Olive - Olea europaea
The olive, Olea europaea L., is in the title genus of the Oleaceae
family. The olive is an evergreen tree growing to
15 m. in height with a spread of about 9 m. The tree can be kept to
about 6 m. with regular pruning. The graceful, billowing appearance of
the olive tree can be rather attractive. In an all-green garden its grayish
foliage serves as an interesting accent. The attractive, gnarled branching
pattern is also quite distinctive. Olives are long-lived with a life expectancy
of 500 years. The trees are also tenacious, easily sprouting back even when
chopped to the ground.
The origin of the olive tree is unknown. It is said to
have appeared in prehistoric times, before humankind, and to have originated in
southern Asia Minor where there are now abundant forests of wild olive trees. It
appears to have spread from Syria towards Greece by way of Anatolia, although
other theories claim it originated in the Mediterranean basin.
Some hypotheses claim it to have originated in
Ethiopia although, considering the climatic conditions of this country, this
does not seem very probable.
Others claim it to have originated in Lower Egypt, yet although mummies from the
20th Egyptian Dynasty have been found with crowns made out of olive branches,
this only proves that, in effect, the olive was known by the Egyptians of that
Caruso believes it to be native to the Mediterranean Basin and considers Asia to
be the birthplace of the cultivated olive tree some six thousand years ago.
The claim that the olive tree originated in Europe
could arise from the Greek myth about the fight between Pallas Athene and
Poseidon for control of Athens.
Taking in the account that the perfect
combination for the growth of the olive tree is a temperate dry climate with
sunlight most of the year and an adequate habitat not far away from sea, the
olive tree found the best conditions in Greece's relief map!
Thinking of the above it is not strange that ancient Greeks created even myths
for this tree and its origin.
The most famous of these is the myth for the contest between Athena and Poseidon.
Upon this myth at some time the Athenians wanted to select the protector of
The Council of the Twelve Gods of Olympus decided to satisfy them sending
Poseidon the god of sea and Athena the goddess of wisdom for a contest.
The premium of this contest was the protection of the town and took place in the
holy rock of Acropolis.
Poseidon started first and struck the rock with his trident.
At that point a horse sprung out and rushing water, Athena replied and struck
the rock with her spear; The first olive tree appeared!
The Athenians finally declared Athena the victor considering her gift more
valuable than Poseidon's one and thus the town took her name!
The people of Athens and Attica were always proud of this event and considered
the olive tree as a divine gift to them.
De Candolle, using a scientific base, claims that it nearly certainly originated
in Asia Minor. Others, coinciding with this theory, claim it originated between
the southern Caucasus Mountains and the high plateau of Iran and the
Mediterranean coasts of Syria and Palestine, from where it passed to Egypt and
by way of Cyprus, over to Turkey.
In the 16th century BC, the Phoenicians spread the olive throughout the Greek
Islands, and, in the 14th to 12th centuries BC, to the Greek mainland, where its
cultivation increased and gained great importance. In the 4th century BC, Solon
issued decrees regulating the planting of olive trees.
Some historians, however, claim that archaeological discoveries prove that wild
olive trees existed before civilization in Crete and that their cultivation
began during the Paleolithic and Neolithic periods, i.e. between 3500 and 5000
BC. From Crete the trees spread to Egypt (2000 BC), and thereafter to the
islands, Asia Minor, Palestine and mainland Greece (1800 BC).
The existence of the wild olive tree (Olea
Europaea Chrysophylla) have been documented in the Mediterranean region
by various archaeological and palaeontologic studies. The earliest olive
fossils have been discovered in recent archaeological studies in the
caldera of the island of Santorini (Thera) and they date back 50-60,000
years. The cultivated variety of the olive tree descends from these
early species. This botanical progenitor of the olive tree is still
grown on the mountainsides of Crete.
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.
The symbolic meaning of the olive tree as well as the exceptional value of the
olive oil is visible in overall sectors of the ancient Greece's life.
A number of facts show to us the relationship between the olive tree and its
product with some social activities.
It is characteristic that when the first Olympic Games took place in Olympia in
776 BC a wrath of olive tree (kotinos)
was the award to the winners symbolizing the
armistice of any hostility and the peace.
This symbolic award was given to winners until the end of the ancient Olympic
Kotinos also was the emblem
of Athens 2004
Olympic Games, A symbol with special meaning in terms of its history, shape, and
color. In those games modern winners were
rewarded with a kotinos wreath like the ancient Greek athletes. At the
time, the kotinos
was the official award of Olympic champions and was generally acknowledged as
the most honorable prize. In addition, olive was the sacred tree of Athens.
The kotinos is therefore
also an emblem of the city where democracy and civilization were founded.