History of the Olives

11.03.2021

Source: Parthena.ca

5.333 million to 2.58 million years before in Italy, olive leaf fossils have been found in Pliocene deposits at Mongardino. In North Africa, fossilized remains have been discovered in strata from the Upper Paleolithic at the Relilai snail hatchery. Pieces of wild olive trees and stones were also found in excavations of the Chalcolithic period and the Bronze Age in Spain. Hence, it is believed that the existence of the olive tree dates back to the 12th millennium BC. 

 

 8000-6000 B.C.                  

Neolithic peoples collected wild olives as early as the 8th millennium BC. And, the wild olive tree is said to have originated in Asia Minor (Turkey), which is between present Syria and Iran. However, other theories stated its cultivation may have started in the Phoenician colonies of the present territories of Palestine and Lebanon, much nearer to the Mediterranean, at the beginning of the Neolithic period around the year 6000 B.C. From there, the olive tree expanded towards the West to the island of Cyprus and on towards Anatolia or from the island of Crete towards Egypt. 

 

 1600-1101 B.C.                                

The Phoenicians started spreading the olive throughout the Greek isles in 16th centuries B.C. , then followed by Greek mainland between the 14th and 12th centuries B.C. where its cultivation increased. It gained great importance in the 4th century BC when Solon issued official order on regulating olive planting. 

 

 1050 B.C.                                   

Olive trees cultivation was introduced into Spain during the maritime domination of the Phoenicians. However, it did not develop to a remarkable extent until the arrival of Scipio (212 B.C.) and Roman rule (45 B.C.). 

 

 800-601 B.C.                          

Olive trees cultivation spread into Iberia and Etruscan cities well before the 8th century B.C. through trade with the Phoenicians and Carthage, and then followed by spreading into southern Gaul by the Celtic tribes during the 7th century B.C..  

 

 600-501 B.C. and after                

From the 6th century B.C. onwards, the olive spread throughout the Mediterranean countries reaching Tripoli, Tunis, and the island of Sicily. From there, it moved to southern Italy. Olive growing moved upwards from south to north, from Calabria to Liguria. 

 

 264-146 B.C. and after              

The Romans continued to spread the olive cultivation to the countries bordering the Mediterranean, using it as a peaceful weapon in their conquests to settle the people. After the 3rd Punic War, olives occupied a large stretch of the Baetica valley and spread towards the central and Mediterranean coastal areas of the Iberian Peninsula including Portugal. The Arabs brought their varieties with them to the south of Spain and influenced the spread of cultivation so much that the Spanish words for olive (aceituna), oil (aceite), and the wild olive tree (acebuche) and the Portuguese words for olive (azeitona) and for olive oil (azeite), have Arabic roots.

 

 After 1453 A.D.                         

The olive tree made its appearance in Sardinia in Roman times, while in Corsica it is said to have been brought by the Genoese after the fall of the Roman Empire.

 

 1501-1600                              

The expansion of the olive tree in the New World was undertaken by the Spanish Conquistadors from the beginning of the 16th Century. Some 1520 documents in the "Casa de Contratación" (now at the Archive of the Indies, in Seville) mention transfers of olive tree plants to the Americas. In the beginning, it was introduced in the Antilles, and afterward in the American continent. On the other hand, Mexico had olives groves in regular production towards the end of the 16th Century. From here, they expanded to Peru and then to Chile. At about the same time the plant was introduced in Argentina where it adapted perfectly well in the provinces of La Rioja and Catamarca. 

 

 1701-1800                                        

In the Arauco region, in the North of Argentina, one can still see the so-called "Olivo de Arauco" or Old Arauco Olive Tree, that was planted when Charles III was king of Spain (1759-1788). The olive tree reached the United States, concretely California, in the 18th Century, when it was introduced by Fray Junípero Serra, founder of the San Diego de Alcalá mission. Years later olive trees were planted by Franciscan fathers in the missions they established along the 600 miles of the Californian coast. 

 

In more modern times the olive tree has continued to spread outside the Mediterranean and today is farmed in places as far removed from its origins as southern Africa, Australia, Japan, and China. As Duhamel said, “the Mediterranean ends where the olive tree no longer grows”, which can be capped by saying that “There where the sun permits, the olive tree takes root and gains ground”.

 

Olive oil has been used for more than just a food source for the peoples in the Mediterranean. Its uses were medicinal, magical, and an endless source of fascination and wonder and the fountain of great wealth and power. Olive oil was the principle product of trade for the Minoan civilization. The earliest surviving oil pressing apparatuses found date back to the early Minoan times, around 3500 B.C.. Researchers have found that olives were tuned into oil by 4500 B.C. by the Canaanites (Israel). Dynastic Egyptians imported olive oil from the Minoans, Syrians, and Canaan civilizations and oil was an important item of wealth and commerce. Olive oil was considered an important antiquity throughout the trade networks in the ancient world. There is evidence of an early oil trade among civilizations such as Mesopotamia, Mycenae and Egypt. Maybe the most important evidence of this trade is found at Testaccio in Rome, a hill littered with the remains of amphorae used to transport the oil from Baetica (Andalusia) to Rome. The high number of these containers from that area found in Rome and many Roman settlements clearly shows the importance of olive culture on the Andalusian economy and on the Iberian Peninsula in general.

 

Olive oil has been used for many different uses, by the ancient people of the Mediterranean, all religious rituals, medicines, fuel for lamps, soap making, and skin care and beauty application. Olive oil has long been considered sacred. The purity of olive oil, and the clear, soft light it casts, and its inoffensive odor when burned, has made it a natural choice for religious rituals since ancient times, and indeed until today.  The custom of anointing a monarch at coronation was preserved by the Church and is used till this day.  Olive oil has been used medicinally and medically for curing many ailments and deceases. Hippocrates recommended olive oil to cure ulcers, cholera, and muscular pain. Ancient Greeks also anointed kings with olive oil. The lamps that illuminated ancient shrines burned olive oil.    

          

Before the craft of making soap became known, olive oil was used in personal hygiene. The Greeks would smear themselves with it and scrape it off with a curved instrument called the strigil, thus carrying off dirt and sweat. Whoever could afford to then went off to the public baths and steamed themselves.

 

Olive oil was called “liquid gold” in ancient time. The ancient Greek athletes rubbed oil on their bodies, and the olive oil was used for trophies for the winners. While, Olive twigs were twined into wreaths crowning winners in athletic games, victorious warriors returning home, and distinguished citizens of any stripe. Throughout history there have been many amazing merits of olive oil, the treating of leprosy, massaging the rough skin of elephants, boiling oil used as weapons by pouring it over the castle walls on attackers.

 

The silvery-green olive leaf is still a symbol of abundance, hope, and peace. Remember the Biblical story of Noah’s dove returning from land with an olive twig in its beak? The sign that the Flood had abated must have been a huge relief to Noah’s family – and the animals living close to each other in the dark lower levels of the Ark. Today, the phrase “offering an olive branch” indicates reconciliation and the hand of friendship. Olive trees can live for centuries; even millennia. Those ancient trees’ trunks split over the centuries, but still produce a harvest of fruit every year. Some of them are known in France, Italy and Lebanon.

Legends & Mythology

According to legends & Greek Mythology, the city of Athens obtained its name by holding a contest to see which god or goddess would be the patron of the new city. Athena goddess of wisdom was challenged by Poseidon, god of the sea and horses, to provide the Greeks with the most useful and divine gift. Poseidon provided a spring of salt water gushing from a cliff, and Athena provided the olive tree. Athena was chosen by Zeus as the winner because she provided the most useful gift of the olive tree, noted for its fruit, oil, and wood and as the symbol of peace, wisdom and prosperity. Even today, an olive tree stands where the story of the legendary competition is believed to have taken place. The myth still lives on, as it is said that all the olive trees in Athens are descended from the first olive tree offered by Athena.

Source: Olives.life

Olive oil, Religions & the Bible

Source: New World Encyclopedia.org

Olive oil is also referenced 140 times in the Bible. Olive oil was sacred to Moses, Christ and Mohammad. In Genesis, an olive branch was returned to Noah on the Ark by a dove; a sign of the end of the great flood. The greatest significance of olive oil is documented in Exodus, where the Lord tells Moses how to make an anointing oil of spices and olive oil.

 

The Jewish people, having plenty of wine and olive oil, were a symbol of God’s favor. Oil was and still is a sign of God’s blessing, as it represents all that best in life and God’s generosity to the people he loves. In Judaism olive oil was infused with aromatic herbs according to a specific formula, and used to anoint the High Priest at the Temple in Jerusalem, prophets, and some kings. The “eternal light” in the Temple was naturally fueled by olive oil. Plain olive oil is still preferred for lighting Hannukah and Shabbat candles in Jewish homes.The olive is one of Israel’s “Seven Species,” fruits and grains native to the region and which have Biblical connection.

 

In the Christian churches, both western (Roman Catholic and Protestant) and eastern (Orthodox), olive oil is a symbol of god’s boundless generosity towards humankind and his never ending love.

 

Olive oil holds a special position in the Greek Orthodox religion, as a symbol of love and peace, olive oil is an essential part of several solemn rites, including baptisms.

 

In Islam, the olive tree is a symbol of Mohammad’s presence, and through the oils divine light brings men closer to Allah. Olive oil is eaten as a pleasing obedience to the Prophet Muhammad’s injunction to “Eat the oil of the olive, for it is a blessed fruit.” The Prophet also said, “Every kind of olive oil is for you; anoint yourself with it.” Legend says that the Prophet was so devoted to the oil that his very shawl was soaked in it.


In Islam the Qur’an references both the olive tree and olive oil, as do several hadiths (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad).

 

“He causes to grow for you the crops, the olives, the date-palms, the grapes, and every kind of fruit,” reads Sura 16:11.

 

In Sura 24:35, the plant is praised as the “blessed olive tree.” “Eat olive oil with your bread,” Ibn Majah recorded the Prophet advising his followers, while Tirmidhi wrote, “The Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him) said: ‘Eat olive oil and use it on your hair and skin, for it is from a blessed tree.’”

 

History Of The Olives

5.333 million to 2.58 million years before in Italy, olive leaf fossils have been found in Pliocene deposits at Mongardino. In North Africa, fossilized remains have been discovered in strata from the Upper Paleolithic at the Relilai snail hatchery. Pieces of wild olive trees and stones were also found in excavations of the Chalcolithic period and the Bronze Age in Spain. Hence, it is believed that the existence of the olive tree dates back to the 12th millennium BC. 

 

 8000-6000 B.C.                  

Neolithic peoples collected wild olives as early as the 8th millennium BC. And, the wild olive tree is said to have originated in Asia Minor (Turkey), which is between present Syria and Iran. However, other theories stated its cultivation may have started in the Phoenician colonies of the present territories of Palestine and Lebanon, much nearer to the Mediterranean, at the beginning of the Neolithic period around the year 6000 B.C. From there, the olive tree expanded towards the West to the island of Cyprus and on towards Anatolia or from the island of Crete towards Egypt. 

 

 1600-1101 B.C.                                

The Phoenicians started spreading the olive throughout the Greek isles in 16th centuries B.C. , then followed by Greek mainland between the 14th and 12th centuries B.C. where its cultivation increased. It gained great importance in the 4th century BC when Solon issued official order on regulating olive planting. 

 

 1050 B.C.                                   

Olive trees cultivation was introduced into Spain during the maritime domination of the Phoenicians. However, it did not develop to a remarkable extent until the arrival of Scipio (212 B.C.) and Roman rule (45 B.C.). 

 

 800-601 B.C.                          

Olive trees cultivation spread into Iberia and Etruscan cities well before the 8th century B.C. through trade with the Phoenicians and Carthage, and then followed by spreading into southern Gaul by the Celtic tribes during the 7th century B.C..  

 

 600-501 B.C. and after                

From the 6th century B.C. onwards, the olive spread throughout the Mediterranean countries reaching Tripoli, Tunis, and the island of Sicily. From there, it moved to southern Italy. Olive growing moved upwards from south to north, from Calabria to Liguria. 

 

 264-146 B.C. and after              

The Romans continued to spread the olive cultivation to the countries bordering the Mediterranean, using it as a peaceful weapon in their conquests to settle the people. After the 3rd Punic War, olives occupied a large stretch of the Baetica valley and spread towards the central and Mediterranean coastal areas of the Iberian Peninsula including Portugal. The Arabs brought their varieties with them to the south of Spain and influenced the spread of cultivation so much that the Spanish words for olive (aceituna), oil (aceite), and the wild olive tree (acebuche) and the Portuguese words for olive (azeitona) and for olive oil (azeite), have Arabic roots.

 

 After 1453 A.D.                         

The olive tree made its appearance in Sardinia in Roman times, while in Corsica it is said to have been brought by the Genoese after the fall of the Roman Empire.

 

 1501-1600                              

The expansion of the olive tree in the New World was undertaken by the Spanish Conquistadors from the beginning of the 16th Century. Some 1520 documents in the "Casa de Contratación" (now at the Archive of the Indies, in Seville) mention transfers of olive tree plants to the Americas. In the beginning, it was introduced in the Antilles, and afterward in the American continent. On the other hand, Mexico had olives groves in regular production towards the end of the 16th Century. From here, they expanded to Peru and then to Chile. At about the same time the plant was introduced in Argentina where it adapted perfectly well in the provinces of La Rioja and Catamarca. 

 

 1701-1800                                        

In the Arauco region, in the North of Argentina, one can still see the so-called "Olivo de Arauco" or Old Arauco Olive Tree, that was planted when Charles III was king of Spain (1759-1788). The olive tree reached the United States, concretely California, in the 18th Century, when it was introduced by Fray Junípero Serra, founder of the San Diego de Alcalá mission. Years later olive trees were planted by Franciscan fathers in the missions they established along the 600 miles of the Californian coast. 

 

In more modern times the olive tree has continued to spread outside the Mediterranean and today is farmed in places as far removed from its origins as southern Africa, Australia, Japan, and China. As Duhamel said, “the Mediterranean ends where the olive tree no longer grows”, which can be capped by saying that “There where the sun permits, the olive tree takes root and gains ground”.

 

Olive oil has been used for more than just a food source for the peoples in the Mediterranean. Its uses were medicinal, magical, and an endless source of fascination and wonder and the fountain of great wealth and power. Olive oil was the principle product of trade for the Minoan civilization. The earliest surviving oil pressing apparatuses found date back to the early Minoan times, around 3500 B.C.. Researchers have found that olives were tuned into oil by 4500 B.C. by the Canaanites (Israel). Dynastic Egyptians imported olive oil from the Minoans, Syrians, and Canaan civilizations and oil was an important item of wealth and commerce. Olive oil was considered an important antiquity throughout the trade networks in the ancient world. There is evidence of an early oil trade among civilizations such as Mesopotamia, Mycenae and Egypt. Maybe the most important evidence of this trade is found at Testaccio in Rome, a hill littered with the remains of amphorae used to transport the oil from Baetica (Andalusia) to Rome. The high number of these containers from that area found in Rome and many Roman settlements clearly shows the importance of olive culture on the Andalusian economy and on the Iberian Peninsula in general.

 

Olive oil has been used for many different uses, by the ancient people of the Mediterranean, all religious rituals, medicines, fuel for lamps, soap making, and skin care and beauty application. Olive oil has long been considered sacred. The purity of olive oil, and the clear, soft light it casts, and its inoffensive odor when burned, has made it a natural choice for religious rituals since ancient times, and indeed until today.  The custom of anointing a monarch at coronation was preserved by the Church and is used till this day.  Olive oil has been used medicinally and medically for curing many ailments and deceases. Hippocrates recommended olive oil to cure ulcers, cholera, and muscular pain. Ancient Greeks also anointed kings with olive oil. The lamps that illuminated ancient shrines burned olive oil.    

          

Before the craft of making soap became known, olive oil was used in personal hygiene. The Greeks would smear themselves with it and scrape it off with a curved instrument called the strigil, thus carrying off dirt and sweat. Whoever could afford to then went off to the public baths and steamed themselves.

 

Olive oil was called “liquid gold” in ancient time. The ancient Greek athletes rubbed oil on their bodies, and the olive oil was used for trophies for the winners. While, Olive twigs were twined into wreaths crowning winners in athletic games, victorious warriors returning home, and distinguished citizens of any stripe. Throughout history there have been many amazing merits of olive oil, the treating of leprosy, massaging the rough skin of elephants, boiling oil used as weapons by pouring it over the castle walls on attackers.

 

The silvery-green olive leaf is still a symbol of abundance, hope, and peace. Remember the Biblical story of Noah’s dove returning from land with an olive twig in its beak? The sign that the Flood had abated must have been a huge relief to Noah’s family – and the animals living close to each other in the dark lower levels of the Ark. Today, the phrase “offering an olive branch” indicates reconciliation and the hand of friendship. Olive trees can live for centuries; even millennia. Those ancient trees’ trunks split over the centuries, but still produce a harvest of fruit every year. Some of them are known in France, Italy and Lebanon.

 

Legends & Mythology

According to legends & Greek Mythology, the city of Athens obtained its name by holding a contest to see which god or goddess would be the patron of the new city. Athena goddess of wisdom was challenged by Poseidon, god of the sea and horses, to provide the Greeks with the most useful and divine gift. Poseidon provided a spring of salt water gushing from a cliff, and Athena provided the olive tree. Athena was chosen by Zeus as the winner because she provided the most useful gift of the olive tree, noted for its fruit, oil, and wood and as the symbol of peace, wisdom and prosperity. Even today, an olive tree stands where the story of the legendary competition is believed to have taken place. The myth still lives on, as it is said that all the olive trees in Athens are descended from the first olive tree offered by Athena.

Olive oil, Religions & the Bible

Olive oil is also referenced 140 times in the Bible. Olive oil was sacred to Moses, Christ and Mohammad. In Genesis, an olive branch was returned to Noah on the Ark by a dove; a sign of the end of the great flood. The greatest significance of olive oil is documented in Exodus, where the Lord tells Moses how to make an anointing oil of spices and olive oil.

 

The Jewish people, having plenty of wine and olive oil, were a symbol of God’s favor. Oil was and still is a sign of God’s blessing, as it represents all that best in life and God’s generosity to the people he loves. In Judaism olive oil was infused with aromatic herbs according to a specific formula, and used to anoint the High Priest at the Temple in Jerusalem, prophets, and some kings. The “eternal light” in the Temple was naturally fueled by olive oil. Plain olive oil is still preferred for lighting Hannukah and Shabbat candles in Jewish homes.The olive is one of Israel’s “Seven Species,” fruits and grains native to the region and which have Biblical connection.

 

In the Christian churches, both western (Roman Catholic and Protestant) and eastern (Orthodox), olive oil is a symbol of god’s boundless generosity towards humankind and his never ending love.

 

Olive oil holds a special position in the Greek Orthodox religion, as a symbol of love and peace, olive oil is an essential part of several solemn rites, including baptisms.

 

In Islam, the olive tree is a symbol of Mohammad’s presence, and through the oils divine light brings men closer to Allah. Olive oil is eaten as a pleasing obedience to the Prophet Muhammad’s injunction to “Eat the oil of the olive, for it is a blessed fruit.” The Prophet also said, “Every kind of olive oil is for you; anoint yourself with it.” Legend says that the Prophet was so devoted to the oil that his very shawl was soaked in it.


In Islam the Qur’an references both the olive tree and olive oil, as do several hadiths (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad).

 

“He causes to grow for you the crops, the olives, the date-palms, the grapes, and every kind of fruit,” reads Sura 16:11.

 

In Sura 24:35, the plant is praised as the “blessed olive tree.” “Eat olive oil with your bread,” Ibn Majah recorded the Prophet advising his followers, while Tirmidhi wrote, “The Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him) said: ‘Eat olive oil and use it on your hair and skin, for it is from a blessed tree.’”

 

 

References:

[1]   A Brief History of Olive Oil 

[2]  Where was the first olives found? 

[3]  The Olive Tree

[4]  The World of the Olive tree 

[5]  The Olive, Its History