With a long and storied history, wine is one of the oldest and most popular drinks in the world, ranking fourth after water, tea and coffee, after beer.
Wine featured prominently in all three Abrahamic religions, but was equally important to the ancient Greeks and Romans, who were always obsessed with the infamous Carnival.
Surprisingly, very few people drink pure wine directly, which is called "merum".
Typically, the wine is diluted so that the final drink is a ratio of four to six parts water to one part wine.
But why is that?
Nowadays, "blending wine", or blending any alcoholic beverage, is basically considered to be the act of not drinking or defiling alcohol.
So, what was the purpose of the ancient Romans blending wine? And what is the special meaning?
Blending wine is not for dilution, but for purification
Some people think that we may think that all this is wrong, that instead of diluting wine with water, they purify it with it. Essentially, wine is used to improve water quality.
This view is often presented in a literal purifying way, and although the alcohol in wine can fight certain bacteria, it does not fight against numerous diseases that exist in densely populated urban settings such as the ancient Greek and Roman republics and later empires.
Instead, the practice of "purifying" water with wine is intended to improve the taste of water, which often tastes very unpleasant in these urban environments.
As mentioned earlier, the ancient Greeks often mixed 1 part wine with 4 to 6 parts water, while the Romans inherited many of their wine drinking habits.
Homer even mentions this practice in the Odyssey, where Odysseus and his crew dilute one part wine to twenty parts water, which is undoubtedly an expression of their predicament, the gravity of which must have been understood by the original audience.
Master Pliny also mentioned the antibacterial effect of "purifying" water with wine.
Epicratic and Garan also know about its efficacy, but caution against overdrinking.
Differences in wine culture
The word "barbarian" reminds us today of a very specific image of the advance of Germanic tribes from the frozen north towards the orderly defensive line of Roman legions.
However, for the Greeks and later Romans, the meaning of the word was more similar to "outsider".
Understanding this is crucial because it points to something more fundamental about understanding the drinking culture of that era – social customs.
If you come from an area or city-state where everyone would downplay alcohol, it would naturally be a discordant experience to come face-to-face with someone who didn't. It will immediately mark you as an outlier.
This association with aliens who are strange, at odds with your social customs, and the dilution of wine in the city can lead us to form an image of predatory drunken savages.
People who live outside of big cities may not need alcohol at all to "purify" their water, as their water sources are purer.
But the cities are the centers of these regions, they lead the way, we associate them with the ancient Greeks, so, like the Romans, the idea of drunken barbarians is reserved for us in Greek comedies.
The idea was so important that many times it was considered shameful for Macedonians not to dilute their wine, which led Alexander the Great to be hailed as a notorious conqueror, but also a boisterous drinker.
The difference between the Greek colloquium and its Roman counterpart
It is also important to know one of the main places for drinking to fully understand the practice – the Greek Colloquium and its Roman counterpart, the convivium.
Both occasions were crucial to their respective cultures, and wine was introduced to enliven the dialogue and philosophical debate of the symposium – although Pliny the Elder pointed out that some of the things that wine encourages people to say are better not to say.
Carnival is a similar event, although it is more of a social gathering, so there is more food and wine than debate.
The idea of diluting alcohol to prevent drunkenness seems to make some sense. Price can also be a factor, the legendary high-quality Falernian wine costs about 4 donkeys (this is very roughly equivalent to 1/4 dinar or about a day's salary of a soldier of the Legionnaires of the Late Republic), while bread costs about 2 donkeys.
Both were important components of the Roman diet. There may also be economic factors to diluting wine.
Changes in drinking patterns
Wine was consumed by all, although it usually fell to slaves to maintain the Roman virtual wine monopoly in the Mediterranean.
The highest class of Romans drank wines such as Falernian or Campania (the area around modern Naples), the former which is said to have been made by Caligula and is 160 years old.
Soldiers and ordinary Romans were given weaker "younger" wines, usually distributed for free at banquets, to win over the people, while slaves made do with drinking Laura, and the remaining literal scraps were then made into water to brew.
Although the wines were made with the labor of slaves, they were also the main adherents of one of the most famous cults - Bacchus's.
It is said that the believers drank large amounts of alcohol, and a primitive madness enveloped them, and Bacchus' will infected them, driving them to indulge in murder, animal sacrifice, and revelry.
It was outlawed by the Senate in 186 BC, not only for its excesses, but also because it attracted many people who were socially marginalized - women and slaves, on whose shoulders the entire greatness of Rome stood.
The ancient Greeks and Romans probably diluted their wine with water, or more accurately, added it to their water as a way to purify (or hide the stench) of the city's water sources.
As the height of civilization, the citizens of the city-state and even the citizens of the Roman Empire regarded this as a social custom, giving rise to the idea that those who drank cleanly, the well-known barbarians, were uncivilized and barbaric, which was reinforced by the constant "barbarian" invasions of the late Roman Empire.
The desire to promote dialogue among civilizations (rather than quarrel) at seminars and to cut costs may also have played a role.
All these factors culminated in an ingrained custom that did not stop until the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD, although it had a long presence in parts of Europe.
Today's wines are usually drunk directly, although Caesar may have had a say about this, although Italian and French wines were of supreme quality, thanks in part to the cultivation and vineyard cultivation techniques of the Greeks and Romans.
But ironically, today most of our wines come from South America, Australia, and the West Coast of the United States, places that simply didn't exist for the Romans and ancient Greeks.
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