WINE | THE HISTORY | PART III

Culture, Mediterranean diet

ROMAN EMPIRE

After the fall of Greece, the cult of wine spread rapidly in the Roman Empire. The expansion of the empire enabled the establishment of vineyards in Italy, where the Romans learned the wine culture from the Etruscans who settled in the area at that time and wine was already a symbol of dissolute life. Terracotta vessels from the 4th millennium BC were found in Sicily, in which the wine had already been stored.

When Rome finally defeated Carthage in the middle of the 2nd century BC, Roman vineyards began to grow across Italy and wine production established itself in Roman culture. When France and Spain also fell under Roman influence, huge vineyards were planted in these provinces, because the Romans did not want to do without their drink in their conquered colonies, even though individual tribes had already dabbled in wine cultivation.

With viticulture in Italy, France, Spain, Germania and even Britain, the Roman Empire eventually became one of the most important trading centers of the time. Wine became a status symbol, used as currency, revered as medicine and a mythical drink at the same time, and was drunk to seal contracts. Instead of Dionysus, Bacchus was now the god of wine, to whom the Romans extensively paid homage and built a temple in his honor in Baalbek, in today’s Lebanon. The oldest surviving bottle and still containing liquid, the Speyer wine bottle, belonged to a Roman nobleman and is dated to 325 or 350 AC.

With the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AC, trade between the areas declined significantly and viticulture served more for local supplies than for exporting or supplying troops. Most of the peoples in the north of Europe preferred beer to wine. With less demand, quantities of western wine exports slowly reduced, and thus arrested further development of wine culture.

It was then often monasteries, that usually maintained viticulture and gained further knowledge about improving quality. In the course of European expansion, wine production and consumption increased and flourished from the 15th century. Despite the devastating phylloxera infestation of 1887, modern science and technology were being adapted and industrial wine production and consumption are now carried out around the world.

Read more in Part I
Read more in Part II
Read more in Part IV

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