Olive Oil : The Phoenicians Did It Again!

  • on January 11, 2016

Phoenicians Give Birth to a New Fruit in Phoenicia: The Olive!


Phoenicians were peaceful traders. We all know that. They were also ingenious progressive people. They have 7000 years of history and achievements to state it. We all know also that the Mediterranean is abundant with Olive trees, and that it produces its oil with not less abundance.

However, do you know the fascinating story of the origin of the Olive fruit? Probably not, for it has been forgotten along the timeline of the millenniums.


“Sisters” or the the Olive trees of Noah, are the 16 oldest olive trees in the world found in the community of Bechealeh, Lebanon. Some 6,000 years old…” Read more at The Green Prophet

I came along its story in 2006 while editing a manuscript for an award-winner Lebanese author. Intrigued, I went in search for more of the story, up until 2009 when another manuscript landed on my desk in Canada. Coincidence or synchronicity? It doesn’t matter, really. By then, I had enough documented information to satisfy my interest.

And today, I am delighted to convey the story to you.

The Phoenicians had their capital in Tripoli, three-cities, in the North of Lebanon. Their territory extended from Lebanon to Syria on the north, and Palestine on the south. Their lands were abundant with a type of evergreen yet fruitless tree, which we know today as Olive trees. They were fruitless, hence of no use to the Phoenicians other than to use its wood to carve arts and create furniture.

The story goes that a Phoenician farmer, ambitiously creative, saw the potential of these trees that withstood winters.

What if this mass of evergreen, winter-challenger trees would produce fruits for food?

His thought went into action as he aimed, ambitiously, at putting these trees to better use. He undertook several endeavors of fruit drafting. It resulted with small dark green fruits starting to emerge. However, they were too bitter in taste and too little of flesh to be edible.

Phoenicians; Olive mill

An old Olive Oil Mill in Palestine

Having reached so far, he knew the outcome was already promising, and he did not give up. He soaked these little fruits in fresh water from the spring to ease off their bitterness.

The use of salt for food preservation was nothing new to the Phoenician advanced civilization of that time. It was natural to the farmer to use it in his experimentation. As the days passed, he would taste, adding yeast, flavoring with lemon, and waiting patiently.

What occurred is that his waiting period allowed a process of needed fermentation. Did he know it? It is not recorded. But one fact is certain, a new fruit was born in the Land of the Phoenicians: The Olive!


“The olive in Phoenicia is at least as old as the Exodus, for it was said of Asher who was assigned the more southern part of that country– ‘Let him be acceptable to his brethren, and let him dip his foot in oil.’ Deut. xxxiii. 24.” Quoting: Phoenicia Org.

The Phoenicians and their Precious Olive Oil

Phoenicians trading in Egypt

Phoenicians trading in Egypt

The Phoenicians soon explored all the potential of their new-born fruit. They produced the precious liquid of oil; both of which they exported in their trading like the many of their products and creativity:

The Alphabet, the Purple Dye, the money coins, the Pythagorean mathematics, the skills of mighty ships, the engineering skills of urban infrastructure, and so on.


Historically, the Phoenicians stood out by the commendable features of Creativity, Progressive Mentality, and Ambition; all within their main adamant stance of Peace.


Ancient Phoenicia, Byblos port, and the seal of Asher.

For thousands of years B.C,  the Phoenicians were the main trading power in the region, and as far west as their colonies extended. Cadiz (Spain) was one of them. It was known as Gadir back then. From there, they controlled the trading routes to Britain and the access to the Atlantic Ocean.

Byblos (Lebanon) was the main, and very active, trading port of the
Phoenicians. From there, they carried the olive fruit and its precious oil to their major trade destinations – Egypt and Greece – and to their colonies up to Spain, and including Carthage; a Phoenician name, Kart-Hadasht, meaning New Town



“The earliest presence of Phoenician material in the West is documented within the precinct of the ancient city of Huelva, Spain…The high proportion of Phoenician pottery (…) argues in favor of a regular presence of Phoenician people from the start of the 9th century BC.”  Archaeologist Professor María Eugenia Aubet, Universidad Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona.


Phoenicians: Olive Harvest Mosaic

Ancient Mosaic Art of the Olive Harvesting

While the Phoenicians were adamant to maintain the secret recipe of their Royal Purple Dye, they did not withhold sharing any of their other creations and knowledge.

The new fruit of Olive, with the production of its precious oil, was one them. They shared it like they did with their Alphabet in view to facilitate communication. As history recorded, that same Alphabet was adopted by the Greeks, and implemented to unite the too many different dialects of their islands.


The Alphabet, in fact, was created by the Semitic-spoken Canaanite Phoenicians, and is not of Latin or Arabic origin as some assume.

The Phoenicians and GreeceLebanese-American Cultural heritage

During the impressive Phoenician civilization that lasted 7000 years, Greece and Phoenicia enjoyed a strong mutual relationship of high-esteem and cultural exchange. Historical Phoenicians – like Plato, Aristotle and Pythagoras, among others – conveyed their knowledge and science through their schools of thoughts they established in Greece.

Olive branchesGreeks viewed of high value the peaceful Phoenicians and their trades and products. Olive Oil was one of these products. They adopted the Olive tree as a symbol of peace and wisdom for their Olympic games, and the Olive branches as the most honorable wreath of victory and glory.

The olive spread to Sicily, Southern Italy, and from Cadiz to all Spain, then to Sardinia and Southern France, covering all the Mediterranean region.

Olive Oil: From Sacred and Symbol to… Healer!

Phoenicians and the olive oil. Old olive oil mill in Lebanon

Old Olive Oil mill in Lebanon

Precious, it was indeed. Hence, it was used for religious purpose at its beginnings, and to lighten lamps. Not for long though. These ancient Mediterranean nations soon discovered the healing power, hence nutritional benefits, of that golden-greenish Oil. They knew better than restricting its use when its benefits in health and n

Phoenicians introduced the olive oil to the world

Harvesting Olive Oil; Art by Theophilos 1870-1934

utrition started to surface.

Since then, we people of the Mediterranean have been abundantly generous in our production and consumption of Extra Virgin Olive Oil. We never waited for science to confirm its benefits.

Today, studies proclaim them high and loud, stating that our populations “have longer life expectancy and lower risks of heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke, compared with North Americans and Northern Europeans.”


Extra Virgin Olive Oil stimulates digestive enzymes, improves bowel movement, helps with high level of Cholesterol, reduces heart coronary disease, soothes sun burns, heals wounds, treats scars and stretchmarks, works as a rejuvenating skin emollient, helps with painful stomach ulcers, improves brain function, rejuvenates hair, and works as anti-inflammatory, among others.

Healing with Olive Oil

Let’s talk Olive Oil home remedies!

Phoenicians and the healing power of Extra Virgin Olive OilMy earliest childhood memories include my dad dripping warm olive oil in my ears. It wouldn’t take few minutes from me weeping in pain to gazing with shocked calm at my smiling father. This is how earaches were dealt with at home! Should the pain recur for more than 24 hours, it was then the visit to the doctor. In my cases, I don’t recall needing these visits. The warmed olive oil did always the job!

Phoenicians and the Olive oilNaturally, I raised my children the same, using Extra Virgin Olive Oil, not only for earaches, but also to beat the unbeatable Infant Colic that is still a mystery to doctors.

Come with me to Extra Virgin Olive Oil: A Multi-healer to tell you all about its natural healing recipes!


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  • This is fascinating – I had no idea that olive oil could be used in such a versatile way. Currently feeling grateful to the Phoenicians for discovering my favorite oil to cook with. I simply can not imaging what cooking would be like without it.

    Erica Saydah January 20, 2016 12:46 pm Reply
    • It is, isn’t it? Be sure to use the Olive Oil with the right acidity level for cooking 🙂

      Claudys January 20, 2016 5:09 pm Reply

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