Humans have loved eating olives for so long that we don’t know when olive trees were
first domesticated. Biblical references to olives are numerous. Olives and olive trees are in
Homer’s epic poem of the Trojan War, The Iliad.
In Homer’s poem The Odyssey, the Trojan War hero Odysseus tries to get back home to
his wife, his son, and his orchard, which is planted with olive trees, along with apple,
pomegranate, fig, and pear.
Alexander the Great probably took olive oil with him to feed his army.
Most historians believe that olive trees were first cultivated in Iran and Turkestan, in the
Middle East. We know for sure that around 3500 B.C., olive trees were cultivated on
islands in the Mediterranean near Turkey and Greece. Phoenicians, the famous traders in
the eastern Mediterranean Sea, spread an early alphabet, along with olive trees, to the
Greek islands Cyprus and Crete. From there, Greek colonists who migrated throughout the
Mediterranean took olives trees with them. They went west to Sicily, southern France, and
Spain, and east to the area around the Black Sea.
Olives in Ancient Greece
Athena, the great Greek goddess and protector of the city named after her, was the
Goddess of the Olive. She created the olive tree. That is why she is described as having
eyes that are gray-green, the color of the lovely leaves of the olive tree. She is always
pictured with the olive branch, which was sacred to her. Athena’s sacred olive tree grew
outside the temple to her on the Acropolis; Greeks put olive trees on their coins.
Thanks were offered to Athena before spring planting, and again at harvest time.
Throughout ancient Greece, people celebrated the harvests with festivals to the gods. To
Athena, the goddess of the olive, went the first olives.