How Was Olive Oil Made in Ancient Greece?

In ancient Greece, olive oil played a significant role in their daily lives. It was not only used for cooking but also had cultural, religious, and medicinal importance. The process of making olive oil in ancient Greece involved several steps, each contributing to the final product’s quality and taste.

Growing Olive Trees

The first step in making olive oil was cultivating olive trees. Olive trees were grown extensively throughout ancient Greece due to their ability to withstand the region’s hot and arid climate. These trees were not only a source of income but also seen as a symbol of peace, wisdom, and prosperity.

Harvesting Olives

Once the olive trees reached maturity, usually after four to five years, it was time to harvest the olives. The harvesting process varied slightly depending on the region and individual preferences. However, the most common method involved manually picking ripe olives from the tree branches.

Sorting and Washing

After harvesting, the olives were sorted to remove any damaged or unripe ones. This ensured that only high-quality olives were used for making olive oil. The sorted olives were then thoroughly washed to remove any dirt or debris.

Crushing the Olives

Once cleaned, the olives were crushed to extract their precious juice. In ancient Greece, this was done using large stone mills called “trapetum.” The trapetum consisted of a circular stone base with another stone attached on top that rolled over the olives when pushed by humans or animals such as mules.

The First Pressing

The crushing process resulted in a thick paste made up of crushed olives and their juices. This paste was then spread onto large woven mats or fiber disks called “sphragis.”

These mats or disks were stacked on top of each other and placed in a press called a “trogos.” The trogos exerted pressure on the stacked mats, squeezing out the initial batch of olive oil.

The Second Pressing

After the first pressing, the remaining paste was taken out from the mats and placed into baskets. These baskets were then stacked again and subjected to further pressure to obtain additional olive oil. The resulting oil from this second pressing was not of the same quality as the first but was still used for various purposes.

Separating Oil and Water

The extracted olive oil contained water and impurities that needed to be separated. To achieve this, the olive oil was stored in large settling tanks or amphorae for several weeks. During this period, gravity caused the heavier water and impurities to settle at the bottom while pure olive oil floated on top.


Once separated, the olive oil was carefully transferred into storage containers such as clay amphorae or wooden barrels. These containers were sealed to prevent air from entering and spoiling the oil. Olive oil produced in ancient Greece had a relatively short shelf life compared to modern standards due to limited methods of preservation.


In ancient Greece, making olive oil was a labor-intensive process that required knowledge, skill, and patience. From growing and harvesting olives to crushing and separating them, each step played a crucial role in producing high-quality olive oil that held immense cultural significance. Today, we can appreciate this ancient art form as we continue to enjoy the golden liquid that has stood the test of time.