wanted to create an illusion that there was a huge impact on the audience after their performance. 

As time went by, clapping became commonplace. However, social norms dictated if it was polite to clap energetically or not during performances. For example, during sports spectacles, the audience is expected to cheer their favorite athletes competing in the events. However, it is considered inappropriate to applaud enthusiastically for theater, opera, and classical music performances. Instead, the audience could clap more reservedly, befitting the venue and the event. Although the great composers Mozart and Beethoven appreciated a positive response from their audience, the prevailing culture preferred reserved clapping. 

Another highlight that deserves recognition is the evolution and incorporation of deaf clapping. According to various historical accounts, the French started deaf clapping when they waved napkins during banquets and galas to show their appreciation of a performance. Pretty soon, the movement caught on, and silently moving the hands quickly to and fro became accepted as clapping for the deaf community. 

 The clapping timeline

  1. Prehistoric times
    Prehistoric man clapped for different reasons

    Historians surmise that prehistoric men clapped not to express happiness or appreciation but to signal if there’s danger of food nearby.

  2. 3<sup>rd</sup> century BC
    Ancient Greeks and Romans attributed social dimension to clapping

    The ancient Greeks and Romans provided a social component to clapping. Greeks and Romans clapped after a performance. Greeks did it out as part of their civic duty. Romans also snapped their fingers and waved napkins or the hems of their togas to showcase their approval and appreciation of the performance.

  3. 19<sup>th</sup> century onwards
    Social norms dictate when clapping was appreciated

    Various social norms dictated when clapping was appreciated. For example, clapping and egging on a participant in sporting events is acceptable. However, enthusiastic applause and catcalls aren’t appreciated for theatrical, operatic, and classic music performances.

  4. 1985
    Deaf clapping became accepted and recognized

    The French started the practice of deaf clapping when they waved napkins in the air during galas and banquets to show they appreciated the performance. However, the practice of rapidly moving the hands to and fro caught on worldwide, and people recognized it as deaf clapping.

Where was clapping invented?

Although prehistoric men might have known how to clap, it might not have been to show their happiness and appreciation but to signal if there was danger or food nearby. According to various texts and accounts, the ancient Romans and Greeks placed a social component to clapping in their respective territories. Both the Greeks and Romans clapped during the performances in public areas in their metropolises.  

The importance of clapping 

  • Clapping improves heart health

    Regular clapping helps improve heart health because it allows the blood flow better. According to health experts, clapping at least 30 minutes daily increases heart health as it pumps blood much better.

  • It also improves and regulates blood pressure

    Regular clapping also helps promote better blood pressure as it makes the blood flow better.

  • Clapping also spurs children’s intellect, coordination and skill.

    According to health experts, clapping spurs the child’s intellect, coordination, and skill as the action improves brain function.

  • Clapping improves physical health 

    Clapping for 30 minutes or more each day helps a person keep diseases at bay. It also helps those suffering from diabetes, depression, arthritis, and other ailments.

Clapping by the numbers

  • 30This is the recommended number of minutes per day you must clap if you want to improve heart health and overall physical well-being.
  • 400 caloriesThis is the approximate number of calories you can burn in one hour of clapping provided you increase your heart rate to at least 110 beats per minute.
  • 2.5 – 5According to studies, an average man can clap 2.5 to 5 times per second. 
  • 3Historians traced the first accounts of clapping for Greeks and Romans in the 3rd century BC.

Five facts about Clapping 

  • Clapping has several health benefits.

    Clapping improves overall health. It can impact heart health and improve blood pressure. Applause can also help those who suffer from depression, diabetes, and other similar conditions.

  • Golf clapping is a thing.

    There is such a thing known as golf clap. Unfortunately, it is a form of quiet clapping which can also showcase ridicule or sarcasm.

  • Beethoven and Mozart loved audiences who clapped.

    Great classical composers Beethoven and Mozart loved audiences who clapped during their performances. As a result, they regularly repeat sections that received positive responses from the audience.

  • Professional applauders are known as claquers.

    French performers regularly hired a group of people known as claqueurs to applaud enthusiastically at the end of performances.

  • Clapping is encouraged after a safe landing.

    Pilots and flight crew encourage clapping to recognize the aviator’s skill after a safe journey and landing.

FAQs about clapping 

  • Does clapping set a rhythm?

    Yes. Clapping can set a rhythm, especially for some types of music.

  • Can you clap during a classical music performance?

    While some composers appreciate applause, they generally request reserved clapping instead of enthusiastic claps.

  • Is clapping healthy?

    According to several health experts, clapping does have several health benefits. 

  • How fast can a person clap?

    An average person can clap at least 2.5 to 5 times per second. 

  • What is the longest record for applause?

    On July 20, 2019, at an event in Coventry, UK, Clark Stevens and the Festival of Awesomeness achieved the world record for the longest applause. It currently stands at two hours and five minutes. 

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