The Mediterranean’s Use of Olive Oil

Throughout this article, I saw many references to how olive oil was used and made in antiquity to how it is used and made today.  So I wanted to focus my discussion on this idea with this blog post.  One of the major developments of the Mediterranean antiquity was the olive tree.  As described by Meneley, Poseidon and Athena were vying for the role as patron god/goddess of Athens.  Poseidon thought that he would win because of the sea and what he could bring to the Mediterranean (specifically fishing).  Athena gave the Athenians a grove of olive trees, which eventually was made into a sacred grove that was used to worship the goddess.  Because of the important usage of the olive tree and the realization of the Athenians about the importance of the olive tree, Athena won as the patron goddess of Athens.

For the following centuries, the olive tree gave the Athenians, as well as the Romans, plenty of inventions and uses.  The olive tree gave olives, which in turn gave them olive oil.  The bark from the tree was used for building ships and tools.  And many groves were used in ceremonies to honor Athena.  A major use of olive oil was as a prize during games.  During the Panathenaia, the Athenian games, they strictly worshipped Athena and what she gave to the Athenians, the olive tree.  By showing their gratitude, the winners of each of the contests would receive amphora/amphorae of olive oil.  This showed how much the Athenians used olive oil and the importance of it in their lives.

Going outside of the Ionian peninsula, the Romans used olive oil just as much as the Greeks.  Just as Athena was identified with the production of the olive tree in Athens, Minerva (the Roman equivalent to Athena) was identified with the production of the olive tree in Rome.  The Romans held olive oil in high regard for their civilization.  One specific reference that showed its importance is the hill of amphorae, Monte Testaccio.  This hill is made up of approximately 53 million broken amphorae, which mostly stored olive oil.  With this high number, it shows the importance of olive oil during the Roman Empire.

Fast forwarding to more modern times, olive oil is still identified as a source from antiquity.  It may have many modern uses, i.e. cooking, as a source of light, and as a lubricant in mechanics, it is still identified with its ancient sources.  While times have obviously changed since the invention of olive oil, the mode of making it is still somewhat similar.  The use of stone wheels to crush the olives is still used, however, it is no longer powered by slaves, horses, or water, but by electricity.  The lack of change in this technique shows the direct ties to the Athenians and Romans because of the unwillingness to change to a quicker and more proficient way of extracting the oil.  Olive oil is also still considered a staple to many parts of the Mediterranean, including its originating areas (Athens and Rome).  This is identified in the fact that its import and exports in Rome increased with the realization from other areas of the world to its importance.

It is not a question as to why olive oil has been used for millennia.  Its importance throughout antiquity and modern times is exhibited by its wide spread usage throughout the world.  Not only was Athens the origin of the invention of olive oil, but it has prospered in the area since approximately the 7th century BCE.  It is, however, questionable why the Greek economy suffers so much if olive oil was originated in Greece and they would be the best source of pure olive oil.  They could use this as a source of economic gain, but instead remember its usage throughout antiquity as a prize to be cherished because of the great goddess of wisdom, Athena.

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