How Did They Make Olive Oil in Ancient Times?

Olive oil has been a staple in the Mediterranean diet for thousands of years. The process of creating olive oil has evolved over time, but the basic principles remain the same. In ancient times, olive oil was made using a simple method that involved crushing olives and extracting the oil.

The First Step: Harvesting the Olives

The first step in making olive oil is harvesting the olives. In ancient times, people would pick olives by hand or use sticks to knock them off the trees. The olives were then collected in baskets and taken to the olive press.

The Second Step: Crushing the Olives

Once at the press, the olives were crushed to release their oils. In ancient times, this was done using large stone wheels or presses that were powered by animals like donkeys or mules. These animals would walk in circles around a large stone wheel, crushing the olives underneath.

The Third Step: Separating Oil from Water

After crushing, a paste was created from which oil had to be extracted; this paste was then spread on woven mats and stacked up into a pile which was placed under a press with weights above it. The pressure squeezed out any remaining liquid from within each batch of paste and this liquid was collected separately from each other.

The next step involved separating the oil from water. This was done using either gravity or centrifugal force.

In gravity separation, the mixture of oil and water was allowed to sit for several hours until they naturally separated into two layers – with water below and oil above it. In centrifugal separation, however, machines were used that spun rapidly to separate out water from olive oil.

The Fourth Step: Storing Olive Oil

Once separated, the olive oil was stored in clay jars or other containers until ready for use. It could be used for cooking or as a lamp fuel.

The Conclusion

In conclusion, the process of making olive oil in ancient times was a labor-intensive and time-consuming process. Despite this, people considered it worth the effort because of the health benefits and flavor that olive oil provides. Today, we can easily buy olive oil at the grocery store, but it’s important to remember the history behind this essential ingredient that has stood the test of time.


  • Harvesting olives involved handpicking or using sticks to knock them off trees.
  • Crushing olives was done using large stone wheels or animal-powered presses.
  • The oil was separated from water using either gravity or centrifugal force.
  • Olive oil was stored in clay jars or other containers until ready for use.

Further Reading

If you enjoyed learning about how olive oil was made in ancient times and would like to learn more about ancient food production methods, we recommend checking out these resources: