Tracing the Vine; Wine in Antiquity

Wine is an alcoholic beverage, made by the fermentation of fruits, most commonly grapes. In ancient Eurasian societies, it was seen as a ‘civilized’ drink by the poor and rich alike. In Rome for example, wine was seen as a form of virtue or civility, where philosophers create sayings associating these values with it (Phillips, 2011). Religion has also played a great part in spreading the popularity of wine in their time, and helped it maintain its relevance to this day. Whole civilizations began to incorporate it in their various religions (figure 1), and it has been referenced in many books such as the Quran and Bible which implemented many religious practices still in use, showing the extensive influence that wine has had in the past and how it is now. 

DIONYSOS (Dionysus) Greek God of Wine and Festivity. From Palla C4th BC Pella Archaeological Museum

Archeologists attempting to search for traces of wine use a combination of many different fields of science. The residue of compounds commonly produced and/or used in the production of wine at the time were found in jars that were discovered decades earlier. But there is some difficulty in completely identifying if the deposits were actually from wine and/or alcohol by only using this method, since fruit juices and vinegar also produce these compounds due to aging, and not with the intention of making wine. To solve this problem, Léa Drieu, a postdoctoral fellow and chemist at the University of York developed a new method of organic residue analysis in order to confirm any chemical fingerprint of wine on ancient amphorae/pottery (figure 2). Specifically, the method analyzes the ratio of two compounds, tartaric and malic acid, in grapes vs other fruits and liquids, through which she determined that the ratio of these compounds differ in grape products compared to others(Montanari 2021). Through her discovery, Dr. Drieu was able to figure out that wine had been traded by Sicily (a winemaking island) to Christian ports while under Islamic control between the 5th and 11th centuries, highlighting its importance as a commodity even during regime changes. (Montanari 2021)


People have been drinking wine for a very long time, with its presence eventually being incorporated in all manner of cultures and religions. This means that archeologists will continue to discover more traces of wine and similar beverages, because they are unquestionably a part of the human past. 



Malin, Joshua, and Julie Tremaine. 2014. “10 Famous Ancient Archaeological Wine Discoveries.” VinePair, August 17, 2014.

Montanari, Shaena. 2021. “How Scientists and Archeologists Trace Beer and Wine through Antiquity.” Wine Enthusiast Magazine.

Phillips, Rod. 2011. “Ancient Wine: Then and Now – Rod Phillips – Articles.” GuildSomm, October 20, 2011.


Further Readings: