The Greeks, Romans and Egyptians used olive oil since the ancient times. Records of paintings, present us with evidence that olives and olive oil were produced in Crete, in the third millennium BC and they were the very profitable trade source of the super wealth of the Minoans.
In Crete, the remains of Knossos show us the amazing Minoan civilization, named after king Minoas.
In the 20th century, excavations in Knossos by the English archaeologist Arthur Evans revealed to us a great wealth of information about the lifestyle, the trading, the architecture and generally the culture of the Minoan civilization. Not only the above ground buildings, but the underground storerooms, filled with amphoras and vessels, used for olive oil and wine.
Corridors were lighted by olive oil burning lamps which may be one of the lamps caused the fire that destroyed the Palace.
Evidence of early olive oil production in Crete, are provided from the remains of the mills and storage vessels. The Cretans were exporting their olive oil to Greece and the Aegean islands.
In the ancient years, during the Panathenaic Games in Athens, dedicated to goddess Athena, the athletes competed for a container called “amphora” decorated with paintings of the goddess, and filled with olive oil. What a difference time will make. Today if anybody gave an athlete a container filled with olive oil, the giver would have to drown in it.
The Egyptians used olive oil for food, medicine, beauty and ritual. They used the olives they produced and imported the high quality of olive oil from Crete, Palestine and Syria.
Greece was the major exporter of olive oil by the 6th century BC and the olive orchards considered sacred. So sacred that only virgins were allowed to cultivate the olive trees and harvest the olives. This tradition lasted into the Middle Ages.
Greeks, Phoenicians and Romans owed their eminent wealth to olive oil and they spread it to the rest of the Mediterranean region.
The Romans discovered new ways and methods to cure olives, and also invented the screw press, with which extracted the most oil whithout breaking the pit and contaminating the oil.
Greece and the Greek islands, Italy, Spain, Southern France and all the Mediterranean islands are filled with olive orchards and olive oil production grew all over Europe and beyond.
Mediterraneans always consumed most of the olive oil, with the Greeks leading the way. The olive oil was and is the center of the Greek diet.