How essential was the olive tree to Ancient Mediterranean Civilizations?
Roman and Greek Mythologies
The olive tree is profundly associated with Athena
, the Goddess of Wisdom and Strategist of Warfare
. Homer nicknamed her Glaukopis
: linking her wisdom with owls' excellent, bright-eyed, nightsight. Frequently, she is depicted with a small owl on top of her head.
There are numerous references to her name as Pallas Athena. Athena accidentally killed Pallas during the War of the Giants. Devastated and in order to honour her friend, his namesake was thereafter placed before hers.
Olive Growing Social History
Fortunes of the Ancient Mediterranean Empires
A Divine Competition
Zeus created a competition over who should become The Celestial Benefactor of Attica
Athena and Poseidon (God of the Sea and of Earthquakes) were the competing rivals. The citizens of Attica were to be given one gift. The 'preferred offering' would be the winner.
Poseidon smote the earth with his Trident. Water rose from the ground and began to flow. Citizens of Attica tasted the water, it was salty and therefore not of any practical use.
Athena struck the ground of a hilly area - today known as the Acropolis - with her spear. The first fully-grown olive tree complete with ripened fruit appeared. This 'tree' proved to have multiple uses:
- its fruit was a food
- the olives could be pressed for oil
- the tree itself was wood
This was a Divine Gift
Pallas Athena its benefactor: The Olive Tree Represented Peace and Wisdom. From those days onwards this tree has been equated with the most sacrosanct of qualities.
A Parallel (Roman) Myth
Poseidon offered the first horse as the gift for the citizens. The horse represented warfare. The citizens of Attica, however, preferred the olive tree.
Athena's name was dedicated for the capital of Attica: and became Athens
. She was a much revered Goddess. The Parthenon became her shrine. An olive wreath crowns her helmet; the amphorae of her statue further identifies her role with the olive tree and olive oil.
Logo of the Olympic Games
The olive tree was the ancient logo symbol of the Olympic Games. The first games were held in 776 BC. A flaming olive branch was used then as the Olympic torch.
: The Farming God
, he intitiated the cultivation and necessary procedures to care for the olive trees. Legend told that he too, created the mills for the extraction of the precious oil of the olive fruits.
The trees proved to be long living and became of vital importance to the economy.
: (God of Victory and Commerce)
or Hercules, as the Romans called him, was another Deity that planted the Sacred olive tree on Mount Olympia.
From the same tree, King Iphitos (Hercules's) descendant) chose to have made olive leaf crowns as prizes for the Olympic games winners. Such crowns represented a victorious honour. Mystical powers were ascribed to its owner, thereafter.
The olive oil merchants of Ancient Roman dedicated the round Temple of Hercules Olivarius, to Hercules. It is situated in the Forum Boarium; often erroneously also referred to as the Temple of Vesta.
Ancient Olive Traditions
During biblical times, a mixture of olive oil and balsam were used as an anointment to sanctify royalty and hallowed dignitaries. The blend is known as Chrism. Chrism is used for blessings and Christenings. Drops of hallowed oil were seeped into saints' graves. Winning Athletes were anointed by the Greeks.
Solon decreed a law in the sixth century BC that if a person was found guilty of killing or moving an olive tree, the death penalty would be ennacted.
Historic-Track of how the Mediterranean basin was populated with olive groves
The Mediterranean Basin stretches from Western Spain to the Middle East. Dietary patterns of bordering countries (especially: France, Greece, Italy, Lebanon, Morocco, Spain and Tunisia) have barely changed in the last thousand years. Do you know the origins of what is the Mediterranean Diet
Olive Growing Social History
Revered olive trees have existed since before the art of writing was contrived. The wild olive bush, is believed, to have originated in Asia Minor. Olive leaf fossils and traces of fossilized tree-parts, prove, it has existed in Spain since the Bronze Age.
The planting and growth of olive trees disseminated from Syria to Greece via Anatolia (De Candolle – 1883). The "Origins of Agriculture" stemmed from the Fertile Crescent.
Phoenician Amphorae and Ungent Containers
Archaeological Museum of Cádiz, Andalucia
As a result of the wandering tribes that were sent out of Syria, settlements of
Phoenician colonies emerged on the northern edges of the African continent.
These colonies were all maritime-based and served, primarily as anchorage points, which were easily defendable areas.
Gradually, more and more colonies were established in Libya, Algeria, Morocco, and in Spain. As the colonies wandered further inland, crop growing and the plantation of olive groves was implemented.
Greek and Roman settlements, though at a later date, were also established on the southern coasts of Turkey, Island of Crete, Greece, Italy, Sardinia, Balearic Islands, Corsica and France.
Olive Oil: a Precious Trading Article
Remnants of Oil Amphorae pottery have been found in Crete and Syria, dated from 2,000 BC. Olive Oil Amphorae could only be used once. Shipwrecks and millions of fragments of Amphorae have been found on Monte Testaccio, a hilly area (possibly a garbage dump for used Amphorae during the 1st and 2nd century BC) near Rome. Spain produced the higest volume and best quality of olive oil during the Roman Empire.
It was through General Scipion in 212 BC, when the romanization of Hispania (Spain) began in earnest in Italica.
Olive tree growth and its olive fruit/oil produce were vital to Spain's economy. During the five hundred years occupation of The Roman Empire, olive trees were well established and Spain prospered from the olive grove implantation.
Between Spain's vast yield of cereal crops and olive oil production: bread and olive oil became part of a national staple diet dating from Roman times. A popular breakfast dish: finely chopped tomatoes spread over freshly toasted mollete bread and olive oil
The Spanish took the olive tree to America during Cristobal Columbus's trips, when the Spanish discovered The New World.
Fortunes of the Ancient Mediterranean Empires
Mediterranean Empires have flourished and prospered on account of the Olive tree and its produce. The maintenance of the Greek and Roman Empires declined with warfare. Land was not cultivated. Bereft of the stabilizing economy from their crop produce, the country/ies eventually endured famine.
During times of peace in Ancient Greece. The olive fruits were so revered, the harvesters were required to be either eunuchs, virgins or incorrupt young men.
The olive tree (olea europaea) is an evergreen. It belongs to the Drupe family. The olive tree has a gnarled modest sized-trunk. It is referred to as a "Tree of Eternity" due to the fact, it can regenerate itself. Trees produce fruit (bianually) for around 150 years. Eventually the trunk dies after 200 years. The whole tree can be cut down and new shoots will grow at the trunk's base. These shoots regenerate the tree, the process repeats over and over.
The olive tree is a slow-growing tree and does not produce fruit during the first eight years of its life. It can grow between 3 - 20 metres in height depending on its situation and pruning. Olive trees are indigenous to Mediterranean. The trees require fertile, slightly calcaerous, well-drained lands. Olive groves are most frequently found on hilly or mountainous land such as in Cordoba or in Jaen, Andalucia.
Andalucia, vast Olive Groves that disappear
out of sight in Cordoba province
Spain and Italy are the major producers of olive oil. Jaen is referred to the 'World Capital of Olive Oil.' Jaen produces sixty percent of the national olive produce. Olive leaves are famed valued for their hypertensive and antioxidant properties
Olive oil production is manufactured and graded according to different processes and levels of acidity
Over two hundred and sixty varieties of olive trees bear fruit.
Picual are a few of the most favoured trees.
Some extra virgin oil brands consist of a blend of several fruits. Some oils are one-fruit extraction – solely. Quality olive oil is stored and sold in dark glass bottles, to prevent oxidization and loss of valuable nutritional qualities.
- Cold-pressed olive oil is the the supreme of olive oils. Cold-pressing renders the olive oil chemical-free, and this gives it a low acidity
- Extra Virgin olive oil is cold pressed with a 1% of oleic acidity. This is the most flavoursome oil, with an intense golden-green hue and aroma
- Virgin olive oil is cold pressed. Its acidity varies between 1 – 3%
- Olive oil are a combination of refined, virgin and extra virgin oils
- Light olive oil goes through a fine-filtration process. It is mixed with other oils, mainly canola. 'Light', however, does not mean 'less' calories. Light olive oil is best used for deep-frying and mayonnaise production
- Virgin and Extra virgin olive oil are more suited to a low heat cooking. Both are excellent for salad dressings and roasts
Special Note: If Deep-frying. Cooking with olive oil requires specific attention. This oil burns at high temperatures and thus will lose its nutritional values. It's low smoke point requires that a slice of stale bread be added to the pan to prevent burning. A fried slice of stale bread before cooking your ingredients, also reduces the slight bitterness of virgin olive oil.
Many different herbs and spices are infused with the oil to render a unique flavouring. This is not a new technique. It was developed during the Olympic games.
News about the olive tree's increasing Values
Andalucia, Spain, is the 2nd European country, leading, in alternative energy.
Olive fruit-stones, olive leaves gathered during harvesting and pruned parts of olive trees are the largest source of Bio-mass in Andalucia.
Olive trees have millions of references. The time-honoured Genesis reference was, the Dove that brought back to Noah the olive branch, signified hope was in sight and that God had forgiven man.
An olive branch features on the Great Seal of America. "The olive branch and the arrows signify the power of peace and war which is exclusively vested in Congress." Charles Thomson.
Two olive branches enwreath the United Nations emblem.
Jesus was arrested in The Mount of Olives and from there he rose in his resurrection.
Rippling, silvery-emerald hues twinkle and glimmer in Meditterranean olive groves. These trees fascinated and inspired many famed artists: Renoir, Vincent van Gogh, Cezanne and Matisse.
The precious oil which burned over centuries, illuminating our world out of darkness, was produced by the olive tree.
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