Published: 11/18/2005 - Updated: 08/13/2019
Author: Prof. Dr. Luis Ruiz-García
Olive oil has been part of human history since its inception and is present in almost all documents that recount, as the Bible, Koran, Greek mythology and literature, this is the case Odyssey of the mind that the protagonists of this work is coated with oil.
The origin of the olive tree is lost in the mists of time, coinciding with its length and confused civilizations that developed in the Mediterranean basin. Its territory is growing spread over all the lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea.
People have found archaeological and historical references that place the origin of the olive tree in Asia Minor, located in the strip now known as the Middle East and confused the origin of the peoples inhabiting these lands with olive trees. Such is the symbiosis between the tree and the men who feeds, who came to the rank of a sacred tree. Not only used as food but also as a cosmetic to revitalizing massage, as fuel for lamps, such as medicine, for the celebrations and even sanctify.
From Prehistory to the Classical Greece
The legendary tree and the olive oil obtained from its fruits have accompanied the history of mankind. From the outset, the olive tree and its fruit have been present in the history of men, whether in ritual or sacred in everyday life, olive oil was used not only to enrich the food but also in various massage techniques and in cosmetics.
Numerous tools for collecting and crushing olives were found by archaeologists in several excavations in the Mediterranean area, as well as many passages of the Bible and the Koran, demonstrating the historical importance of the olive and its oil.
The first cultivation of the oil is in a region including Palestine, Crete, Egypt. During this time, extraction technologies on olive are refined, progressively. Subsequently Olive becomes a crucial substance in Ancient Greece. There is evidence of the presence of trees since the fourteenth century BC in the area of Mycenae. The importance of this crop is certified with an impressive array of literary quotations, as well as the presence of the olive in the mythology. Greek oil production, together with the Phoenicians, invaded the Mediterranean, carried through ceramic amphorae and odres skin. Every Greek community of the Mediterranean used a different type of amphora, which could easily recognize the source of the goods in the markets. Transportation in odres skin, more limited, at least, is characteristic: the reality is so conservative agricultural Mediterranean transport system that has persisted until a few decades ago. In the first half of the twentieth century in the Italian Liguria, odres are still used for short skin transport of oil.
Many Palestinian towns in the area were particularly devoted to the cultivation of olive trees. Among these, emerged the tribe of the Philistines, which has left traces of complex structures, large, for the olive. Also in Israel have found elements that, in their day, were the first, and rudimentary systems, extraction of olive oil. In some cases it has been possible to make them work for reconstruction of experimental archeology.
The methods used can be dated at 5000 BC of stone mortars, where the olives were turned into pulp by force of arms, using rudimentary containers made of olive branches intertwined and overlapping stone presses.
Olives were deposited in the reservoir A. The operators, who were in the place B, loaded with oil weights B and collected the oil in the tank D.
The most significant presence of olive trees in Palestine, today, is the place where according to tradition was the garden of Gethsemaní, which Jesus prayed to God.
Cretan civilization flourished between 3000 and 1450 BC. The olive tree was probably the basis of this development. From Crete the olive oil was exported to Egypt, where it was used for purposes of food and cosmetics. The ruins of the great building-city of Knossos revealed the presence of multiple systems for the extraction of oil and large ceramic vessels, plus paved tanks, clay tablets of libraries and archives reveal places of cultivation of the olive oil and destinations.
Import of Olive Oil from Crete is one of the most important economic decisions of Ancient Egypt (2000 BC). The oil, mixed with other essences, was considered particularly in the field of cosmetics. In this case, the precious ointments were kept in the "stirrup pot." With these ointments are also intervened on the mummies.
Olive cultivation in Egypt is contrasted from 2000 BC, during the XVIII dynasty (1580-1320 BC). The largest plant is located along the Nile Delta near Alexandria. In the image from an Egyptian tomb from 1500 BC, you can see some slave grinding olives in a mortar.
Since 1876 the excavations of German archeologists in the area of Mycenae, Tirinto discovered seeds and olive oil lamps and vessels for oil. At the same time, techniques for extraction of olive oil were also applied to many other plants, such as ricin.
The Olive in The Odyssey
In the Odyssey, the presence Olive is repeated several times, for example, Ulysses and his colleagues used a beam of olive to blind Cyclops. It often happens that those episodes are spreads of olive oil, as usually happened at the time. The oil was also used in the dressing, spreads the thread. Perhaps the most famous was the bridal bed of Ulysses. Himself (Book XXIII) "cut a huge olive tree with long leaves and he built a room around it."
The olive in Greek mythology
The presence of the olive tree in mythology is of great importance, directly proportional to the value of the plant. According to Greek legend, a dove came from Phoenician to offer an olive twig to the temple of Zeus in Epirus. The dove with an olive twig also appears in the myth of Noah.
The origin of Athens is related to the installation of the olive tree from Athena in battle with Poseidon for supremacy in the protection of the city. To defuse the conflict between them, the great Zeus intervened and established to grant the domain of that territory who was able to provide the most useful gift to humanity. Poseidon took a horse, resistant, fast and able to lighten the work of men; Athena, however, appeared with a small twig in her hands, subtle green flakes. Poseidon was already savoring the victory when Athena began to explain the extraordinary properties of the olive tree: a strong plant that can live long and produce tasty and delicious fruits, of which the men might draw an ideal liquid for seasoning food, give strength to the body, relieve the injured and also illuminate the night. The victory of the goddess was overwhelming. Zeus declared Athena winner.
According to mythology, the art of agriculture would have been taught by Aristeo, son of Apollo and the nymph Cyrene. The olive tree was so important that Aristeo also had invented the systems of extraction of oil, which would run the winery.
All uses of olive oil were of fundamental importance in the areas that were gradually passing under the control of Rome. Of the Republic to the Empire, trade in olive oil was growing, olives, edible oils and ointments. The expansion of the Empire said that the main routes were open for trading.
In particular, the routes lead to the Middle East and North Africa (particularly Tunisia). At the time of the Empire (from the 1st century AD onwards), the areas where the olive tree was more developed were the southern Iberian peninsula and northern Africa and southern France. There was olive production in some regions of Italy, although the high consumption of olive oil from the mainland should be resorted to imports from the areas mentioned above.
Each region exported its product to specific models and using different amphorae.
Its production was very active throughout the Mediterranean area. Companies that put their own brand produce, through an inscription or label.
The amphorae placed thousands in transport ships, well-ordered. We know many of them, each targeted on a province, with its specific timing. Among the most notable oil amphorae, are the province from Andalusia (Southern Spain). Means they are among the type Dressel 20. In Rome there is an artificial hill, Monte Testaccio, consisting of fragments of amphorae, accrued from the time of Augustus (27 BC -14 AD). The weight and quantity of oil content varies depending on the type of amphora, but in any case do not exceed 50 kg.
Cultivation and extraction techniques
Latin Literature is rich in testimony on the progress in the understanding of the techniques of cultivation of olive trees and producing olive oil. As regards the cultivation, progress been made in the assessment of sites to deploy the olive tree, and the improvement of grafting techniques.
Cato is the author of the most extraordinary olive manuals of Roman antiquity (for agriculture) in the first century AD.
He talks about the culture and especially about procedures for the olives. Cato perfectly describes a farm with trees 8.000-10.000, completely self-sufficient, even in the production of olive oil. Also the technology of extraction was improved, both as regards the milling of oil as the grinding of the olive paste broken.
Kitchen in ancient Rome
Roman cookery was certainly very different from today. Certain cuisines today seem completely inadequate to our liking. Consider the consumption of "garum," the entrails of fish sauce marinade, which was usually sprayed in meals. Despite this, olive oil and olives were in any case, the role of a certain importance. Testimony of this is the famous book Apicio, which conveys the cuisine of classical Rome. The text, "De re coquinaria" is the result of a first draft of the first century AD (that is, however, known Apicio, a student of gastronomy century BC), then extended until the fourth century AD The volume of Apicio speaks at length on Olive, distinguishing Italian from Spanish, the "good" and "green."
Recipe of the ancient rome
Place the Spanish Olive Oil eleni (Enula Aelenium) and wheat with aroma (Cypeerus longus) near a laurel leaves. Everything is crushed, screened and are reduced to fine powder. Dry salt is added and left to rest for three or more days.
Tree harvested olives are put in oil and are barely intact.
Mill pepper, cumin, oregano, onion, wine, "garum" (entrails of fish sauce) and Olive Oil. Finally fry the pumpkin into the pan.
In a saucepan cook peas to which we add pork, beef and ham. Chop pepper, oregano, anise, dried onion and cilantro. Add "garum" (entrails of fish sauce) and wine and work. Put in a pot, put Olive Oil and stir. Cook over low heat until the boil and is ready to drink.
Chicken with oil:
Take a chicken and prepare. Open the chest, soak up in water and olive oil Spanish. Cook to thicken, until the liquid is consumed. Then, when it is cooked, remove the remaining oil. Sprinkle with pepper and serve when already been prepared.
Olive oil was essential for the manufacture of perfumed ointment (which was so successful in classical Rome, as it used to happen all the ancient Mediterranean civilizations). The precious essences are preserved in suitable ointment, with the most varied forms of glass painting.
From the Middle Ages to the present day
It is extremely difficult to reconstruct the facts of the olive cultivation phase in a wide historical and rather poor documentation. The great legacy of the ancient olive is, however, maintained, or taken up at various times. In all those places that had a system of administrative control of a certain strength and continuity there was oil production. It is the case of North Africa before the Arab conquest (seventh century AD). Southern Spain and North Africa continued activity under control oil and Islam.
However, during the Middle Ages, Olive so scarce that in some cases came to be regarded as cash. As indeed in Century V, government controls on oil began to disappear it almost completely. These were religious orders which had to spend most of the groves still growing, and Olive's going to be eaten by the upper classes and especially by the clergy.
During the Middle Ages, the main destination of the Olive Oil was not for human consumption, but for liturgical use. The oil consecrated on Holy Thursday was distributed to all churches in each of the diocese, should last the entire year and, if it was used, could only be more direct with the permission of the bishop. Also the lamps burning in the altars were fed exclusively with olive oil, as prescribed by Scripture.
The role of the sacred olive oil was one civilization to another area of Christian-Muslim, which inherited the most ancient civilizations. It also cites the Koran Olive. In the West, the economic return is slow, gradual and specific about the year 1000. Control of the territory is divided among many institutional figures. The renewal of the management of agricultural land, very often, took control of religious institutions, including the monastic. Medieval oil production does not reach the amount and distribution of the ancient Romans, but was still used for the food, the lighting and especially for religious purposes.
Olive in the modern age
The European crisis of the mid XIV century, caused by the waves of the plague that decimated the population and worsening weather conditions led to some changes in the management of extensive agricultural regions. Olive cultivation was spread in large areas more temperate Mediterranean. Its great strength is vegetative long-term security of investment. The change of plans for traffic Mediterranean after the fall of Constantinople (1453) brought an expansion of trade routes to the North Atlantic area and Europe. A strong economy of exchange between the Western Mediterranean area and the North Sea and Baltic: Olive Oil is the protagonist, as it is used for the preservation of many foods, for illumination, and their derivatives for various other jobs. At this time, there are also interesting innovations in the field of preparation and the washing system of the marc (the beginning of the eighteenth century).
Today the olive has spread beyond of Mediterranean areas, spread to all continents except Antarctica. There are olive trees in southern Africa, China and Vietnam, South Pacific, across America, and the total production of olive oil in the world is in constant growth since the early twentieth century. Some said that Mediterranean begins and ends with the olive tree, noting the close association between the plant and the geographical area that saw an organic unity and well distinguished from those cold and wet areas that were to the north and the desert areas and arid south and eastwards. From the late Middle Ages, the landscape of the countries bordering the Mediterranean re-coated with olive groves and trade oil reached again the importance it had. Boats loaded with barrels of oil and animal caravans carrying oil cargo in odres skin left from the oil regions to reach the North Europe.
About the author