How Is Olive Oil Made in Ancient Times?

Olive oil has been a staple of Mediterranean cuisine for thousands of years. It is an essential ingredient in many dishes and is also used for medicinal purposes.

But have you ever wondered how it was made in ancient times? Let’s take a look at the process.

Harvesting the Olives

The first step in making olive oil is to harvest the olives. This was usually done by hand, using wooden ladders to climb the trees and rakes to pull the olives off the branches. The olives were then placed in baskets and taken to the mill.

The Milling Process

Once at the mill, the olives were washed and sorted to remove any leaves or twigs. They were then crushed using large stone rollers or a press. The resulting paste was placed into woven baskets or mats, which were stacked on top of each other under a press.

First Press

The first press produced what was known as virgin olive oil. This was considered to be of the highest quality and was used for cooking and medicinal purposes.

Second Press

The second press produced what was known as lampante oil. This oil was of lower quality and was used for lighting lamps or sold as a cheaper alternative.

Separating the Oil from Water

After pressing, the oil was separated from any remaining water by using a decanter, which allowed the heavier water to sink to the bottom while the lighter oil floated on top.

Storing Olive Oil

Once separated, olive oil was stored in clay jars or amphorae, which were sealed with wax or cork to prevent air from getting in and spoiling the oil.

  • Virgin olive oil could be stored for up to two years.
  • Lampante oil was considered to be inferior and could only be stored for a few months.

The Role of Olive Oil in Ancient Times

Olive oil played an important role in ancient times. It was not only used for cooking and lighting lamps but was also used as a form of currency. Greeks and Romans would trade olive oil for other goods, and it was even used to pay taxes.


Making olive oil in ancient times was a labor-intensive process, but the end result was worth it. Today, the process has been modernized, but the quality and taste of traditional olive oil still remains highly sought after. Whether you’re using it to cook with or for its medicinal properties, olive oil is truly a gift from nature.