Olive Oil: An Ancient Treasure

This article was written by Phin Upham

Pliny said that there were two liquids most agreeable to the human body. The first is wine, which is good for the inside. The second is oil, which is good for the outside. Olive oil was the treasure of the Mediterranean, but other cultures used animal fat for the same effects.


Olives appear to have come from Syria or possibly Palestine, but there were variations found in Crete as well. Crete had an extensive olive industry that goes back to at least 2,500 B.C. In fact, Crete’s method of extracting oil from olives is not that much different from the one still in use today. Oil was stored in one of Crete’s multiple pottery jars that have been discovered throughout archaeological digs at sites like Knossos.

The Greeks, who had already learned to cultivate olives and harvest their oil, were most likely the ones who brought olive oil to Italy. There, the oil gained popularity as a commodity. The Romans sought to perfect the practice; in fact, most Roman writing from that time contains detailed instructions for harvesting oil from olives.

Olives have been used throughout history as a symbol of royalty. Ancients used olive oil to anoint their kings and their greatest warriors, while branches became symbols of peace. The Greeks even used olive oil to anoint the winners of the Olympic games, as a partial offering to Athena as well.

Demand from the American colonists would help the Spaniards drive trade in the New World. This fortune was not to remain for too long, as the colonists did eventually figure out how to plant olives and harvest the oil themselves.

About the Author: Phin Upham is an investor at a family office/hedgefund, where he focuses on special situation illiquid investing. Before this position, Phin Upham was working at Morgan Stanley in the Media and Telecom group. You may contact Phin on his Twitter page.