the history of olive oil in imperial rome
The great flowering of olive growing came coupled with the expansion of all cultures. It was the Phoenicians and the Greeks who imposed their culture on the Iberian Peninsula. However, the great expansion and improvement of olive cultivation was due to the Romans, who took it to all their colonies, where it could be developed. The growing and pruning techniques are already well documented and brilliantly reflected in the books of agriculture Cato. In Imperial Roma the olive tree and its branches were symbols of peace, fertility and prosperity.
The Romans spread the cultivation of olives around Mediterranean Europe, while the Tyrian, of Phoenician origin and founders of Carthage, did so for North Africa. When the Romans defeated the Carthaginians and took over what are now the Magreb countries, there were already extensive olive groves in Tunisia. The Carthaginians were good farmers and shared their knowledge and experiences with the Numidian Berber tribes of what is now eastern Algeria.
The cultivation of olives, like that of grapes and other fruits, contributed to the contributed to the settling of nomadic tribes of North Africa. The new conquerors, the Romans, were as interested in agriculture as the Africans settlers themselves; firstly because they wanted to keep the peace as well as providing for the cities and legions of the empire. And secondly, because they wanted to get rich exploiting the situation of the peace that only the Romans could guarantee against invasions of nomadic tribes. All these circumstances contributed to the improvement of olive growing.
Map of the expansion of the Roman Empire
As the Romans, the same as the Greeks, rewarded people with laurel wreaths for military victory, they also awarded braided wreaths of olive branches to the citizens who were distinguished for providing outstanding service to his country. Numa, second king of Rome, under whose reign everyone enjoyed a long period of peace, was always represented with an olive branch in hand. As in the case of the dove that Noah released after the flood, which came back to the ark with a small olive tree branch in its beak, to indicate that the wrath of God had passed, once again the olive tree was a symbol of peace, culture and progress.
Avienus, a Roman author concerned with the cultivation of olive trees and well versed in Hispania, in his book called 'Ora Maritime' he referred to the Ebro River as Oleum Flumen, i.e. river of oil. Under the Roman Empire olive cultivation spread throughout the Mediterranean coast, it is almost certain that Rosas, Ampuria and Tarragona were the places where Catalonia and Aragon olives were introduced, they must have been so common throughout the peninsula, that the emperor Hadrian, adopted as the symbol of the Roman Hispania, a great olive branch.
Picture of Roman amphora, which carried olive oil.
Olive oil from Andalusia in Roman times enjoyed deserved prestige. There is a hill very close to the Ostia port, called Monte Testaccio that, according to the well known archaeologist Dressell, consists of a series of layers of the remains of Roman amphoras, made in Hispania that were used for the transportation of olive oil to Rome as is deduced from its markings and characteristics. The study of this material has allowed us to reconstruct the history of olive oil in the first three centuries of our epoch. Hispanic olive oil was known throughout the western Roman world, their natural trade routes were the major rivers: Ródano, Garona, Rin, Danubio, etc. Across the English Channel until the end of the century, all the oil exported to Britain came from Andalusia.
The Roman army spread olive oil throughout the Peninsula.