The Augustan Taste

Sardonyx of Emperor Augustus
Reigned, 27 B.C.-A.D.14

Sardonyx of Augustus' wife, Livia

During the latter decades of the 1st century B.C., there were many respectable wines being produced in other regions on the Italian peninsula, among them Praetutium, which early on was spoken of highly by the Greeks; Picenum, which later exported much of its produce to the Celts beyond the Alps; and Tarentum, the produce of which the poet Horace reckoned one day just might rival the quality of Falernian. The sweet white wines of Mamertinum gained recognition by virtue of being mentioned so often in Julius Casar's correspondence; and those of the Pucinum region were much favored by Augustus' wife, Livia, who credited her life of 83 years to their medicinal qualities.

During the reign of Rome's first emperor, Augustus (27 B.C.-A.D. 14), Italian viticulture underwent dramatic change. Augustus succeeded in turning the Italian mainland into a vibrant industrial world, by encouraging the mass production of domestic necessities such as pottery, textiles, and glass. And seaborne trade across the Empire's breadth ensured the constant inflow of staples, such as grain, olive oil, and papyrus. But that success came at some cost. As dispossessed Italian peasants and wide-eyed provincials flocked towards Rome in search of work, the population of Italy's cities soared, and much of the surrounding farmland became sorely pressed. As crop yields began to fall away, many a vintner planted vines that offered a high yield of grapes rather than ones with a prestigious flavor.