Continuing the collection of odd facts about wine, I would like to put a few things into a historical context!

  1. When Tutankhamen’s tomb was opened in 1922, the wine jars buried with him were labelled with the year of production, the name of the winemaker, and comments such as “very good wine.”

  2. The Code of Hammurabi (a set of laws enacted by the Babylonian King Hammurabi around BC 1800) included a law that punishes sellers of fraudulent wine: they were to be drowned in a river.

  3. In the whole of the Biblical Old Testament, only the Book of Jonah has no reference to vines or wine.

  4. The standard wine container of the ancient world was the amphora, a clay vase with two handles (which could be carried by two men). It was reputedly invented by the Canaanites, who introduced it into Egypt before the fifteenth century BC.

  5. The ancient Greeks loved to have trick wine pots and drinking cups.  One cup, designed to ensure moderation in drinking, had a concealed siphon tube. If the cup was filled above a certain level, the cup drained its entire contents out of the bottom.

  6. Early Roman women were forbidden to drink wine.  A husband who found his wife drinking was at liberty to kill her. Divorce on the same grounds was last recorded in Rome in BC 194.

  7. The wine trade was vital to the economy of the Roman Empire.  Pompeii was a major center of production.  When it was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, there was a serious wine shortage.  Wine production was massively expanded, including turning grain fields over to vines. The resulting wine glut caused both a collapse in wine prices and a shortage of grain.  In AD 92 Emperor Domitian banned new vineyards in Rome and ordered the uprooting of half of the vineyards in Roman provinces.

  8. The man who most profoundly affected the history of wine was probably the prophet Mohammed. Within ten years of his death in AD 632, wine was largely banned from Arabia and from every country that heeded him.

  9. The first recorded wine tasting competition was held by King Phillip II of France, around 1210. The event, branded The Battle of Wines, included wines from all over Europe and France.  The winner was a sweet wine from Cyprus widely believed to be Commandaria (still produced today).

  10. The founding fathers were serious drinkers.  In 1787, two days before they signed off on the US Constitution, the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention partied at a tavern. According to the bill preserved from the evening, they drank 54 bottles of Madeira, 60 of claret, eight of whiskey, 22 of porter, eight of hard cider, 12 of beer and seven bowls of alcoholic punch large enough that “ducks could swim in them.”

Robin Hall

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