Wine and the Vine: An Historical Geography of Viticulture and the Wine Trade

By Tim Unwin | Go to book overview

4

WINE IN THE GRAECO-ROMAN ECONOMY

Experto mihi crede, Silvine, bene positam vineam bonique generis et bono cultore numquam non cum magno faenore gratiam reddidisse. [Believe me, Silvinus, that a well-planted vineyard, of a good kind and maintained by a good vine-dresser, has never failed to provide returns with considerable interest.]

(Columella, de Re Rustica, IV.iii.5)

From the establishment of viticulture on the Greek mainland, the vine soon came to prominence alongside wheat and olives as one of the three fundamental products of the agrarian economy of the Mediterranean. The symbolic and ritual significance of wine and the vine was of undoubted importance in the early spread of viticulture, but this role has often been overstated in the past (Allen, 1961; Younger, 1966; Hyams, 1987; Johnson, 1989) with insufficient attention being paid to the importance of economic factors in the development of viticulture and the wine trade. It is therefore important to focus attention in this chapter on the role of wine and the vine in four broad aspects of the economy of the classical world: the system of agrarian production, including the structure of land ownership, the labour relations of production, the cultivation techniques, and the methods of vinification; the location of different types of economic activity, represented by the distribution of vineyards, wine presses, and potteries manufacturing amphorae; the pattern of demand, ranging from the use of wine in religious rituals and at banquets to its role as an exchange commodity; and the resultant network of trade linkages, whereby wine was distributed throughout the Graeco-Roman world.

The relative lack of archaeological and literary evidence concerning the agrarian economy of pre-Hellenistic Greece, compared with the wealth of information on the Roman economy in later centuries, makes it difficult to identify processes of economic change during the Classical and Archaic periods. It is indeed tempting to see many elements of the

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