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Apr 20, 2011

Fabulous Facts: Wine in Ancient Times


As we know, wine is popular. What most of us don't realize is just how popular wine has always been. Did you know that wine jars buried with Tutankhamen were labeled with such detail that they could meet today's wine labeling laws? There's much more, so read on.

I am indebted to the website Random History for these fascinating facts about wine.

GENERAL FACTS
  • The standard wine container of the ancient world was the amphora (something which can be carried by two), a clay vase with two handles. It was invented by the Canaanites, who introduced it into Egypt before the fifteenth century B.C. Their forebears, the Phoenicians, spread its use throughout the Mediterranean.
  • Wine facilitated contacts between ancient cultures, providing the motive and means of trade. For example, the Greeks traded wine for precious metals, and the Romans traded wine for slaves.
  • Archaeologists found grape pips (seeds), usually considered evidence of winemaking, dating from 8000 B.C. in Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. The oldest pips of cultivated vines were found in (then Soviet) Georgia from 7000-5000 B.C.
  • In the whole of the Biblical Old Testament, only the Book of Jonah has no reference to the vine or wine.

ANCIENT EGYPT
  • In ancient Egypt, the ability to store wine until maturity was considered alchemy and was the privilege of only the pharaohs.
  • When Tutankhamen’s tomb was opened in 1922, the wine jars buried with him were labeled with the year, the name of the winemaker, and comments such as “very good wine.” The labels were so specific that they could actually meet modern wine label laws of several countries

MIDDLE EAST
  • Winemaking is a significant theme in one of the oldest literary works known, the Epic of Gilgamesh. The divinity in charge of the wine was the goddess Siduri, whose depiction suggests a symbolic association between wine and fertility.
  • One of the most quoted legends about the discovery of wine is the story of Jamsheed, a semi-mythical Persian king (who may have been Noah). A woman of his harem tried to take her life with fermented grapes, which were thought to be poisonous. Wine was discovered when she found herself rejuvenated and lively.
  • The first known illustration of wine drinking is found on a 5,000-year-old Sumerian panel known as the Standard of Ur.

The Standard of Ur
ROME
  • Romans discovered that mixing lead with wine not only helped preserve wine, but also gave it a sweet taste and succulent texture. Chronic lead poisoning has often been cited as one of the causes of the decline of Rome.
  •  The world’s oldest bottle of wine dates back to A.D. 325 and was found near the town of Speyer, Germany, inside one of two Roman sarcophaguses. It is on display at the town's Historisches Museum der Pfalz. 
  • Early Roman women were forbidden to drink wine, and a husband who found his wife drinking was at liberty to kill her. Divorce on the same grounds was last recorded in Rome in 194 B.C.
  • Ancient Romans thought seasoning was more important than the primary flavor of wine and often added fermented fish sauce, garlic, asafetida (onion root), lead, and absinthe.
  • “Toasting” started in ancient Rome when the Romans continued the Greek tradition but started dropping a piece of toasted bread into each wine glass to temper undesirable tastes or excessive acidity. 

GREECE
  • At the center of Greek social and intellectual life was the symposium, which literally means, “drinking together.” Indeed, the symposium reflects Greek fondness for mixing wine and intellectual discussion
  • In ancient Greece, a dinner host would take the first sip of wine to assure guests the wine was not poisoned, hence the phrase “drinking to one’s health.”
  • Thucydides wrote that the people of the Mediterranean began to “emerge from barbarism when they learned to cultivate the oil and the vine.”
  • Plato argued that the minimum drinking age should be 18, and then wine in moderation may be tasted until 31. When a man reaches 40, he may drink as much as he wants to cure the “crabbedness of old age.”
  • Hippocrates, widely considered the father of medicine, includes wine in almost every one of his recorded remedies. He used it for cooling fevers, as a diuretic, as a general antiseptic, and to help convalescence.
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