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The olive tree has been the symbol of wisdom and peace. The olive tree was the sacred tree of goddess Athena, and Athens, the capital of Greece, took its name from the goddess. Zeus had decreed that the city should be given to the god who offered the most powerful gift to the people. Poseidon gave them the horse. Athena struck the bare soil with her spear and caused an olive tree to spring up. The people were so delighted with the olive that Zeus gave the city to Athena and named it after her. Athena is often shown with an olive branch, a symbol of peace and plenty.
At the Ancient Olympic Games, winners were presented (and crowned) with a simple olive tree branch which was cut with a gold-handled knife from a wild olive tree. The Greeks believed that the sacred tree was transmitted to the recipient through the branch.
"Offering an olive branch" is synonymous with peaceful intentions. The oil was burnt in lamps of sacred temples, as well as being the "eternal flame" of the Olympic games.
In Genesis, a dove released from the Ark by Noah, returend with an olive branch to show that the flood had receded.
Hercules was protected by wearing a wreath of olive leaves upon his head.
Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic rituals such as blessings and christenings use olive oil.