The Wine Culture of Ancient Greece
While viticulture appears to have flourished as early as the Neolithic era, 6,500 years ago, little is known about the wine culture at this time. But by the rise of Ancient Greece, records were being kept that can now give us a glimpse into what role wine played in society at the time.
Ancient Greeks traveled and settled around the Mediterranean Sea, and with each new place they visited, they always brought grape vine cuttings to set up vineyards. So by the end of the Greek civilization, they had managed to spread grapevines and wine throughout many areas of the Mediterranean.
Wine and Trade in Ancient Greece
The principal mode of communication between the Mycenaean and Minoan cultures was trading. People from Northern Greece invaded the monarchy-ruled Southern Mycenaean region around 1200 BC. As a result of the war’s devastation of the Mycenaean regions, thousands of impoverished refugee families fled to fortified cities for safety. The Greek invaders undermined the authority of kings and aristocrats by granting additional liberties to the populace to increase their power, and thus the civilization of Ancient Greece began.
Over time, the new, democratic city-states emerged, giving ordinary people more freedoms and opportunities. The most popular and profitable types of crops for ordinary people to cultivate were vineyards and olive groves. Thus, people might own vineyards, make wine, and trade their wine. Despite being a small group, a new class of merchants was created. During the same period, the number of Greeks who drank wine for pleasure rather than as part of a religious ritual increased.
Colonization and Increased Trade within Ancient Greece
The Greek city-states started to build colonies across the Mediterranean. The settlers brought grapevines with them, and many vineyards began to flourish in new areas. As they moved west, the Ancient Greeks built colonies in Sicily and Southern Italy. The southernmost region of the Italian Peninsula was even given the Greek name Oenotria, which means “the country of vines.”
While some Greeks traveled to the Black Sea’s coasts in the east, others settled in Southern France’s Massalia (Marseille) region. As the Greek civilization spread, the merchant class began to flourish. The merchants were now exporting and importing various wines throughout the different colonies.
Due to the favorable environment in the Attica region and the significant production, Athens was a sizable and profitable market for wine. All the nations bordering the eastern Mediterranean Sea traded Attican wine. The Greek islands of Thasos and Santorini were also well-known for their wine in antiquity. This is particularly true in Santorini, where the rich volcanic soil yielded outstanding grapes. The Ancient Greeks were picky about the origin of their wines and knew which regions produced the best quality wines.
Crimea, Egypt, Scythia, and Etruria were among the major wine-trading partners of Ancient Greece, with whom they also exchanged viticultural and winemaking expertise. A recently discovered shipwreck off the coast of Southern France containing about 10,000 amphorae holding nearly 300,000 liters (79,000 US gallons) of Greek wine indicates the lucrative wine commerce from Greece.
Wine in Ancient Greece
Ancient Greek wine was very different from modern wine. They often added other ingredients to their wine to improve the taste and make the wine last longer. Some of these additions included things like herbs, honey, ash, and pine resin. The Ancient Greeks also diluted their wine with water before consuming it. They believed this helped the drinker maintain self-control and composure, qualities that were highly regarded in ancient Greek society. Ancient Greeks looked down on drinking undiluted wine and thought it barbaric. Greeks occasionally even diluted their wine with salty sea water to both act as a preservative and to improve the flavor; this was especially common in some coastal regions and islands of Ancient Greece, including Santorini.
Did You Know: A wine popular during the time of Ancient Greece is still made today in modern day Greece. It’s called Retsina and it’s a white wine that pine resin has been added to, giving it a strong pine taste.
Greece is the Birthplace of Modern Wine Culture
Ancient Greece exported its way of life, which included cultivating vines, making wine, and drinking wine, to practically every port in the Mediterranean region. This set up a wine-loving foundation for the civilizations to come, and even to this day wine is still an integral part of life in these regions.