Grieco — “Olive Tree Cultivation”   Leave a comment

This hard-to-find article’s full title is “Olive Tree Cultivation and the Alimentary Use of Olive Oil in Late Medieval Italy (ca. 1300-1500). It’s most important finding is that the projection of present-day alimentary geography (i.e. where a food product is used presently) is problematic for a number of reasons. The first that Grieco discusses is the dramatic change in ease of transport. During Roman times there was little cultivation of olive trees in the Po River valley due to the low cost with which olives and olive oil could be transported from other areas where the trees grew better. With the “barbarian” invasions there was a general decay of land and sea transport.

This meant that in order to have olive oil (for religious necessity, as Grieco points out), there was an imperative to plant trees in what was then a marginally productive climate. The change in the twelfth and thirteenth from customs duties on value rather than on weight made shipping olives and their olive more lucrative, and put pressure on the marginal plantations in the north of Italy. The drop in temperature known popularly as the “Little Ice Age” spelled the end of olive cultivation north of the Apennines until recent times.

Grieco also discusses, in a second, smaller section, the use of olive oil as a food product, and he finds that while there does not seem to be much truth to the much-popularized “butter line,” there is a general correlation with the amount of olive oil used and income.

We hope to make this paper available as a downloadable pdf from this site in the near future. The full bibliographic citation appears below:

Grieco, A.J. “Olive Cultivation and the Alimentary Use of Olive Oil in Late Medieval Italy (ca. 1300-1500).” In “Oil and Wine Production in the Mediterranean Area,” ed. M.C. Amouretti and J.P. Brun, Bulletin de Correspondence Hellenique (Supplement 26).

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