Saturday, November 12, 2011

Gimme That Wine (Fourth Century Edition)

In the year 301, the Roman emperor Diocletian attempted to curb rampant price inflation by issuing his famous Edict on Prices, which set maximum prices for a long list of goods and services. The Edict proved to be a dead letter almost from the moment of issuance, but it has been a godsend for historians by "providing a mine of economic [and social] information . . . giving a picture of trades and their relative pay and status, the varieties of goods on the market and their places of origin, types of dress, culinary tastes, and techniques of manufacture."

According to Stephen Williams, the Edict suggests that modern days oenophiles would be sorely disappointed were they to travel back in time to the early Fourth Century. There were different kinds of wine, some of which were sold at a premium. But, whether because the art of aging wine was largely lost (there is evidence that Romans in the late Republic and earlier Empire drank and appreciated older vintages), or Fourth Century Romans just didn't care, little if any wine was cellared; anything more than a year old sold at a discount!
Almost the only significant price difference in wine seems to be between the plain (rustici) and the rest. Tiburtine, Falernian, Sabine, Picene and others are all 30 denarii a pint, with reductions for wine a year old, confirming that storage and maturation had not yet been generally mastered.
And for you beer lovers, sorry, no fancy IPAs, stouts, or designer beers for you. Only "[t]hree kinds of beers are mentioned, Celtic, Pannonian and Egyptian, the latter an inferior brew at only two denarii.

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