Sometime after the hunter-gatherer cave man clonked his woman over the head and dragged her home to whip him up an olive-oil-free meal, olives were cultivated and used for fuel, cleansing, food preservation, eating, and much more. In fact, there were so many things that our early ancestors could do with olive oil and it grew so well in poor soil and arid conditions that law and politics got involved.
Hunter-gatherers were a perpetually hungry bunch and when people began cultivating food, communities sprang up. When communities sprang up, more people needed to be fed, so there was more cultivation. Hunter-gatherers laid down their sharpened sticks and joined these communities. The communities traded their stuff for other communities’ stuff and the communities grew. Then the communities needed folks to look after their interests and governments and bureaucracies were born.
For people who lived in community settings to survive and go about their business they needed a strong agricultural industry to support a non-nomadic population. Farmers were held in high esteem and the protection of crops and harvests was critical. It is not surprising that early political leaders chose to enact laws protecting one of the best sources of food and fuel available in the eastern Mediterranean region – the olive.
Early people did not separate their civil governments from their religious beliefs and that is why all the religious faiths that sprang from the Mediterranean region include in “God’s Law” many references on how to actually and symbolically propagate, grow, and care for olive trees. Today those same religions no longer use these laws as agricultural guidelines, but as worship and behavior guidelines.
Ancient leaders like Hammurabi, who ruled Babylon from about 1792 to 1750 BC, and Solon, the ruler of Athens, who lived from about 638 to 558 BC, are both attributed with creating laws to protect their olive crops. Those laws covered actions such as cutting down olive trees, the distance between olive trees, and olive oil trade and commerce. It is known that other leaders made laws to protect their olives and olive oil but their laws have been lost to time. It can be said that without these laws protecting that vital commodity we may not be fortunate enough to benefit from it today.
Homer, the Greek poet who lived 200 years before Solon, is frequently quoted for his reference to olive oil as “liquid gold”. Just that statement alone helps us understand how valuable olives and olive oil were to ancient man’s survival, and when something is recognized to have great value, politics and law come into the picture.
May the sun shine through your branches.