(English) Olive oil: A prize fit for Champions
In these Olympian days, our thoughts are wont to ponder the origins of these magnificent games.
In Ancient Greece it was believed that athletic skill was a gift granted by the gods, and hence sporting events were held in their honour: the greatest of them all unfolded in Olympia, in honour of Zeus. Athens, meanwhile, was home to a annual religious festival, the Panathenaia, which honoured the goddess Athena, the founder of the city. However, by the the sixth century b.C., athletic contests similar to those of the Olympics were also included, and every four years the Great Panathenaic Games took place. Events included horse races, boat races, running and javelin throwing among others.
And what a prize for those who were victorious! Athletes who came first or second in the sporting events were rewarded with large, ceramic amphorae filled with Athenian olive oil of the very best quality, which came from the city’s own sacred olive groves. The amphorae were richly decorated: on one side an image of the goddess Athena, and on the other the specific event for which the prize was awarded. One amphora could hold almost 40 litres of oil, with a top prize of no less than 140 amphorae for the winner of the chariot race . As this was more than the victor could consume, it was common practice to sell part of the prize, and in this way the amphorae and the oil travelled far and wide, consolidating Athens’ reputation for quality olive oil.
In this image of the Burgon amphora, one of the earliest preserved examples, not only can we see Athena but also, on the neck of the vase, her faithful companion the wise bird, our Cultivated owl.