Cultivation of the olive grove and olive oil production have always been very deeply rooted in the culture of the Mediterranean peoples. In ancient Hispania, the majority were located in the Guadalquivir valley, although there are also vestiges of the liquid gold’s presence in Cástulo (very close to the modern-day Linares).
From the 1st century AD, the emperors began to actively support the plantation of olive trees and the production of oil, thus transforming Baetica into the first export nucleus in the Metropolis, with ramifications in many other places, including Northern Europe.
Loyal to its rural soul, in the very foundations of its most authentic cultural idiosyncrasy, Rome based a good part of its economic prosperity on a perfect system of distributing and exploiting the land. This premise does not preclude the fact that there were also enormous estates, known as fundi, that belonged to the major domini or proprietors, who were generally absent, on which luxurious villae were built for leisure purposes and long periods were spent here in search of rest, pleasure and silence.
Nonetheless, much these complex installations were also designed to recreate paradisiacal atmospheres –they were occasionally decorated with extremely complex water games, mosaics with figures or imported sculptures depicting Greek myths and legends in a clear expression of privata luxuria-, their main defining element was always agricultural, at the service of which there were practically always lodgings for the slaves, storage for the crops, installations for transformation of the product (mills, presses, fulling mills, potters, major water deposits, etc.) or simply to meet the needs of the family itself. These functions were delegated to the foreman or villici, who tended to be freedmen who were experts in these matters and in estate management.
The real image of some of these villae has come to us through the mosaics with figures, particularly from the North of Africa, which were built into the floor. Scenes relating to the harvest, transportation, milling or the seasons; and the olive tree and olives, represented as a symbol of the winter, frequently appear in these.
The olive groves were often used as feeding grounds for the livestock, which meant the trees needed to be protected or set at a height. They were also used for sewing cereals or vines, meaning it was necessary to have a larger distance between the rows than normal (the number generally varied between 25 and 170 trees per hectare). (Pliny, Nat. Hist. 17, 94,2; Columella, De Re Rustica V, 9,7).