The olive tree is one of the oldest cultivated trees on the planet – its cultivation predates the invention of written language!
Olive trees can attain a great age. Some trees in the eastern Mediterranean are estimated to be over 1500 years old (on average, they only live 500 years).
As far back as 3000BC olives were grown commercially in Crete; they may have been the source of the wealth of the Minoan Civilization.
Olive oil has long been considered sacred; it was used to anoint kings and athletes in ancient Greece. It was burnt in the sacred lamps of temples as well as being the "eternal flame" of the original Olympic Games. Victors in these games were crowned with its leaves. Today it is still used in many religious ceremonies.
As an example of how important the olive tree was to the ancients, Moses exempted from military service those men concerned with its cultivation.
An olive branch is a traditional symbol of peace. In the book of Genesis, after the Flood, a dove returns to Noah carrying an olive branch.
The health and healing properties of olive oil were well-known to the ancients. Homer sung its virtues and Hippocrates considered it as both a food and a medicine. In some warmer places the bark exudes a substance called Gomme d'Olivier, which was used in medicine as a vulnerary – a treatment for wounds.
Olive oil appears in one of the oldest known (about 2000 years old) cookbooks ever written, the De re Coquinaria. In it, the Roman cook Apicius described a method for making Spanish oil pass as a higher quality Liburnian oil.
The English word "olive" evolved from the Greek word elaiwa. From there it became elia then maslina then olajbogyo then oliva and finally to how we write it today.
The wood of the olive tree is beautifully-veined. It not only takes a fine polish, but is faintly fragrant, making it much valued for small cabinet-work.
When the citizens of Attica in ancient Greece were interviewing gods for the job of city patron, both Poseidon and Athena applied for the position. Poseidon offered a spring. Athena offered the olive tree. She was hired, and to this day the city is known as Athens in her honor.