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date: 29 November 2022



  • Robert Sallares


  • Science, Technology, and Medicine

Tree cultivation. In the first millennium bce there was a remarkable expansion of fruit-tree cultivation in the Mediterranean from east to west. The productivity of Mediterranean agriculture was significantly increased because trees were often intercropped with cereals and legumes, increasing total yields per unit area. These developments laid the economic foundations for the prosperity of Greek and Roman civilization and made diets more diverse and more nutritious. The most important of the trees in question were the olive, vine (see wine), fig, apple, pear, plum, pistachio, walnut, chestnut, carob, date-palm, peach, almond, pomegranate, sweet and sour cherry-trees. The cultivation of many of these species of trees depended on the spread of the technique of grafting. The date of the establishment of citrus trees in the Mediterranean is disputed. They were probably not important until after the end of the classical period. The Roman agronomists provide us with information about arboriculture. Trees were also very important in the ancient economy for timber. It was required for shipbuilding, houses, firewood and many other purposes. Theophrastus describes the uses of different types of timber in the Inquiry into Plants (Eng. trans., A. F. Hort (1916)). The demand for timber sometimes resulted in deforestation. Its scale is disputed. Sometimes natural regeneration of forests followed it. Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis) was an important coloniser of disturbed terrain.


  • J. V. Thirgood, Man and the Mediterranean Forest (1981).
  • R. Meiggs, Trees and Timber in the Ancient Mediterranean World (1982).
  • J. R. Sallares, The Ecology of the Ancient Greek World (1991).
  • A. T. Grove and O. Rackham, The Nature of Mediterranean Europe (2001).