The olive tree is probably the most revered plant in the entire Mediterranean region. Olive fruits and olive oil are some of the most popular ingredients in almost all Mediterranean and Western cooking, and they both came from the same tree. But the tree itself has a different significance in Greece, where they are most prevalent, and it can be traced back to the old stories and myths from ancient times.
One of those stories is about the Greek olive wreath. This wreath is made from branches of an olive tree and is shaped into either a circle or a horseshoe-like shape, and worn on one’s head like a crown. It was said that the olive wreath was given by the hero Hercules as a reward for the winner of a race to honour his father Zeus.
During the ancient Olympic Games, there will be only one winner for all the events that were held and that winner will be awarded with an olive wreath. This wreath is special because the branches where it is made of were taken from the olive tree which grows near the Temple of Zeus at Olympia. This tradition was also carried out during the centennial year of the modern Olympic Games that was coincidentally held in Athens. Winners of the events during that time were not only given a medal, but were also given olive wreaths.
There was also a certain story coming from the Greek historian Herodotus that tells of how important the Greek olive wreaths were. After the Battle of Thermopylae, Xerxes was asking why there are only a few Greek men defending the area. Their response was that they are at the Olympic Games and when they were asked what the prize was, their answer was, “an olive wreath.”
Nowadays, the Greek olive wreath is used as a symbol for peace; the actual symbol being a dove holding an olive branch in its beak. This symbol is present in a lot of everyday objects like coins, monetary notes and flags.