The importance of olive oil in Ancient Greece

1 Απριλίου, 2013
The importance of olive oil in Ancient Greece

According to ancient Greeks, Dactyls are the ones that disseminated the olive in the Greek mainland. The Cretan Kouritis brought and planted the first olive tree in Olympia and was the founder of the Olympic games.

Dactyls Hercules had four siblings. He was the oldest one and he once took them to Olympia for a running race. Dactyl Hercules crowned the winner with a twig from the olive tree that he had planted there. Since then, people who won an Olympic event, were crowned with an olive twig. From Olympia the olive tree planting was expanded to the rest of ancient Greece.
Olive trees had a sacred place amongst other plants in Minoan art. Not only were they stored in special jars that were very hard to make, they also had splendid wall art with their main topic being of course, olive trees.

Ancient Greeks presumed olive trees as sacred, and according to Aristotelis, anyone found destroying the trees was punished by death. It was a symbol of peace and who ever offered it was accepted with respect.
 Solon, when published new laws, ensured the dramatic increase of oil production. Along with the developing of the civilization, so were developed the importance of olive trees and the laws protecting them. A new law Solon ensured was that whoever dared to lay a hand on an olive tree, would be punished with death and especially the holy olive trees the goddess Athena had offered to the city of Athens. Even if the tree was withered and only its trunk remained, still, nobody could not touch it.

During the Panathenaic races, organised to honour goddess Athena, the winners of these races, except the wreath, got large quantities of olive oil, which was usually sold to outsiders.

Even though the governors of Athens strictly forbid exporting olive oil, Pannathenean winners were allowed. This olive oil was then appeared all over Italy and Marseilles. Olive oil was bought by wealthy young people, who loved to apply themselves with this sacred oil that came to them in ancient storage jars. Olive oil was probably the first branded agricultural product in ancient world.
In the Greek ancient culture, the olive tree was the tree of peace. Goddess Eirini (Greek word for peace) was pictured with an olive branch placed in her hands. The best way of demonstrating peace during war times was each war leader giving an olive branch to the other one.
The messengers, which were to broadcast a message of peace to the enemy held an olive branch, and was respected by each and every soldier of the enemy. It was the indisputable holy symbol that stated the intents of the ones that had decided to send it.
Within the Hippocrates code, over sixty medical uses of olive oil can be found, the most common are mainly for healing of dermatological diseases. Also, olive oil is the base of the Hippocrates diet, in combination of course, with wine and bread.

In his book «Dietology and Therapies», Hippocrates mentions that: “using oil in winter helps the body remain warm, because it stops the heat from escaping your body. In summer when you mix oil with water and rub it on your body, it nourishes it and prevent overheating”.
Plutarch in his book ‘ethics’ refers to mastitis treatment with a mixture of olive oil and water, also keeping gums healthy and teeth white.
In the temple of Asklepius oil was used in order to create ointments and medicines. Olive tea and olive flowers and their leaves were used as medicine for stomach ache and for irritation of eyes.
In all the ancient books of Hippocrates (Hippocrates collection), Theofrastus (History of plants), Dioscorides (About medicines), Galenos etc gave great importance in the healing abilities of herbs and trees.
In ancient medical treatments herbs, roots, leaves and their essences were used among others as anti-fever, pain killers, anti-emetics, psychotropic drugs, hypnotics and drugs.


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