Harsher Times

Detail from Trajan's Column, in Rome

Of course, keeping the military well-provisioned with wine went beyond just good quartermastering. Life at the provincial frontiers was harsh and tense—in the northwestern Europe it was bitterly cold and wet for half the year; in the East, it was desert hot and dry most all year around. During provincial campaigns, when local tribes sought to disrupt Roman supply lines, soldiers were expected to stretch out their wine stocks, even if it was turning sour and only one stage short of becoming vinegar (acetum). At such times they might have recalled a grim era in the Spanish wars a hundred years earlier:

"Their soldiers were sick from watching and want of sleep, and because of the unaccustomed food which the country afforded. They had no wine, no salt, no vinegar, no oil, but lived on wheat and barley, and quantities of venison and rabbit's flesh boiled without salt, which caused dysentery, from which many died." (Appian, The Wars of Spain IX)