The olive tree was first cultivated in Greece and, more specifically, in Crete. During the Minoan era, the systematic cultivation of olives and the use and consumption of olive oil played an extremely significant part in the financial development of the island.
The pioneering move to cultivate the olive tree was nurtured by the temperate climate, geomorphology, and the intensification of primary agricultural production in Crete. Archaeological findings from the Minoan palaces of Crete testify to the multiple roles of olive oil within the Cretan culture of the Minoan period, which reached its peak between the years 2000 and 1450 BC.
The Minoans maintained a trading network with other civilizations of the eastern Mediterranean, where the systematic exploitation of olives was also prevalent. Excavations in Crete unearthed huge jars used for storing oil, which verified that the power held by Minoan kings was largely associated with the extraction of olive oil, both in Egypt and in other areas of the Mediterranean. This was especially relevant in 1450 BC, when the utilization and production of olive oil became increasingly systemized.
Many archaeological findings, such as paintings, tools, installations, and inscriptions, testify to the dominant presence of the olive fruit and the preoccupation of the Minoans with the production, storage, and trade of its oil in all major centers of the Minoan civilization.
Outside the palace of Knossos, the most important Minoan center, an olive mill was discovered along with several urns used for the storage of olive oil, estimated to have a capacity of approximately 250 tons.
In the palace of King Minos in Malia, gigantic warehouses that could fit approximately 10,000 hectoliters of oil were discovered. The palace was also generally used as a storage space for regional products. The olive oil stored within its walls would be channeled to major trading centers and, perhaps, even abroad.
In the village of Archanes, olive kernels were found inside vases, while, in Zakros, entire olives with their flesh intact dating back to 1450 BC were discovered.
The French archaeologist and historian Paul Faure aptly describes the cultivation of olive trees and the production of olive oil in his book “Everyday life in Minoan Crete”.
During the Late Minoan era, olive cultivation became even more extensive as it did not only solve nutritional problems, but also benefited the Greeks in various other ways, which led to the tree acquiring sacred, providential status in the minds of the people. The main oil producing areas experienced a massive economic boom: Crete, Peloponnese, Lesvos, Ionian Islands, Attica. The Minoans therefore owe their development and progress to their considerable olive oil production, which allowed Crete to ensure its economic sovereignty in the Aegean Sea and the Greek mainland.
Evidence to the utilization of the olive fruit and the transportation and trading of olive oil are provided in the Linear B tablets from the archives of the palace of Knossos, Pylos, and Mycenae, which verify the financial importance of the olive tree during the 13th and 14th century BC.