Olive Oil's Many Uses Throughout History

Olive oil has long been used to enhance the pleasures of food. ThoughtCo says the signs of olive oil in cooking can be found as far back as the fifth century BCE. However, as Science explains, the preserved site of Pompeii gives more concrete details about how ancient people consumed olive oil. In 2021, researchers applied a new method of isolating the amino acids in the bones preserved by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. Previously, we knew the types of food that Romans ate in southern Italy. However, we now have insight into their proportions. 

According to the data, olive oil accounted for at least 12% of their diet. "Oil wasn't a condiment, it was a proper ingredient," Silvia Soncin, an archaeologist at the Sapienza University of Rome, explained to Science. "They got a lot of energy out of it." While you cannot reasonably infer that the people in Britain consumed olive oil in such quantities, for example, the results show that olive oil was a staple food. However, olive oil's uses stretched far beyond the culinary.

Olive oil was integral to society

Olive oil's multifaceted nature can be seen in the founding myth of Athens. As Fratelli Carli states, there was a competition between Poseidon and Athena to see whose name would grace the city. Poseidon created horses for warfare, though Greek Boston says he offered flowing salt water. Athena, however, created the olive tree, which proved more useful.

These uses included fuelling lamps, providing nutrition, and cleaning wounds. ThoughtCo notes that the term, "Messiah," means anointed one, and such anointings were typically carried out with a type of olive oil. UNRV goes into detail about how olive oil can be used in each case. For bathing, olive oil served as a cleanser that exfoliated and drew out the grime from one's skin. Olive oil produced a nightlife, as it could provide artificial light without an overpowering smell or smoke. It was so plentiful that it even found its way to lubricating machinery. Olive oil was everywhere in Greek and Roman society, even more so than today.