World Alcohol and Drinking History Timeline

The Greek and Roman Period

From about 500 BC to the Fall of Rome (476 AD)

It is upon the foundation of Greek and Roman cultures that much of Western culture is built. Many of the beliefs, attitudes and practices regarding alcohol existing today can be traced back to the these earlier cultures.

Note: This timeline presents events in the history of alcohol and drinking. When events occured over longer period of time such as the First Century BC, they are listed before more specific periods, such as 43 BC.

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509-133 B.C.

After the Roman conquest of the Italian peninsula and the rest of the Mediterranean basin, the traditional Roman values of temperance, frugality and simplicity were gradually replaced by heavy drinking, ambition, degeneracy and corruption.1

The ancient Greeks believed that boiled cabbage was a good remedy for a hangover.2

Cir. Fifth Century B.C.

Fourth Century B.C.

  1. Among Greeks, the Macedonians viewed intemperance as a sign of masculinity and were well known for their drunkenness. Their king, Alexander the Great (ruled 336-323 B.C.), whose mother adhered to the Dionysian cult, developed a reputation for inebriety.11
  2. Both Aristode (384-322 B.C.) and Zeno (cir. 336-264 B.C.) were very critical of drunkenness.12
  3. Greeks were among the most temperate of ancient peoples, according to contemporary writers. This appears to result from their rules stressing moderate drinking, their praise of temperance, their practice of diluting wine with water, and their avoidance of excess in general.13 An exception to this ideal of moderation was the cult of Dionysus, in which intoxication was believed to bring people closer to their deity.14
  4. The symposium, a gathering of men for an evening of conversation, entertainment and drinking typically ended in intoxication.15 However, while there are no references in ancient Greek literature to mass drunkenness among the Greeks, there are references to it among foreign peoples.16
  5. “The history of wine in Burgundy began with the start of trade between the Gauls and Romans in the fourth century BC, when the Romans were shipping wine into the beer-drinking area [of the Gauls].17

Third and Second Centuries B.C.

  1. “The Roman dinner party, or convivium, differed from its model [the symposium] in many aspect. Wine was served before, with, and after food, whereas in Greece the drinking had begun only after eating had ended. Most significantly, women were admitted to the dinner table, where they drank with the same gusto as their male counterparts.”18
  2. The Romans, as did the Greeks before them, mixed their wine with water and usually consumned it with food to avoid intoxication.19
  3. The Dionysian rites (Bacchanalia, in Latin) spread to Italy during this period and were subsequently outlawed by the Senate.20
  4. Practices that encouraged excessive drinking in the Roman empire included drinking before meals on an empty stomach, inducing vomiting to permit the consumption of more food and wine, and drinking games. The latter included, for example, rapidly consuming as many cups as indicated by a throw of the dice.21
  5. “Cato the Elder (234-149 BC) recommended that wine be drunk in moderation and defended its medicinal value; the flowers of juniper, myrtle, hellebore and pomegranate soaked inn wine were useful against snake bites, constipation, gout, indigestion, diarrhoea and other illnesses.”22

“Significantly, Cato, an early and influential politician and writer, gave viticulture priority over other crops in his famous agricultural treatise De re rustica.23

Second Century B.C.

By the second and first centuries B.C., intoxication was no longer a rarity, and most prominent men of affairs (for example, Cato the Elder and Julius Caesar) were praised for their moderation in drinking. This would appear to be in response to growing misuse of alcohol in society, because before that time temperance was not singled out for praise as exemplary behavior. As the republic continued to decay, excessive drinking spread and some, such as Marc Antony (d. 30 B.C.), even took pride in their destructive drinking behavior.24

186 B.C.

The roman Senate outlawed the cult of Bacchus, although it continued to exist.25

160 B.C.

“In 160 BC...the Roman Senate ordered the translation of a Carthaginian treatise on viticulture, resulting in De Agri Cultura, by Marcus Porcius Cato, which ....covered every aspect of vineyard management, right down to the rations of slaves, and their clothing allowances.”26

Cir. 100 B.C.

The Phoenicians invented glass blowing and produced glass cups for wine drinking.27

Late Second Century.

  1. Beginning in the late Second Century B.C., large quantities of Italian wine began to be produced for both domestic consumption and trade. By 100 B.C. wine is believed to have become the daily drink of Romans, both rich and poor.28
  2. During this period, per capita consumption is estimated to have been about 250 liters per year. Over the next approximately 500 years, inexpensive and even free wine, was often made available to the general public. Wine was even used as payment by the state.29

First Century B.C.

“During the first century BC, wine production in Italy increased enormously and export became highly lucrative.”30

43. B.C.

Winemaking began in Britain and every important villa raised vines.31

A.D. Period

First Century A.D.

  1. It has been estimated the average consumption of alcohol by Roman citizens and soldiers was about 100 gallons per year.32
  2. A wine press and other objects used in the production of wine dating to the first century A.D. have been found in San Marino by archaeologists.33

Post cir. 20 A.D.

Jesus used wine (Matthew 15:11; Luke 7:33-35) and approved of its moderate consumption (Matthew 15:11). On the other hand, he severely attacked drunkenness (Luke 21:34,12:42; Matthew 24:45-51). The later writings of St. Paul (d. 64?) deal with alcohol in detail and are important to Christian doctrine on the subject. He considered wine to be a creation of God and therefore inherently good (1 Timothy 4:4), recommended its use for medicinal purposes (1 Timothy 5:23), but consistently condemned drunkenness (1 Corinthians 3:16-17,5:11,6:10; Galatians 5:19-21; Romans 13:3) and recommended abstinence for those who could not control their drinking.

Post cir. 30 A.D.

The earliest Biblical writings after the death of Jesus (cir. A.D. 30) contain few references to alcohol. This may have reflected the fact that drunkenness was largely an upper-status vice with which Jesus had little contact.34

Mid-First Century A.D.

  1. Roman abuse of alcohol appears to have peaked around mid-first century.35
  2. The four emperors who ruled from A.D. 37 to A.D. 69 were all known for their abusive drinking. However, the emperors who followed were known for their temperance, and literary sources suggest that problem drinking decreased substantially in the Empire. Although there continued to be some criticisms of abusive drinking over the next several hundred years, most evidence indicates a decline of such behavior.36
  3. Wine had become the most popular beverage, and as Rome attracted a large influx of displaced persons, it was distributed free or at cost. This led to occasional excesses at festivals, victory triumphs and other celebrations, as described by contemporaries.37

71 A.D.

“The Roman historian Pliny the Elder recorded the earliest known reference to vineyards around the port city that was to become Bordeaux in the year 71.”38

79 A.D.

The massive eruption of Mt. Vesuvius destroyed vinyards surrounding the area, severely disrupting wine production and trade for years. Because of the great demand for wine, vineyards, a cash crop, were often planted in place of food crops. The resulting shortage of grain threatened Rome’s food supply, leading the Emperor to ban the planting of new vineyards and ordering half the existing vineyards to be replaced with food crops in 92 A.D.39

Cir. 90 A.D.

“the emperor Domitian banned the planting of new vines in Italy and legislated for the destruction of some vineyards in the rest of the empire in response to a glut of wine and a scarcity of grain.”40

First through Fifth Centuries.

Romans discovered that mixing lead with wine gave it a sweet taste, a pleasant feeling in the mouth, and helped preserve it. This, along with lead plumbing and lead utensils, sometimes caused lead poisoning and may have contributed to the decline of the Roman Empire. Chronic lead poisoning has often been cited as one of the causes of the decline of Rome.41

Late Second Century-Early Fifth Century

  1. Late in the second century, several heretical Christian sects rejected alcohol and called for abstinence. By the late fourth and early fifth centuries, the Church responded by asserting that wine was an inherently good gift of God to be used and enjoyed. The Church advocated its moderate use but rejected excessive or abusive use as a sin. Those individuals who could not drink in moderation were urged to abstain.42
  2. The early Church decreed that alcohol was an inherently good gift of God to be used and enjoyed. Although Christians could choose to abstain, it was heresy to despise alcohol.43
  3. The New Testament of the Bible (as well as the Old Testament) are clear and consistent in their condemnation of drunkenness.
  4. The spread of Christianity and of viticulture in Western Europe occurred simultaneously.44

Third Century.

  1. In an effort to maintain traditional Jewish culture against the rise of Christianity, which was converting numerous Jews,45 detailed rules concerning the use of wine were incorporated into the Talmud. Importantly, wine was integrated into many religious ceremonies in limited quantity.46
  2. In the social and political upheavals that rose as the Roman empire declined, concern grew among rabbis that Judaism and its culture were in increasing danger. Consequently, more Talmudic rules were laid down concerning the use of wine. These included the amount of wine that could be drunk on the Sabbath, the way in which wine was to be drunk, the legal status of wine in any way connected with idolatry, and the extent of personal responsibility for behavior while intoxicated.47
  3. “Roman poetry between 200 and 300 AD celebrates the glory of wine.”48
  4. With the gradual displacement of the previously dominant religions by Christianity, the drinking attitudes and behaviors of Europe began to be influenced by the New Testament.49

Fourth Century.

Cir. 300 A.D.

Roman Emperor Theodosius proclaimed the death penalty for anyone who destroyed vineyards because many landowners had started cutting them down to protect themselves against exhorbitant taxes and viticulture was starting to decline.50

Cir. 320 A.D.

The Greek scholar Athenaeus wrote extensively on drinking and advocated moderation. The extensive attention to drinking, famous drinks, and drinking cups (of which he described 100) reflected the importance of wine to the Greeks.51

Cir. 350 A.D.

  1. St. Martin of Tours (316-397) was actively engaged in both spreading the Gospel and planting vineyards.52
  2. Viticulture was established near Paris.53

Cir. 450-1065.

  1. “...the Anglo-Saxons employed a variety of drinking vessels - cups, mugs, glasses, and cattle horns.”54
  2. Among the Anglo-Saxons “...alcohol was generally consumed in a mead hall. Every village contained one or more of these edifices that were the houses of the elite, who used them to perpetuate their wealth, fame, and power through the liberal distribution of food, drink, and gifts. Halls were the epicenters of Anglo-Saxon culture.”55

Cir. 370-454 A.D.

“The short-term influence of the Huns on the production and consumption of alcohol in Europe was significant. They destroyed vineyards, butchered their workers, and drank the cellars dry.”56

 

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Resources

  • 1 Babor, Thomas. Alcohol: Customs and Rituals. New York: Chelsea House, 1986, p. 7; Wallbank, T.W. and Taylor, A.M. Civilization: Past and Present. v. 1, 3rd ed. Chicago, IL: Scott Foresman, 1954, p. 163.
  • 2 Hangover remedies. Top Health: The Health Promotion and Wellness Newsletter, December, 2000, p. 262; Hangover Remedies Flood Market. http://www2.potsdam.edu/hansondj/InTheNews/Etc/1106621330.html.
  • 3 Sournia, Jean-Charles. A History of Alcoholism. Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell, 1990, p. 6.
  • 4 Charters, Stephen. Wine and Society. Woburn, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2006.
  • 5 Johnson, Hugh. The Story of Wine: New Illustrated Edition. London, UK: Mitchell Beazley, 2005.
  • 6 Hanson, David J. Preventing Alcohol Abuse: Alcohol, Culture, and Control. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995, p. 4.
  • 7 Lucia, Salvatore P. A History of Wine as Therapy. Philadelphia, PA: J. B. Lippincott, 1963, pp. 36-40.
  • 8 Gately, Iain. Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol. NY: Gotham, 2008, pp. 13-14.
  • 9 Esteicher, Stefan K. Wine from Neolithic Times to the 21st Century. New York: Algora Publishing, 2006, p. 24.
  • 10 Institut Viti-Vinicole. Grand-Duche Luxembourg website. ivv.public.lu/anbaugebiet/geschichte/index.html
  • 11 Babor, Thomas. Alcohol: Customs and Rituals. New York: Chelsea House, 1986, p. 5; Sournia, Jean-Charles. A History of Alcoholism. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990, pp. 8-9.
  • 12 Austin, Gregory A. Alcohol in Western Society from Antiquity to 1800: A Chronological History. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC - Clio, 1985, pp. 23, 25, and 27.
  • 13 Austin, Gregory A. Alcohol in Western Society from Antiquity to 1800: A Chronological History. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC - Clio, 1985, p. 11.
  • 14 Raymond, Irving W. The Teaching of the Early Church on the Use of Wine and Strong Drink. New York: Columbia University Press, 1927, p. 55; Sournia, Jean-Charles. A History of Alcoholism. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990, pp. 5-6.
  • 15 Babor, Thomas. Alcohol: Customs and Rituals. New York: Chelsea House, 1986, p. 4.
  • 16 Patrick, Charles H. Alcohol, Culture, and Society. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1952. Reprint edition by AMS Press, New York, 1970, p. 18.
  • 17 Taber, George M. Judgment of Paris. California vs. France and the historic 1976 Paris Tasting that Revolutionized Wine. New York: Scribner, 2005, p. 25.
  • 18 Gately, Iain. Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol. NY: Gotham, 2008, p. 32.
  • 19 Engs, Ruth C. Do traditional Western European drinking practices have origins in antiquity? Addiction Research, 1995, 2(3), 227-239. P. 234.
  • 20 Lausanne, Edita. The Great Book of Wine. New York: World Publishing Co., 1969, p. 4; Cherrington, Ernest H., (ed.) Standard Encyclopedia of the Alcohol Problem. 6 vols. Westerville, OH: American Issue Publishing Co., 1925, v. 1, pp. 251-252.
  • 21 Babor, Thomas. Alcohol: Customs and Rituals. New York: Chelsea House, 1986, p. 10.
  • 22 Sournia, Jean-Charles. A History of Alcoholism. Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell, 1990, p. 10.
  • 23 Cottino, Amedeo. Italy. In: Heath, Dwight B., (ed.) International Handbook on Alcohol and Culture. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995. Pp. 156-167. P. 159.
  • 24 Austin, Gregory A. Alcohol in Western Society from Antiquity to 1800: A Chronological History. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC - Clio, 1985, pp. 28 and 32-33.
  • 25 Esteicher, Stefan K. Wine from Neolithic Times to the 21st Century. New York: Algora Publishing, 2006, p. 27.
  • 26 Gately, Iain. Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol. NY: Gotham, 2008, pp. 29-30.
  • 27 Esteicher, Stefan K. Wine from Neolithic Times to the 21st Century. New York: Algora Publishing, 2006, p. 21.
  • 28 Younger, William A. Gods, Men, and Wine. Wine and Food Society; Hyams, Edward. Dionysus: A Social History of the Wine Vine. New York: Macmillan, 1965, pp. 130-131; Engs, Ruth C. Do traditional Western European drinking practices have origins in antiquity? Addiction Research, 1995, 2(3), 227-239. P. 231.
  • 29 Jellinek, E. Morton. Drinkers and Alcoholics in Ancient Rome. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 1976, 37, 1718-174; Jones, A.H.M. The Later Roman Empire 284-602. Vol. I-II. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press. 1986, p. 704; Purcell, N. Wine and wealth in ancient Italy. Journal of Roman Studies, 1985, 75, 1-19. Pp. 13-15.
  • 30 Sournia, Jean-Charles. A History of Alcoholism. Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell, 1990, p. 10.
  • 31 Stevenson, Tom. The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia. 4th edition. London: DK, 2005, p. 398.
  • 32 Esteicher, Stefan K. Wine from Neolithic Times to the 21st Century. New York: Algora Publishing, 2006, p. 33.
  • 33 Babington, Deepa. Tiny San Marino has big dreams for local wine. August 18, 2009. Reuters website. reuters.com/article/2009/08/18/us-wine-sanmarino-idUSTRE57H2AR20090818
  • 34 Raymond, Irving W. The Teaching of the Early Church on the Use of Wine and Strong Drink. New York: Columbia University Press, 1927, pp. 81-82.
  • 35 Jellinek, E. Morton. Drinkers and Alcoholics in Ancient Rome. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 1976, 37, 1718-1741, 1976. pp. 1,736-1,739.
  • 36 Austin, Gregory A. Alcohol in Western Society from Antiquity to 1800: A Chronological History. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC - Clio, 1985, 1985 pp. 37-44, p. 46, pp. 48-50.
  • 37 Babor, Thomas. Alcohol: Customs and Rituals. New York: Chelsea House, 1986, pp. 7-8.
  • 38 Taber, George M. Judgment of Paris. California vs. France and the historic 1976 Paris Tasting that Revolutionized Wine. New York: Scribner, 2005, 21.
  • 39 Estreicher, Stefan K. Wine from Neolithic Times to the 21st Century. New York: Algora Publishing, 2006, p. 35.
  • 40 Unwin, T. Wine and Vine : An Historical Geography of Viticulture ad the Wine Trade. London: Routledge, 1996; Charters, Stephen. Wine and Society. Woburn, MA: Butterworth-Heinemann, 2006, p. 293.
  • 41 Estreicher, Stefan K. Wine from Neolithic Times to the 21st Century. New York: Algora Publishing, 2006, p. 32.
  • 42 Austin, Gregory A. Alcohol in Western Society from Antiquity to 1800: A Chronological History. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC - Clio, 1985, pp. 44 and 47-48.
  • 43 Austin, Gregory A. Alcohol in Western Society from Antiquity to 1800: A Chronological History. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-Clio, 1985, pp. 44 and 47-48.
  • 44 Lausanne, Edita. The Great Book of Wine. New York: World Publishing Co., 1969, p. 367; Sournia, Jean-Charles. A History of Alcoholism. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1990, p. 12.
  • 45 Wallbank, T. Walter and Taylor, Alastair M. Civilization: Past and Present. V. 1, 3rd ed. Chicago, IL: Scott Foresman, 1954, p. 227.
  • 46 Spiegel, Marcia C. The Heritage of Noah: Alcoholism in the Jewish Community Today. Unpublished M.A. thesis. Hebrew Union College, Jewish Institute of Religion, 1979, pp. 20 -29; Raymond, Irving W. The Teaching of the Early Church on the Use of Wine and Strong Drink. New York: Columbia University Press, 1927, 45-47.
  • 47 Austin, Gregory A. Alcohol in Western Society from Antiquity to 1800: A Chronological History. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC - Clio, 1985, pp. 36 and 50.
  • 48 Sournia, Jean-Charles. A History of Alcoholism. Oxford, UK. Basil Blackwell, 1990, p. 10.
  • 49 Babor, Thomas. Alcohol: Customs and Rituals. New York: Chelsea House, 1986, p. 11.
  • 50 Cottino, Amedeo. Italy. In: Heath, Dwight B., (ed.) International Handbook on Alcohol and Culture. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995. Pp. 156-167. P. 159.
  • 51 Austin, Gregory A. Alcohol in Western Society from Antiquity to 1800: A Chronological History. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC - Clio, 1985, pp. 45-46.
  • 52 Patrick, Charles H. Alcohol, Culture, and Society. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1952, pp. 26-27 Reprint edition by AMS Press, New York, 1970.
  • 53 Hyams, Edward. Dionysus: A Social History of the Wine Vine. New York: Macmillan, 1965, p. 158.
  • 54 Gately, Iain. Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol. NY: Gotham, 2008, p. 54.
  • 55 Gately, Iain. Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol. NY: Gotham, 2008, p. 55.
  • 56 Gately, Iain. Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol. NY: Gotham, 2008, p. 52.

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