Wine’s journey from Rome - a resumé

An academic symposium:
Wine’s journey from Rome
Wine in the Roman Empire and its significance for today's wine culture

Rome, 23.-25. May 2012 (the Norwegian Institute in Rome)

Why such a symposium?
Wine was one of the most important products of the Roman Empire — as nutrition, drug, commodity, something to assemble around, rally to, as a cultic symbol and much more. Wine and vines were exported from Italy with the legions and enterprising traders and wine culture was soundly established, and is so even today, in the whole region that once was the Roman Empire. Ever since one has cultivated, drunk, praised and cursed wine in Europe.

Italy is a unique wine region with its extraordinary high number of grape varieties, the diversity of regions and methods of cultivation, the high number of wine producers and a unique range of wines and methods of production. No other nation can compare to Italy's diversity in all of these aspects of wine production. The background can be found in the country's history, and particularly Roman Italy's importance to the development of wine. 1500 years after the fall of Rome, Italian wine is again the market leader in the world. Norway is no exception and Italy is the best-selling wine country also here. Norwegians' drinking habits are changing and wine increases at the expense of other alcoholic beverages.

The purpose of this symposium is to lead this interest onto a historic path, back to antiquity, to raise awareness of reasons for the significance of Italian wine – by pointing to the ancient society of Roman times, its consequences in today’s wine production and its relevance to contemporary wine culture. The seminar will seek to reach that goal as a Symposium combining the joint minds (and pens and pallets) of some of the best minds from academia, the producers of wine, the press and of the wine industry. The Norwegian Institute in Rome sited on Gianicolo will provide a sound setting for this extraordinary Symposium. As such, this remarkable historic and archaeological Institute will contribute to creating increased awareness of these subject matters in academic circles, both internationally and nationally, and in public and business life.

Notabilities from Norwegian and International (wine-) press will take part in the symposium. An assembly of some of Italy’s most prominent, and relevant, wine producers will participate with speeches and offers of insight of value to the theme, as will other prominent members of the wine trade, experts from the cultural and modern sphere etc.

Key-note speaker(s) from the international research front, Scandinavian classical scholars, representatives of the Italian wine industry with background from working in ancient wine regions and within the ancient tradition, wine journalists, profiled representatives of the trade, scholars in wine and Norwegian, Italian and international writers and cultural personalities with expertise about wine and wine culture.

May 23. – International symposium
at the Norwegian Institute in Rome (Viale Trenta Aprile 33, Gianicolo)

Words of welcome – Head of Department Turid Karlsen Seim Lars G. Rein-Helliesen and Jon W. Iddeng (Wine & Ruin organizers)

Ancient viticulture and the distribution of grapes and wine in the Roman World.

Prof. Attilio Scienza (Professor of Viticulture, University of Milan)

How Rome introduced viticulture and wine culture in Europe

Centurions, leading Roman legions to the conquest of Europe, had a rod made with a branch of grapevine. Wine, one of the main components of legionary’s diet, was primarily produced in the so-called Italia Cisalpina (the present Veneto and Friuli regions) and was spread in barrels on carts, starting from the town of Aquileia, to the borders of the Empire defined, in those days, by the rivers Rhine and Danube.

Wine production outside Italy was limited to the Provence region - which was under the Roman Empire control and where many roman senators had vineyards and an intense and profitable wine production and commerce.

During 98 BC Emperor Domitian issues an edict prohibiting wine commerce outside Italian boundaries. Numerous were the reasons for this decision. Some say that the edict was strongly desired by wine traders from Campania, in those days the most productive Italian region; others claim that the reason was linked to drought occurring in Sicily and North Africa and affecting/limiting the provision of cereals to legions widely spread in the Empire.

Two Centuries after, Veneto wine production experienced an abrupt stop due to climate changes causing floods in all territories dedicated to vineyards. Emperor Probus decided that Domitian’s edict was over and that vineyards had to be planted also outside Italy and near the places of consumption. Faustina, Probus' wife, was very important in abolishing the edict, due to the pressures of her citizens wishing to cultivate grapes in Burdigala (the current Bordeaux).

The planting of vineyards were carried out by Celts and legionnaires from Pannonia – a region between Eastern and Western Europe. Lots of the varieties that consequently were spread in the Roman Empire were native of this land - like the heunisch (called Gouais in France), the bianco Austriaco and the Italian varieties called Schiave. All these varieties were cultivated together and in association with wild grapevines, traditionally raised nearby rivers, becoming the first results of the domestication process (traminer as one). Gaul became, with Probus' legions, the paradigm of European viticulture. Several and synchronous factors contributed to the spread of wine culture: first of all the already mentioned role of Probus wife, then the need for the new-born catholic church to have wine during mass celebration increased the need for more wine, and last but not least the climatic changes restraining, on one hand, grape cultivation in the north-eastern Italian regions, and on the other preventing the diffusion of the famous wines produced in Campania in these cold regions.

The association with vines arriving from Pannonia allowed the first breeding experiences and lead to the current European varieties (roughly eighty) - including Chardonnay, Gamay, Riesling, Sylvaner, Chenin blanc, etc.

Above all, the role of Probus was mostly important in promoting the integration of two populations diverse for culture and traditions: the Romans and the Gauls; promoting the development of civilization. Once again the so-called limes (cultural and geographical borders) can be identified in the two great European rivers. In a deep analysis we can find strong similarities between the history and evolution of European human populations and the one regarding the diffusion of grape varieties: both resulting from the merging of the western and eastern cultures.


Giovanni Negri (wine expert, wine producer, author – last book ‘Roma Caput Vini’) – on methods of viticulture, distribution of wine and wine-making in the Roman Empire.


Modern Italian winemaking and the Roman tradition – more than a commercial gig?

Alessio Planeta (Planeta, Sicily) - the Capo Milazzo-project: Revitalizing the Mamertino wine.

Antonio Capaldo (Feudi di san Gregorio, Campania) – Wine of today on the roots of the Ancients.

18:15 Panel Discussion
Key note speakers Attilio Scienza and Giovanni Negri with wine-producers Francesco Marone Cinzano (Col d’Orcia, Tuscany), Alessio Planeta (Planeta, Sicily), Antonio Capaldo (Feudi di San Gregorio, Campania) and Filippo Antonelli (Antonelli San Marco, Umbria + Castello di Torre in Pietra, Lazio) discussed the ancient heritage of modern winemaking and answered questions.

21:00 Wine Maker's Dinner at Restaurant Cecchino dal 1887, Testaccio (

May 24. – Symposium
It is said that the extent of the Roman Empire at its greatest was equal to the extent of vitis vinfera. In this séance we will address various questions related to how and why the Romans vinified Europe and the Empire, on trade and distribution, the importance of wine, its cultic function, wine consumption in everyday life and on grand occasions – and the legacy of the Roman wine in the world today.

Session 1 The Roman wine industry

Dr. Phil. Knut Ødegård (Associate Professor in Ancient History, University of Oslo) – Ancient wine, economics and politics

Dr. Adam Lindhagen (Post Doc. Researcher, Stockholm University) – Wine, trade and thirsty barbarians

The contribution by Adam Lindhagen (PhD, research fellow, Stockholm University) treated the Roman wine trade and the importance the export to the barbarian peoples (populations not speaking Latin or Greek) outside the borders of the empire had for the Roman wine industry. Rome exported huge amounts of wine, not least to Gaul (modern France), often in exchange for slaves. Estimates that hundreds of thousands hectoliters of Roman wine arrived to southern Gaul each year for a period of about a century, indicate the enormous scale of Roman wine export and the economic importance it had to the Roman empire. Drinking wine was a cultural habit with cultural codes which were a central part of cultural and social identity. To drink wine and to drink it the right way was therefore a status marker in Roman society, as it is still today. Wine was often the first Roman cultural feature barbarian peoples came in contact with, long before the Roman legions arrived, and constituted to some extent an important  feature of Roman “soft power.” Today the wine export to northern Europe is on a scale never seen before and constitutes an important part of Italian, French, Spanish, etc. “soft power”, which makes more and more people interested in Mediterranean culture. Scandinavians are becoming increasingly “Mediterraneanized”, and wine is an important contributor to this phenomenon, now as it was already 2,000 years ago.


Dr. Phil. Jesper Carlsen (Head of Department of Institute of History and Civilization, University of Southern Denmark) – Freedmen and the Wine Production and Distribution in Roman Italy

The point of departure of this paper is a short presentation of the role of freedmen in agriculture in Roman Italy in the Late Republic and Early Empire. It focuses, however, on the production and distribution of wine in Italy with a re-examination of paragraphs in Book Fourteen of Pliny the Elder’s Natural History (14.47-49), in which he gives us the details of the few progresses and examples of consummate skill in the wine productions of his days. Also the wine markets in Ostia and Rome are discussed from epigraphic evidence, and it is clear that a strong organization of mercantile bodies existed in Italy.


Session 2 The importance of wine consumption in the Roman Empire

Dr. Art. Jonas Bjørnebye (Post Doc. Researcher, Norwegian Institute in Rome) – Wine in ancient cult activity

Dr. Simon Malmberg (Associate Professor, University of Bergen) – Roman imperial banquets

Ever since the time of Augustus, the banquet had been one of the most important ways in which emperor and elite met and interacted. Through the ideology and rituals that surrounded it, the banquet became a setting for the social and moral values of Roman society, and thus a way for the emperor to disseminate political propaganda. The host’s and guests’ actions take on exemplary force when staged at an imperial banquet. Through banquets, the emperor showed that he adhered to values shared by the monarch and the aristocracy, had the appropriate qualities of a ruler and served the common good of the elite. Thus, the ideology of imperial rule could be projected through the medium of ritualised, communal feasting.

 A modern world of wine and the Roman legacy

MW Arne Ronold (Editor “Vinforum”, magazine and web) – The recent history of Italian wine

Mr Ken Engebretsen (President Norwegian Sommelier Association 2005-2012, Exam Comittée ASI (Association Sommelier International), Director NSU ('Norwegian Sommelier Education') – Italian wine in Norway – recent development, present state and future possibilities

Aperitif and closing causerie – Dr. Art. Jon Iddeng (Associate Professor II, Telemark University College, editor Vin og Ruin Blog) – Toga parties and other myths on Roman abundant feasting.


Lars G. Rein-Helliesen
Cand. mag in history and archaeology from the University of Oslo (1998), entrepreneur with 15 year tenure from the restaurant industry, founder of Gaia Wine & Spirits ( and Chaeos Import, leading importer of Italian quality wines to Norway, teach at Norwegian Sommelier Education (NSU) in Oslo, frequently used speaker etc.

Jon W. Iddeng
Doctorate in ancient history from the University of Oslo (2004), university teacher and researcher of ancient history (1998-2008). Now an adviser for the Norwegian Association of researchers, associate professor II at Telemark University College. Author and editor of a number of ancient academic articles and books, last being Greek and Roman Festivals: Content, Meaning, and Practice (Oxford UP 2012), promoter of popular scientific, wine-related ancient history via blog Wine and Ruin (