Historical Views on Children and Wine

This story is set in a fantastical universe where the years 1800-1850 roughly correspond to our own. I learned a lot about this period and place, and one of the fascinating things I discovered is that people back then did some bizarre things. There are so many of these oddities that I want to include descriptions of them as minor details in this story to give the impression that it is set in a bygone period. Having guns and steam engines mentioned is, in my opinion, insufficient.

By the turn of the century, many countries had emerged as the world’s largest and most renowned wine producers, and they had never hidden their enthusiasm for the beverage. Did you know that the love of wine is so ingrained in the culture of France that even schoolchildren used to partake in it during breaks? For example, allowing students to imbibe wine during class breaks in France is nearly unimaginable by today’s standards. Canteens at French schools not only served alcohol, including wine, beer, and cider, to students before the 1950s but also actively promoted underage drinking.

Was Children Drinking Wine a Belief?

Physician and writer Bartholomäus Scherrenmüller of Germany published his first work in 1493. He explained that,

“When the time comes that the child is half a year or a year old, the wet nurse should wean him off wine as much as possible. She should give him water and honey to drink, and if she cannot get the child off wine, she should give him white wine, light, and well-diluted wine.[1]

Christ did not explicitly tell the leader to start feeding the infant wine at a certain point in the chapter, but it is strongly inferred that this was a common practice. Moreover, in other cases, the [male] child’s dependence on alcohol made it difficult to wean him off of it by the time he was six to twelve months old. Not only Scherrenmüller suggests wine was given to children to eat in the Middle Ages, but other authors have as well. His book is the German translation of the Summa conservation et curation, a medical treatise written by an Italian physician and surgeon named William of Saliceto in 1275[1].

Freiburg priest Heinrich Laufenberg likely drew inspiration from Saliceto’s work when he developed his German regimen. He alludes vaguely to a “great master” whose identity he conceals and suggests that drinking wine with breast milk is good for one’s health, but does not elaborate. On the other hand, he is quick to add that, in his view, breast milk on its own is much better than any other sort of infant nourishment, albeit he does not reveal the identity of this “great master.”

In contrast, he agrees with Saliceto and Scherrenmüller that a baby should be permitted to drink wine if the infant indicates a desire to do so, albeit he suggests giving the child just a very little amount of wine that has been diluted with water on very rare occasions.

In the Medieval Literature…

Researchers looked at ancient and medieval medical texts to learn when the idea of giving wine to newborns as a food source originally emerged and how doctors felt about it at different times. The word oinos, which may be interpreted as wine, occurs 867 times in the Corpus Hippocraticum, as uncovered by Simon Byl. The first time alcohol is mentioned in the same sentence with children is in the work by Hippocrates, founder of the illustrious school of Cos[2].

“A Regimen of Health,” attributed to Hippocrates, is likely to have been written as early as Polybos[3]. Hippocrates suggests bathing children for long periods in warm water and giving them wine that has been diluted so that it is not cold. Selecting wines less likely to cause gas and bloating in the stomach is recommended. These preventative steps ensure the children do not have convulsions, grow up strong and healthy, and enhance their skin tones.

Aristotle is reported to have said that pure wine is dangerous for newborns since it might cause them to convulse. He goes farther than Polybos in his book On Sleep and Dreams by arguing that wine is harmful to infants and should not be offered to wet nurses: For the simple reason, that breathing becomes more difficult whenever a substantial volume of vapor ascends and then lowers again, causing the veins to swell.

Accordingly, neither babies nor their wet nurses should be given wine since it is likely to have little effect on them regardless of who drinks it. However, even diluted, children should only take a tiny dose. Considering the presence of volatile acids in wine, particularly in dark varieties.

Even harsher is Plato’s stance on underage drinking, which he defines as anybody younger than eighteen. The author likens it to “pouring fire upon fire either in the body or the soul.” Between the ages of 18 and 30, when people are legally considered adults, wine consumption should be limited to moderate levels. Young men, in particular, would do well to heed the warning to abstain entirely from all forms of excessive drinking and drunkenness[1].

As for a couple of the more conventional ones I have used, Since Byl’s book contains many allusions to Greek and Roman authors’ views on alcohol and the young, I owe him a debt of appreciation[2]. The original poster argued that a law prohibiting wine use by anyone under eighteen should be avoided. It also showed them that it is not okay to throw gasoline on a fire, literally or metaphorically, before they are eighteen.

Wine, or at least wine that had not been diluted down, was considered improper for youngsters under 12 because of its humorous composition. After consuming the youngster, the heat and stickiness from the wine only increased. It was believed that these qualities would evaporate from an aging body, leaving it dry and cold. Hence, wine, especially the most powerful red wine that has been aged, was considered a panacea for the ailing old, especially with red wine that had been sitting around for a while.

Galen of Pergamon, whose writings had perhaps the greatest impact on the development of medicine in late antiquity and the early middle ages in Europe and the Middle East. A familiarity with Plato’s views on food, as outlined in Timaeus and again in the second book of the Laws, had prepared him for this question. Both of these pieces were familiar to him. He alludes to the second book of the Laws and repeats the thought that it may be compelled by law that minors under eighteen should not drink alcohol at all. Instructing them not to add gasoline to a raging fire can help them avoid more damage. Once individuals reach the age of thirty, they should reduce their wine intake. Getting drunk or regularly imbibing alcohol is dangerous and should be avoided by young people at all costs.

Galen interprets Plato’s reference to the body and soul as a joke. This feverishness is partly to blame for young people’s irrational behavior[1]. To learn more, see “On Hygiene.” Galen’s treatise on the subject. The child raised in such a way, he believes, should not even consume alcohol if at all possible.

While wine does not add much moisture to the air, it does a great job of warming the drinker up from the inside out, and it makes one feel like they are being surrounded by the warm and wet personalities of children. It is also not good for them to be too warm or wet, and stuffing their heads to this level is not healthy because they reach a tipping point when any additional increase in moisture or heat forces them to enter an excessive condition.

Furthermore, although extremes should be avoided generally, this specific one should be avoided above all others due to the harm it brings to the body and the mind. Because of this, even grownups should not drink wine excessively, as it makes them more irritable and prone to acting rudely, slows down, and confuses the logical part of their brain.

Wine is a beverage best enjoyed in moderation, and adults should do the same. Started getting down to the serious business at hand, and by doing so, shielding themselves from the youthful exuberance of the younger generation? The second part of our decision is that the young man under thirty may drink wine only in moderation; he must abstain entirely from intoxication.

It is not until a man reaches the age of forty that he can join in on the celebrations and is granted the highest privilege of calling upon the deity Dionysus[1]. To fight the grumpiness that comes with old age, they invited him to the elders’ ritual (which is also recreation), a medicine he bestowed on humanity. Moreover, by these ways, we men may regain our youth, and by letting go of worry, the tenor of our spirits may become less stiff and more pliable like iron after being forged in a furnace.


If you are interested in reading more about how wine was used for child feeding by medieval European writers from the 13th and 14th centuries, here are some suggestions. Numerous followers of Plato, Galen, and Avicenna were either opposed to it or remained silent. Since the boys’ general humoral make-up is more wet than dry, he thinks infant food should have a greater moisture content. He argues that according to the authorities, boys should never be given wine since its heat causes their bodies to inflame. He says this when discussing wine. He then refers to an adage sometimes credited to Avicenna, which says that giving wine to young men is like throwing gasoline on a fire.

Also read: The History of Children and Wine in France

Want to read more? Try these books!

Children and Wine, Historical Views on Children and WineChildren and Wine, Historical Views on Children and Wine


[1] Avicenna, Liber Canonis (edition Venice 1507; repr. Hildesheim: Olms, 1964), Liber I, Fen III, Doctrina III, Capitulum iiii, “De regimine infantium cum mutantur ad etatem pueritie,” fol. 56rb.

[1] The Deipnosophists or Banquet of the Learned of Athenæus, trans. C.D. Yonge, vol. II (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1854), 677.

[1] C. G. Kühn, ed. and trans., Claudii Galeni Opera Omnia, vol. IV (Leipzig 1822; repr. Hildesheim: Olms, 1964), 808-810.

[2] Galen’s Hygiene (De sanitate tuenda), trans. Robert Montraville Green (Springfield, Ill.: Charles C. Thomas Publisher, 1951), 34.

[1] Simon Byl, “Le Vin selon les Âges et les Sexes dans le Monde Greco-Romain,” in Voeding en Geneeskunde (Alimentation et Médecine): Acten van het Colloquium (Actes du Colloque) Brussel (Bruxelles) 12. 10. 1990 (Brussel/Bruxelles: Archief- en Bibliotheekwezen in Belgie/Archives et Bibliothèques de Belgique, 1993) [Extranummer-Numéro spécial 41),

[2]  “A Regimen of Health,” in The Medical Works of Hippocrates, trans. John Chadwick and W.N. Mann (Oxford: Blackwell Scientific Publications, 1950), 216-217.

[3] Aristotle, On Sleep and Dreams, ed. and trans. David Gallop (Warminster: Aris & Phillips Ltd., 1996), 77.

[1] Schmitt, “Bartholomäus Scherrenmüllers Gesundheitsregimen,” 105-136, contains the part of Saliceto’s Latin text of the Summa conservationis et curationis translated by Scherrenmüller.

Categories: This Day in Wine History | ArticlesBy Published On: November 2, 2022

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