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Olive oil was an essential commodity in

the Greek and Roman world.
It was used for food, cooking, lighting
fuel in lamps, perfume, medicine and
Olive oil was also in high demand for
Providing olive oil to the young athletes
in the gymnasium, was a highly celebrated
act of philanthropy in the Hellenistic
and Roman periods.
At Athens, athletes competing at the
annual Panathenaic games in disciplines
such a boxing and running.
Used to receive as prizes, olive oil from
the sacred trees of the goddess Athena,
lavishly packed in vases called
Panathenaic Amphoras, the left.
Famous high quality oils were considered
to be luxury products.
In many ways comparable to our famous
wines protected by controlled designation
of origin.
Produced in Samos, Atica, or Cyrenaica,
these expensive olive oils could travel
far away, and were part of a
Pan-Mediterranean exchange network.
By analyzing the various amphoras in
which olive oil was stocked, and
Archaeologists can track down these
networks and study the main markets and
production centers.
For example, huge quantities of olive oil
from the Mediterranean were shipped to
Britain for the needs of the Roman
auxiliaries who were gathers along
Hadrian's Wall.
But today we will not ramble in this
globalized market.
We will experience that, case of low
scale production of olive oil, at the
level of a small, ancient village in the
Greek countryside.
Where oil is produced and consumed
A typical Greek city states called Polis
was composed of a city, functioning as a
civic and administrative urban capital.
And a territory called chora, literally,
the country, which was the economic
surface essential to the city's existence
producing mainly cereals, wine, legumes,
and olive oil.
The countryside was never the main
interest Trist of classical scholars
working in the Mediterranean.
It is only recently, thanks to the
development of regional field survey, a
new tool in archaeological methods.
That archaeologists started to focus on
the long-term occupation of the
Discovering small hamlets, isolated
farms, threshing floor, kilns, quarries,
workshops, even dumps.
Scatters of amphora shards are commonly
found during survey, attesting the
processing and consumption of olive oil
and wine in the countryside.
On some occasion, other finds can
pinpoint small centers of production.
In a survey conducted on the island of
Euboea, in Greece.
More precisely, in the territory of
Archaeologists intensively surveyed the
site of an ancient team/g.
The Greek word for village.
This nucleated settlement was located on
the limestone outcrop.
Dominating a large and fertile plain,
well watered by several streams and a
higher than average precipitation rate.
This region was among the most fertile of
the island.
It formed an ideal setting for the
Mediterranean triad, olive, wine and
It's no surprise It was exploited very
early for agriculture, already in the
Neolithic period.
The survey was able to delimit the
approximate size of the settlement, which
was fortified, but also to highlight
features, such as terrace walls, graves,
roads leading to it.
In the settlement itself were discovered
several dwellings.
Connected by small streets and alleys
with stairs, spring, and even a network
of canalizations carved in the rock.
But one puzzling feature situated in the
center of the settlement retained
additional attention.
It consisted of a flat, rounded surface.
Carved in a local bedrock.
Although hypothesis concerning its
function was made, it is not until an
excavation permit was delivered the
following year.
That the archaeologists were able to
interpret it more thoroughly.
This feature was an oil press, carefully
carved in the rock.
The press surface, circular and flat has
diameter of 65 centimeters.
The spout was carefully carved allowing
to guide the flow of the liquid in a
movable container.
Which would have been disposed on the
ground some 50 centimeters below.
Thanks to parallels known elsewhere in
And to the iconographic evidence from
ancient vases, the processing of such a
press could be described as follows:
The olives were initially crushed, packed
in bags, and subsequently disposed on the
press bed.
A large wooden beam would be fixed on top
exerting the necessary pressure to
extract the oil from the olives.
The precious liquid would leak out of the
bags, drip on the stone press bed, flow
out through the sprout.
And then be collected in amphoras or
large ceramic storage vessels called
pythoi .
The first press produced the best virgin
The process could be repeated by adding
hot water on the bags.
Therefore, obtaining a second press but
of lower quality.
The position of this permanent oil press
in the settlement is intriguing, because
it was impractical for the production of
Since the olive trees were in the plain
it would have been easier to build such
an oil press in a farm, or in the olive
groves, therefore avoiding
Instead, it was built up on the mountain
at an altitude of 168 meters above sea
Concretely, this means that the olives
had to be carried uphill to the
This represents a 20 to 30 minutes walk.
Although impractical, two good reasons
would justify this choice.
First, since most of the olive oil would
be consumed locally, it would make more
sense to produce it inside the settlement
and directly stock it in the various
It was easier to transport bags of olives
uphill, than amphoras of olive oil.
Second, and oil press represented a
costly investment.
Built in an isolated farm or an oil
producing center somewhere in the plain
it could be pillaged or destroyed by
Here instead it was safe inside the
fortification walls of the settlement.
The discovery of this oil press following
archaeological survey and then
Can help us reconstruct a small rural
producing center.
And understand some of the local needs
and strategies adopted by the common
people living in a micro region, outside
big cities.
And far away from the big scale networks
of olive oil trade in the Mediterranean.