Wine and The Roman Empire
Written by Jennifer Jordan
Filed Under: Wine History
Anyone who knows wine knows that it has greatly impacted the history of our world. From Noah drinking it in the Old Testament, to legends of soldiers who used it as courage to fight during medieval times, wine has impacted conquests and wars. While this impact could have been more direct, with a very small glass of wine declaring itself Emperor of France, its subtlety was still felt; it is hard to refute the argument that, without wine, our world would be very different. History, as we know it, has always been under the influence.
A good part of wine's impact on the world must be credited to the Roman Empire. While other societies have used wine and spirits to mold cultures, the Romans, because of their eventual vast expansion and reputation as being "the trendsetters of history," had one of the biggest hands in the success of the grape: when it comes to wine, the Romans have earned the right to lift up their togas and curtsy.
Nearly synonymous with the word "power," the Roman Empire was a time in Ancient Rome when rule fell under an autocratic form of government. As Civil War plagued the land, Octavian (known later as Augustus) defeated Mark Antony and organized the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire. Known for expansion and conquest, at its height the Roman Empire stretched from Britain and Germany to North Africa and the Persian Gulf.
As the Romans invaded lands, they also introduced their culture and refinement to those lands, as if packing up the ideas of Ancient Rome in a briefcase and carrying them along to every conquest. Wine, a huge part of the history of Ancient Rome (as demonstrated by the vast amounts of vineyards planted around Italy), was one of the ideals that transcended territories.
In Rome, wine was drank at every meal, making one to wonder if a modern day Roman would pour Chardonnay into his Cocoa Puffs. Even slaves, slaves who were thought to exist on the same spectrum as mongrel dogs, were allowed to drink wine. A life of servitude, to the Romans, seemed reasonable, but a life without wine was out of the question; it was simply preposterous.
Possessing an affinity for wines that could grow old, the Romans often sipped the spirits of wine aged ten or twenty years. Their wines were also, in keeping with the reputation of the excess known to mark their culture, high in alcohol content.
The Romans were well educated in the different grape varieties and the different regions from which they came. They were also very inventive with their wine, often adding ingredients to alter the taste. Among the ingredients they experimented with were saltwater, honey, herbs and chalk.
Keeping with their creative abilities, the Romans contributed to the culture of wine through their invention of glassblowing. Having previously been stored in large clay vats, wine's flavor was often altered. And so, enter the Romans. After discovering that glass could hold wine without affecting the wine's flavor, Romans changed the way wine was stored, ultimately changing the way it tasted.
As the Roman Empire expanded, so did its vines, reaching as far north as Britain. France, previously planted with vineyards by the Greeks, was conquered by the Romans and soon many more vineyards sprung up. Beginning with the Rhone Valley vineyards, the Romans quickly planted their vineyards all across France, leaving France to eventually become known as producers of only the finest wines.
When the Romans got to Spain, they found that the Spaniards had beat them to the punch, and the wine. They possessed vineyards that dated back to 4,000 BC. But the Romans, not to be outdone, began demanding wines of better quality. The Romans then took over the viticulture in this area, fermenting it into greatness.
The Germans, like the Spaniards, had been engaged in grape growing for thousands of years. But, when in Rome (or rather when Rome comes in) things start to change. The Romans, having brought in higher quality and better techniques, began to alter the vineyards of Germany. Even some of the soldiers, taking time out of their busy schedule (10 a.m. - conquer, 11 a.m. - conquer, 12 p.m. - lunch), were involved in planting vines.
The Roman Empire was a monster player in history. It's likely that even the most scholarly historian can't completely grasp all the intricacies involved in this era; there are far too many. While the Romans influenced the societies they conquered, they also influenced those societies' appreciation for wine. Without them, the fine wines of Europe might not exist: The Roman Empire made it possible to drink wine when in Rome, and everywhere else.