Wine and other Beverages

Authored by: Wim Broekaert

The Routledge Handbook of Diet and Nutrition in the Roman World

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  October  2018

Print ISBN: 9780815364344
eBook ISBN: 9781351107334
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9781351107334-12

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Abstract

The ancient world knew a wide variety of beverages, but the iconic drink of the Roman Empire is without doubt wine. Wine drinking was attractive because of its tastiness and the ring of elite culture attached to it. The consumption of wine (but always in moderation and mixed with water!) was an essential part of the Mediterranean diet and remained throughout antiquity one of the main markers of a cultivated lifestyle, of true belonging to the Greco-Roman civilized world. People drank wine at dinner, in taverns, during festivities and when taking part in food distributions by civic benefactors. Wine was available at room temperature, cooled with ice or snow, or heated (Dunbabin, 1993; Curtis, 2001, 374). Vintages from all over the Mediterranean world reached Italy, leaving the more well-to-do consumer with the difficult choice of what to drink. Trimalchio certainly articulated the common perception of wine being consumed by everyone at all times, when stating that wine was life itself (Petron., Sat. 34). Yet, despite wine being considered the normal drink in the Roman Empire, it was neither produced nor consumed everywhere. The attention given to wine drinking in classical texts and in contemporary research often makes us underestimate the existence of countless other beverages. The nature of our evidence invariably turns the focus towards consumption of wines by the literate elite and, to a lesser extent, middling groups living in an urban context, while patterns of consumption in rural communities or by the urban poor remain virtually invisible. Similarly, archaeological evidence favours the analysis of wine production at villa sites and consumption in cities over other beverages, mainly through the remarkable amounts of presses, storage vats, amphorae and drinking vessels discovered there. The result is a complete mismatch between the amount of information on patterns of wine consumption and the part of the Roman population able to afford these often expensive vintages. This chapter will try to integrate the isolated and fragmentary information on beverages other than wine into a single description of drinking habits in the Roman world. 1

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