Roman Wine: A Window on an Ancient Economy

"Just then some glass jars carefully fastened with gypsum were brought on, with labels tied on their necks....As we were pouring over the tags, Trimalchio clapped his hands and cried, 'Ah me, so wine lives longer than miserable man. So let us be merry. Wine is life.'" (Petronius, Satyricon 34)

The story of Roman winemaking is by no means a simple one. It spans more than eight centuries of Old World history and a geographic range from southern Scotland to the middle reaches of the Nile. What makes the story so fascinating is how wine is such a clear window into Roman everyday life. The changing nature of wine's trade time-and-again was linked strongly to the tide of Roman politics, and various aspects of its consumption serve as an unsubtle measure of social division, rich versus poor.