Ancient Greek Wine - Drinking in Ancient Greece
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Ancient Greek Wine


Playing the kottabos game
(Tomb of the Diver, Paestum, ca. 470 BC)

April 2016 - Greek people grew wine both to drink themselves and to sell to other people, from the Bronze Age right through the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Most Greek people, including many children, drank wine every day. Because the water was often unsafe to drink, people thought it was safer to drink wine.

drunk old woman clutching big jar
Drunken woman (ca. 200 BC)

Men liked to play a game at parties called "kottabos" where you flipped the dregs of your wine out of the cup and tried to hit a target - what a mess!

Greek men and boys probably got a lot more wine than women and girls; a lot of pictures show Greek women pouring wine for men, but never the other way around. But Greek women did drink wine anyway, and sometimes they got drunk, like this woman clutching her big jug.

man vomiting while a slave boy holds his head
Greek man vomiting after drinking too much wine

Greek people did not think it was okay to get drunk. Most people mixed their wine with water, so that it wouldn't make them drunk. If a man or woman drank unmixed wine, people suspected that person of being an alcoholic. A lot of Greek wine cups have a message at the bottom about what happens to you if you drink too much, like this one.

Did you notice that the little naked boy in the picture is a slave? He probably isn't meant to be a child, but artists often showed slaves smaller, to imply that they were less important than free people.

Learn by doing: eat some grapes, or try a little wine
More about the history of wine

Bibliography and further reading about Greek wine:

Ancient Wine : The Search for the Origins of Viniculture, by Patrick E. McGovern (2003)

Story of Wine, by Hugh Johnson (1998).

Siren Feasts: A History of Food and Gastronomy in Greece, by Andrew Dalby (reprinted 1996).

More about Greek food
More about the history of wine
Ancient Greece
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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