|Connie Krochmal |
BellaOnline's Landscaping Editor
The Olive Tree in Ancient Egypt
The cultivation of olives spread from Crete to Egypt. The Egyptian goddess Isis was credited with bringing the knowledge of how to grow olives and use olive oil to Egyptians.
The pharaohs encouraged the cultivation of olive trees in Egypt. According to Xenon, a Greek historian of the 2nd century, the olive was grown in Egypt under the pharaohs by around 1500-1300 B.C. However, despite all the royal promotion the trees apparently weren’t as common as they were in some other countries at that time. It appears at times that domestic production of olive oil was insufficient to meet the demand, and in such cases, the country was known to import this. It is known that Egypt imported oil from Andalusia when it was under the Moors from around 700-1400 A.D. or so. The Andalusian region was known widely during this era for its fine quality olive oil,
Olive trees were grown during ancient times in the Sahara Desert where modern day Siwa is located. The area was inhabited by Berbers. Some regions of Egypt traded the salt they produced for olive oil. An amphora used for the oil was found in the area and dates to about the third century A.D.
The use of olive oil became much more common in the country after Greek rule began in Egypt around 332 B.C. with the arrival of Alexander the Great and continued under the various pharaohs of Greek descent, the Ptolemies. Wherever they went, the Greeks required high quality olive oil, especially for culinary use. They felt the domestically produced Egyptian oil didn’t meet Greek standards. Upon the death of Cleopatra, Egypt became a province of the Roman Empire. The Romans continued the use of olive oil in ancient Egypt as part of the Greco-Roman tradition.
The ancient Egyptians liked vegetables served with a dressing of olive oil and vinegar. They also used the oil in their bean dishes and vegetable stews.
The bodies of the dead in ancient Egypt were anointed with the oil in preparation for mummification. Ancient Egyptians used olive branches as one of the items selected for their funeral bouquets, which were left in the tombs by the mourners.
Archaeologists found wreaths in King Tut’s tomb. These were made by weaving stems of olives and willows together with various flowers. The tomb also contained bouquets of olive leaves and other plant materials.
In an ancient Greco-Roman site in Karanis, Egypt, archaeologists found an oil pressing room. The olive pomace that remained after pressing the olives had been piled in one corner of the warehouse. It seems unclear as to why the pomace was saved. Experts believe it probably would have been fed to animals or used for fuel.