Ancient Greek History

History of Olive Oil in Ancient Greece

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Ancient Greek Olive OilOlive oil is always present at the Greek table. Nearly every dish Greek cooks prepare uses this highly prized oil. A bottle of it is also present on the table, inviting guests to pour some on their food just before eating.

It’s also considered a health cure and essential beauty aid. The oil is used to combat dry skin, control frizzy hair, and even soothe irritated skin.

Athena and the Olive Tree

According to legend, Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom, is responsible for giving Athens the olive tree as a gift. It is unclear in some of the re-telling of this story whether other parts of Ancient Greece already had the olive tree or not. However, the story shows that the olive tree was highly important to the people of Ancient Greece.

In the legend, Athena and Poseidon were in competition over who would have the new city-state named after them. Poseidon struck the ground with his staff and gave the Athenians the gift of flowing salt water. Athena struck the ground with her staff and it turned into an olive tree.

Since the olive tree provided wood, nourishment, and trade, she won. The olive tree became a symbol of peace because of this victory.

First Cultivated in Crete

Even though Athena is credited with giving the Athenians the gift of the olive tree, it is really the Early Minoan Civilization on Crete who displays evidence of being the first to cultivate the olive tree in 3500 BC.

Over time, the Minoans on Crete perfected the process of cultivating the tree and it became an important part of their culinary tradition and also helped generate income through trade. They were the first to export olive oil to both Africa and the Middle East.

Olive Oil Trade in Other Cultures

Other cultures in Greece that cultivated and traded olives and olive oil included the Mycenaean civilization from 1600 – 1150 BC. By the 6th century BC, the importance of the olive tree grew as a top legislature in Athens helped pass a law that would regulate the use of this precious tree.

Medicinal Uses of Olive Oil

The Ancient Greeks understood that olive oil was highly nutritious. Therefore, top philosophers and physicians in the 7th century BC in Ancient Greece explored the use of olive oil as medicine. Hippocrates, for example, used it for various things when he was treating his patients. Nowadays, olive oil is used to help with digestive problems, skin conditions, coughs, sore throat, congestion, and other respiratory complaints.

Over time, olive oil got the nickname of “liquid gold” because of how important it was to the economy of Ancient Greece. It was responsible for generating revenue in most of the city-states that produced it.

It even played an important part in the Olympic games by becoming a symbol of the games themselves and part of the award given to winners. The olive tree, therefore, was not only important in history, but it also is still highly important today.

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