Perspectives on Olive Cultivation and Processing in Maltese Roman Antiquity

The cultivation of the olive as a source of food and oil is deeply rooted in the origin of farming at the western edge of the Fertile Crescent and spans a history of over 7000 years. Olive cultivation and processing was extensively developed in Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquity.  The Phoenicians were probably the first to introduce cultivation of the olive for food and oil in the Maltese Islands.  

However, though direct evidence is scarce due to lack of extant ancient trees or evidence of plantations, systematic olive cultivation and processing appears to have been extensively developed during the Roman period. Indirect evidence comes from an abundance of olive processing equipment most especially durable parts made of stone which have withstood the depredations of time. These include olive crushers (trapetum) and the bases for oil presses. Press parts made of wood have obviously deteriorated but when compared to reconstructions match two distinct types of oil presses – lever beams with counterweights and torque presses. Roman archaeological sites come complete with a range of olive processing artefacts including press bases as well as stone vats for settling, separation and storage of the oil. This technology will be reviewed using historical and site evidence.

Dr Joseph A. Buhagiar

Department of Biology, University of Malta

Was born in 1960, received his education at the Żejtun primary schools and St. Augustine College.  In 1982 he graduated B. Ed (Hons) and started teaching biology first at ordinary level and in 1987 at advanced level.  Joseph continued his post graduate studies from 1991where he attended several diploma courses abroad, and eventually obtained an M. Phil. and a Ph. D specialising in the bioactivity of plant chemicals.  In 1994 moved on to the University as Curator and now occupies a full time lecturing post with the Department of Biology and is also Director for the Argotti Botanic Gardens, Floriana.  Joseph is married to Rita and has four children – Denise, Malcolm, Arthur and Karl. He was a Żejtun resident till 2003 and now lives in Marsascala.

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