As scientists tell us, the exact place where the olive tree sprung for the first time is the greater Mediterranean Basin. The first cultivation of the olive tree worldwide took place in Greece, and more specific in Crete. This happened about 3500 BC in the Early Minoan times. In this period the olive tree was in a wilder form in comparison to the tree we know today. After 2000 BC the cultivation of the olive tree in Crete was very intense and systematic playing the most important role on the island’s economy.
From Crete started the first export of the olive oil not only in mainland Greece but in Northern Africa and Asia Minor as well. Very soon the cultivation passed to mainland Greece and the olive tree and its blessed product, the olive oil became synonyms of the Greek nutrition through centuries.
The Mycenaean civilization (c.1600-1150 BC) followed the Minoan in mainland Greece. The olive oil production was very important in the economy of this society. The decipherment of the “Linear B” script brought to light valuable information about the production, the commerce and the export of the olive oil in Mycenaean Greece as we can see in the palace records of Mycenae and Pylos. In the 6th century BC, Solon, the great Athenian legislator, drafted the first law for the protection of the olive tree excluding the uncontrolled felling.
The olive tree was a symbol in ancient Greece and the olive oil was used not only for its valuable nutritional quality but also for medical purposes. Between the 7th and 3rd centuries BC ancient philosophers, physicians and historians undertook its botanical classifications and referred to the curative properties of olive oil. This knowledge is being “rediscovered” today as modern scientists research and find news why the Mediterranean diet is so healthy.
During Byzantine times things did not change. The production of the olive oil in Greek territories was significant because of the vast size of the Empire. The Empire itself included almost half of the olive oil productive areas in the known world and the product was exported throughout the world.