Historical Views on Children and Wine

In early societies, drinking wine was often a communal activity. The Old Testament and New Testament are filled with references to vineyards, grapes and wines.

In fact, the first thing Noah did after the flood was plant a vineyard. The Catholic church has a strong connection to wine. Jesuits brought grapes to the Americas and planted the vineyards that helped California become a wine-producing center.

Ancient Greeks

The Ancient Greeks were a people who believed in the power of wine and in a god called Dionysus. Their art is full of images of drinking, and they celebrated the symposium, or drinking party, with poetry. Archaeological discoveries have shown that they made a lot of jars with lids, and many of those contain residues that prove that wine was stored in them and consumed.

Children were really important in the ancient world. At least in Athens, the new-born was formally introduced to his family – the oikos – with a ritual called amphidromia. This was similar to a Christian christening or a Jewish brit. It was a sign of good luck and prosperity for the child and his parents. In other parts of the Ancient Greek world, though, it was not always possible for children to be accepted. The father would decide if the child was of worth to the family, and often boys were more welcome than girls.

The Greek historian Thucydides, who wrote History of the Peloponnesian War, is regarded as the first “true” or scientific historian. He did not believe in divine intervention in human affairs and he tried to report events objectively, although he admitted that sometimes he had to make things up. His writings influenced later Western history. Another famous Greek was the playwright Aristophanes, whose comedy Imaginary Invalids satirised the hedonistic life of the wealthy and privileged in classical Athens.

Savior. XVIII. century, Ukraine.

Ancient Romans

The Roman empire grew from a small city-state to cover the entire Mediterranean world and much of western Europe. At its peak in the second century AD, the empire had 50 million inhabitants.

Wine was a staple of the ancient diet, consumed by all classes of people. During religious festivals, huge quantities of wine were drunk. Wine was often served in a goblet and offered to the gods as part of sacrifice.

Children drank wine too but only after being heavily watered down. They also drank calda, mulsum or barley water and sometimes fruit juices. Sheep’s milk was very popular and was used for kneading cheese but not for drinking.

Rich Romans enjoyed eating many things that would shock us today: They loved thrush, jackdaws, coots and crows and even had flamingo stuffed with peppercorns. The very rich kept dormice and fed them acorns, walnuts and chestnuts to fatten them up. They then killed and ate the mice!

Few Roman children went to school and most were taught at home. A father taught his son the practical skills of life and values such as virtus [dignity], and gravitas (seriousness). Women were taught to cook and to keep house. The ancient Romans were passionate about their food and liked to “wow” their dinner guests with exotic dishes. The appearance of the food was just as important as its taste so herbs and spices were used to disguise the flavour.

Early Hebrews

The Early Hebrews were an ancient Semitic people centered in the fertile land of Mesopotamia, a region irrigated by the two great rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates. They had a long history, including many early leaders and kings, religious traditions and prophets. Their contribution to humanity was primarily their religion, which they called Judaism, or the Jewish faith. Their religious beliefs are recorded in a book called the Bible, also denominated as the Old Testament.

The Hebrews believed that their religion separated them from their neighbors and gave them a special relationship with God. They were a “chosen” people, with a promise of redemption for their sins. The Old Testament recounts their story of enslavement by Egypt and their escape across the Red Sea to freedom in Canaan. They maintained a strong sense of identity as a distinct and privileged group, even as they were defeated by powerful neighboring empires.

The Hebrews were a patriarchal society, and the father was the highest authority figure. Their family structure was closely linked to their religion. In this culture, the consumption of wine was a sacred practice. The Old Testament contains many biblical stories involving the consumption of wine. The most famous is the story of Samaria, where the mother and her sons become prey for the king’s army. The Old Testament is filled with warnings against excessive drinking.

Early Christians

As a social and spiritual beverage wine was central to the ancient world. It displaced other fluids such as milk and honey in worship rites. Its capacity to induce a state of ecstasy or frenzy among worshippers could not long have escaped attention and it became associated with supernatural spirits and gods. In the religious sense, wine was also seen as symbolizing the blood of Christ and, thus, was central to the Eucharist.

Early Christians, who had been Jews, embraced the healthful and social aspects of wine drinking but were keenly aware of its potential for abuse. The Bible makes many positive references to wine and vineyards, but it is also clear that drinking alcohol was frowned upon – the New Testament includes several warnings against drunkenness and admonitions to drink moderately.

In the seventeenth century, in their zeal to promote Prohibition, some Protestants claimed that scriptural references to wine meant grape juice instead of alcohol and they substituted grape juice for wine at church services. While this claim is erroneous, it highlights a persistent attitude that sees wine as inherently good but as prone to misuse and evil. This was a worldview shared by colonial America by Increase Mather and other preachers who warned that “the wine is from the Lord, but the drunkard is from Satan.” Even today, Christian denominations such as Seventh Day Adventists believe that what was referred to as wine in biblical times was really grape juice.

Medieval Europe

The Middle Ages, spanning from the 5th to the late 15th century, saw a significant transformation in the consumption and cultural significance of wine. Monasteries became the primary centers of viticulture, producing wine not only for daily consumption but also for religious ceremonies. The monks, with their meticulous attention to detail, refined winemaking techniques and improved the quality of wines.

In medieval Europe, water was often unsafe to drink due to contamination. As a result, wine, which was safer due to the alcohol content, became a daily staple for people of all classes. It was common for even children to consume wine, albeit in diluted form. This practice was not only for safety but also because wine was seen as nutritious.

The medieval period also saw the rise of guilds and regulations regarding wine production. Cities would have their own laws governing the sale and quality of wine. This was the beginning of appellation systems, which would later become more formalized.

Children in medieval Europe were viewed differently than today. They were often seen as miniature adults and were expected to take on responsibilities at a young age. However, their consumption of wine was controlled. Parents would ensure that the wine given to children was heavily diluted with water, ensuring that the alcohol content was minimal.

Renaissance Era

The Renaissance, a period of renewed interest in art, culture, and science, also brought about a renewed appreciation for wine. As trade routes expanded, different regions of Europe were exposed to a variety of wines, leading to a more sophisticated wine culture.

During this period, the art of winemaking saw significant advancements. The concept of terroir, or the unique characteristics of the land where grapes are grown, became more recognized. This led to a greater emphasis on regional wines and the characteristics that made them unique.

Children during the Renaissance were celebrated and cherished. There was a growing emphasis on education and the arts, and children were often the subjects of portraits and literature. However, their consumption of wine remained moderated. While it was common for children to be given wine, it was always in controlled amounts and often diluted.

The Renaissance also saw the emergence of wine critics and connoisseurs. Literature from this period often references wine, its flavors, and its effects. This was a time when wine began to be seen not just as a beverage but as an art form in itself.

Modern Views

Today, the consumption of wine by children is a contentious issue. In many cultures, it’s frowned upon or even illegal for those under a certain age to consume alcohol. However, in some parts of Europe, it’s still common for children to be introduced to wine at family meals, albeit in very small quantities.

The health effects of wine, both positive and negative, are widely studied in modern times. While moderate wine consumption has been linked to certain health benefits for adults, the effects of alcohol on developing bodies and minds have raised concerns.

In conclusion, the relationship between children and wine has evolved significantly over the centuries. From being a daily necessity in ancient times to a symbol of sophistication

Also read: The History of Children and Wine in France

Want to read more? Try these books!

Wine & Children Children of Breton- a tasting of wine history (Wine's Anvil)


[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, 2022Last Updated: February 27, 2024

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