|OLIVE OIL & HISTORY
A MYTHICAL ASPECT FOR THE OLIVE TREE ORIGIN
Taking in the account that the perfect combination for the growth of the olive tree is a temperate dry climate with sunlight most of the year and an adequate habitat not far away from sea, the olive tree found the best conditions in Greece's relief map!
Thinking of the above it is not strange that ancient Greeks created even myths for this tree and its origin.
The most famous of these is the myth for the contest between Athena and Poseidon.
Upon this myth at some time the Athenians wanted to select the protector of their town.
The Council of the Twelve Gods of Olympus decided to satisfy them sending Poseidon the god of sea and Athena the goddess of wisdom for a contest.
The premium of this contest was the protection of the town and took place in the holy rock of Acropolis.
Poseidon started first and struck the rock with his trident.
At that point a horse sprung out and rushing water,
Athena replied and struck the rock with her spear;
The first olive tree appeared!
The Athenians finally declared Athena the victor considering her gift more valuable than Poseidon's one and thus the town took her name!
The people of Athens and Attica were always proud of this event and considered the olive tree as a divine gift to them.
HISTORY OF GREEK OLIVE OIL
As scientists tell us, the exact place where the olive tree sprung for the first time is still unknown but they are sure for the greater area of its origin, which undoubtedly was the Mediterranean Basin.
Unquestionably the first cultivation of the olive tree worldwide took place in Greece and more specific in Crete.
This happened about 3500 BC in the Early Minoan times.
In this period the olive tree was in wild form but very soon transformed into the form we know today.
After 2000 BC the cultivation of the olive tree in Crete was very intense and systematic playing the most important role in the island's economy.
From Crete started the first export of the olive oil not only in mainland Greece but in Northern Africa and Asia Minor as well.
Very soon the cultivation passed to mainland Greece and the olive tree and its blessed product, the olive oil became synonyms of the Greek nutrition through centuries.
The Mycenaean civilization (c.1600-1150 BC) followed the Minoan in mainland Greece.
The olive oil production was very important in the economy of this society.
The decipherment of the "Linear B" script brought to light valuable information about the production, the commerce and the export of the olive oil in Mycenaean Greece as we can see in the palace records of Mycenae and Pylos.
In the 6th century BC Solon the great Athenian legislator drafted the first law for the protection of the olive tree excluding the uncontrolled felling.
The olive tree was a symbol in ancient Greece and the olive oil was used not only for its valuable nutritional quality but also for medical purposes.
The symbolic meaning of the olive tree as well as the exceptional value of the olive oil is visible in overall sectors of the ancient Greece's life.
A number of facts show to us the relationship between the olive tree and its product with some social activities.
It is characteristic that when the first Olympic Games took place in Olympia in 776 BC an olive-tree branch was the award to the winners symbolizing the armistice of any hostility and the peace.
This symbolic award was given to winners until the end of the ancient Olympic Games!
However, not only an olive-tree branch was the award in games but the product itself.
The most impressive example of the value of the olive oil was its use at the Panathenaic Games.
These games were taking place every four years with the occasion of Athens' greatest celebration the Panathenea in honour of the goddess Athena.
The winners of the athletic games delivered as an award olive oil putted in amphorae known as the "Panathenaic Amphorae".
The amphorae itself constituted the quality of the already certified product. ( The first example of certification in world history ).
The quantities of the delivered olive oil by the winners were huge.
For example, depending on the sport, the first winner could take as award a quantity in about 5 tons!
As a matter of fact, such as a quantity could not be consumed by the winner only.
Taking in the account that the legislation in Athens excluded the export of the olive oil but this concession was given only to winners of the Panathenaic Games we can easily imagine how rich could become any winner!
During Classical period when Athens reached the zenith of its power the Greek olive oil was exported throughout the known world and as it is normal the greatest merchants were the Athenians winners of the Panathenaic Games.
When Romans occupied Greece, the olive oil production continued and Romans were able to learn the secrets of cultivation.
During Byzantine times things did not change.
The production of the olive oil in Greek territories was huge because of the vast size of the empire which included almost half of the olive oil productive areas in world level (half of the Mediterranean Basin) and the product was exported throughout the world.
Byzantine Empire was the largest exporter of olive oil in the world.
Large part of the total production was the work of the monks due to the big areas possessed by monasteries.
When Turks conquered Greece the production of olive oil was not affected. The product itself kept alive inter alia the traditional way of life of the Greek nation and was even used for religious purposes.
Undoubtely, a great part of the total production belonged to the Turkish government but the rest remained in Greek hands as well as the "know how". Turks were not able to exploit this divine gift.
After the liberation the olive tree areas were separated by law into two ways: the private properties
(those areas which belonged to Greeks during the Turkish occupation), and the national areas (those areas
which belonged to the Turks respectively).
From this time until today a large number of incentives was given to individual producers, thus today Greece
produces about 300,000 tons per year and despite its small size possesses the third position among olive
oil producers in the world using the most advanced methods and the most sophisticated technologies. But
this position is fictitious taking in the account that over 70% of the total Greek production is Extra
Virgin olive oil. Half of that is exported to other olive oil productive countries raising their official
In fact Greece is the world's largest exporter of Extra Virgin olive oil.
About one third of the total production (Extra Virgin and Virgin) is exported. The remaining quantity gives Greece the first position in per capita consumption at world level.
The tradition of the production of olive oil spans more than five millennia in Grecian area.
Unquestionably, the Greek olive oil is by far the best in the world!