Why Were Olives So Important in Ancient Greece?

Olives were an essential part of the ancient Greek diet and economy. They were used for cooking, medicine, and even as a form of currency. In this article, we will explore the reasons why olives were so important in ancient Greece.


The olive tree is native to the Mediterranean region and has been cultivated for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks believed that Athena, their goddess of wisdom and war, gave them the olive tree as a gift. According to legend, Athena struck her spear into the ground and an olive tree grew from it.

Culinary Uses

Olives were a staple food in the ancient Greek diet. They were often eaten plain or used in recipes for dishes like moussaka, dolmades, and spanakopita.

Olive oil was also widely used for cooking and as a dressing for salads. It was considered to be one of the healthiest oils due to its high content of monounsaturated fatty acids.

Medicinal Properties

The ancient Greeks believed that olives had medicinal properties. They used them to treat a variety of ailments including wounds, headaches, and stomach problems. Olive oil was also used as a moisturizer for skin and hair.

Economic Importance

In addition to their culinary and medicinal uses, olives also played an important role in the ancient Greek economy. Olives were one of Greece’s most valuable exports, with olive oil being particularly prized. It was often used as a form of currency in trade transactions.

Cultural Significance

Olives held great cultural significance in ancient Greece. They were often portrayed in artwork and literature as symbols of peace, prosperity, and fertility. The olive branch became a universal symbol of peace after it was presented by Athena to end the conflict between Poseidon and herself over who would be the patron god of Athens.


In conclusion, olives were a vital part of ancient Greek society. They were used for food, medicine, and commerce, and held great cultural significance.

Their importance can still be seen today in the Mediterranean diet and the popularity of olive oil around the world. So next time you enjoy a Greek salad or drizzle some olive oil on your pasta, remember the rich history and significance of this humble fruit.