The olive tree in ancient Greece was considered a symbol of peace, fertility, purification, power, victory and repentance, playing a key role in the history and culture of the ancients. The importance of oil was also great, and the oil beyond the daily use of the food, also used in various other applications, such as leather tanning, textile, lighting, in perfumery, in pharmacy, medicine, but also in various religious ceremonies.

Generally the ancients relied primarily on olive oil for the supply of fat that was the essential. In contrast, animal fats used to a limited extent, and butter, although known, intended for certain religious ceremonies or certain medical prescriptions. Thus the olive was a tree around which a particular technology was developed, so as to harvest the fruits and on the production of oil.

The beginnings of olive growing are dated to the early Bronze Age, ie the 3rd millennium BC. The precedence on the cultivation of olive trees met the Minoan Crete because of the temperate climate, geomorphology, and the intensification of primary agricultural production. In fact Crete had a trading network with cultures of the eastern Mediterranean where the systematic exploitation of olives were implemented, from which may have been passed on to the island and the relevant olive knowledge.

Excavations in Crete unearthed huge jars for storing oil, certifying that the strength of the Minoans kings came largely from the extraction of olive oil, both in Egypt and in other areas of the Mediterranean, and especially since 1450 B.C. onwards began the gradual exploitation of the product. References to the holding of the olive, but also in the movement and marketing of oil in the prehistoric Aegean are provided also in the palatial archives of Knossos, Pylos and Mycenae in Linear B.

In Homeric times the oil we know that widely used to coat the body as a cosmetic before and after the races in gymnasiums and valaneia, and to spread the body of the dead. The oil as product entered in the diet over time, becoming part of most food and condiments. Moreover, among other things used for treatment of flax and cleaning the garments. In Solon's time the olive oil was systematically cultivated in order to be established and the relevant laws that relate to its release.  

The process of oil production brought forth an ever evolving technology, where rough stones gave way to stone vessel and then to the oil mills. So extruding the dough with hands crossed in compression with the crowbar of Thirassia, in the press of the classical era, the endless Heron screw in order to be completed with the most organized "lineonas".


Center of Sciences Dissemination and Technology Museum "NOESIS"


Olive oil in Antiquity

Olive the venerable

The olive oil used to be venerable for the Greek, that is respectable. The olive tree was a symbol of peace, virtue, victory and reconciliation and who, who donated the branch of an olive tree, was received with respect.

Very well known has been the relationship of olives with sports competitions and ceremonies of ancient Greece. Athletes smear their bodies with oil, which they removed when the event ended. The unique prize for winners of the Olympic Games was a wreath made from a “wild” olive tree.

Athena Pallas

The olive had a central role in the life of the city of Athens. According to the tradition, in the famous confrontation between Poseidon and Athena Pallas over who will give the name of the city, Athena prevailed offering to the city an olive tree, a symbol of peace, progress and power.

Olive remedy

The therapeutic use of olive oil also varied, with the Hippocratic code of medicine to indicate about 60 medicinal uses of olive for the treatment of diseases and conditions.


As a sacred symbol, the oil was used for religious purposes in various worships. With oil the ancient Greeks made their libations on the altars, smeared the tombstones and the sacred stones.

Olive oil in religion

Olive oil has sealed the Greek traditions with which they are inextricably intertwined. As a sacred symbol of life it was used in all the important moments and rituals, births, baptisms, marriages and deaths. For Orthodox Christians, the oil has a religious significance, as it is connected with the sacraments of Confirmation and Holy Unction. Oil sanctified by the Church is considered by the Christians a talisman and assistance to every difficult moment.


“Eporkisto” is called the oil that is spread during the Sacrament of Baptism. The olive branch in the Old Testament is a symbol of man’s reconciliation with God. Thus in the Sacrament of Baptism the oil symbolizes reunification between humans and and the God and is a sign of “God’s mercy”.