Wine in Ancient Greece
Greece, today, is an important wine region of the world. The methods we use to cultivate and produce wine are new and modernized. However, this delicious drink was also favored by our ancestors, the Ancient Greeks. In this article, we will take you on an “intoxicating” journey to prehistoric times, when God Dionysus was worshiped and when Homer would vividly describe in his epics the tradition of winemaking.
But before we dive in, click here to view and book our Signature Wine & Gastronomic Tours on Santorini. In case you have a specific wine experience in mind, email us your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get back to you with suggestions!
Traces of Wine in Ancient Greece
Traces of vineyards and wine are lost in the depths of prehistoric times. Homer, in his epics, characterizes many areas with adjectives that testify to the tradition of winemaking, while in the ninth rhapsody of the Iliad Nestor reminds Agamemnon that their cellars are full of wine that were transported daily from Thrace by Achaean ships crossing the sea. In Crete, in the 17th century BC, the vineyard, brought by the palm traders, was systematically cultivated, while in Archanes was found the oldest wine press in the world.
How and When did the Ancient Greeks drink Wine?
The ancient Greeks considered wine an integral part of their lives, which is why they worship Dionysus, the god of wine, feasting, and theater. This earthly god, with his contradictions and outbursts, we will see in several depictions in a multitude of vases holding a bunch of grapes in one hand and a cup of wine in the other, while around him in a state of ecstasy Satyrs have danced, Seilenoi and Maenads.
At the banquets, the wine flowed abundantly, facilitating communication between the attendees and creating an atmosphere conducive to the development of philosophical discussions. The water with which they diluted the wine delayed the intoxication by ensuring the sobriety of the mood and the energy of the spirit throughout the banquet, which lasted many hours, many times, and days.
In ancient times, many people deal with wine and excel in its virtues, while the philosopher Theophrastus from Lesvos describes the techniques of pruning, watering, and sprinkling, reducing viticulture to science. Wine, in addition to pleasing the senses, was particularly useful in medicine, but also necessary for the weights of the gods.
The Economic Impact of Wine in Ancient Greece
The enormous economic importance of wine has resulted in its legislative protection. In fact, in ancient Greece, the concept of the Designation of Origin of wine was invented for the first time. Thus, we see in texts that the Chios wine, the Lesbos wine, the Thassos wine, and the Ikaria wine are mentioned. Amphorae from Chios, Thassos, Samos, and Rhodes were found in shipwrecks discovered in the Mediterranean Sea, but also in the Black Sea and India, findings that testify to the large trade of wines originating from Greece. Each city-state even had its amphora shape for its wine, with a special stamp that certified the area that produced it. The shape of the amphorae was such that they allowed them to be wedged and lined up in the hold of the ships, to ensure the safe transport of the wine in the largest possible quantity.
The Role of Wine in Ancient Greece
Closing the period of Greek antiquity, we could say that wine played many roles: it replaced the sacrifices of animals and people (“god is wine, and the gods are offered a pound to secure goods to people”, Euripides), drove away from the sorrows (“lucky whoever rejoices fully of the sweet and coveted fruit of the grape that banishes sorrow from the afflicted and in oblivion throws the bitterness of the day”, again Euripides), was the favorite breakfast, a loaf of bread or bread in unrestrained wine, the wine that has not been diluted to retain all its nutrients (a habit that was maintained for centuries, until the end of the 20th century, in rural societies) and, finally, in banquets, diluted with water one to three, helped in the entertainment and development of philosophical discussions.
However, in addition to this prudent use of Wine, in antiquity, there was another dimension. Because from the Homeric epics to the classic Athens of Plato, food and drink were subordinated to the measure and every citizen had to prove his good manners everywhere, the same did not happen in the feasts of Dionysus. Dionysia were popular festivals in the countryside, (in the spring) where drunkenness played a role in cultic behavior and Dionysianism was nothing more than breaking the rules and reversing values and meanings.
Dionysus is worshiped as the God of wine, ecstasy, insanity, dark outbursts, and dark breaks. Far from the strict standard of other festivals, and far from the city and its rules, the Dionysians freed themselves from all worries. The festivities were real breaks of joy, laughter, and freedom and reached the point of innocence. People were celebrating the release from the shackles of daily bonds.
And although the Dionysians temporarily overthrew the prevailing morals, Polis (the state) considered it necessary to fund these festivities, which gave so much joy and liberation to its citizens. And of course, here Polis did not take into account Plato, this fierce opponent of the “barbarity” of the Dionysian festivals, who as a supporter of moderation, harmony, monarch of the mind, and creator of the world of ideas, could not tolerate human passions and weaknesses, transcendence of moderation and harmony.