The History of Romania: Wine and Women
Controversial legislation proposed in Romania debates allowing women to drink wine in the country. Considering the historical traditions of Romania, wine has been associated with femininity and even nurturing worldwide. However, in some societies across the globe, women have been prohibited from even touching the drink. This generalization about women has permeated through time. For anyone not familiar with Romanian history, you may find it strange to hear that in the first half of the 20th century, it was forbidden for women to drink wine (and often many other alcoholic drinks).
Nonetheless, exploring whether these laws are based on myths or facts is interesting.
Furthermore, it is perhaps even more surprising that men were encouraged to drink. The history of wine in Romania can be traced back to the first century AD when the Romans had established an extensive trade route in these regions. They brought with them a thirst for wine and knowledge of viticulture.
Did you know? Several scholars believe that Romanians are descendants of early Mediterranean people who settled there more than 2000 years ago. However, Romanian history is a bit complicated and has transformed quite a few times. The Dacians— Celtic people who lived in what is now Romania and Moldova—were conquered by the Romans.
The Romans, in turn, were defeated by the Goths (another Germanic tribe), who then left and were replaced by Byzantines from Greece. Then arrived the Slavic tribes from Ukraine (known as Vlachs), who eventually blended with the Romanians to form their own identity: i.e. Moldovans or Bessarabians.
Besides other invaders, Ottoman Turks also invaded Romania at various points throughout its history and occupied Constantinople (now Istanbul) in 1453. From that point onward until 1878, when they lost power over Bulgaria and Serbia after being defeated by Russia during The Crimean War, all three nations belonged to what was once called “The Ottoman Empire.”
This period lasted almost five centuries – so you can imagine how many diverse cultural influences may have gone into constituting today’s Romanian culture.
During the time of the Dacians
As the story goes – wine was first introduced to Romania by the Romans, and only men were given the privilege of consuming wine in Romanian society. In addition, it became an essential item of feasts and entertainment for the rich and the Church. It was not until the 17th century that women were allowed to drink wine in small quantities and with much medical supervision.
The Dacians were not Christians, so they did not have to obey Christian rules. Even before Christianity arrived in the area, a group of people called the Getae lived in what is now Romania and Bulgaria. These people drank wine and even produced it themselves. Moreover, they also had female rulers (who were called “queens”). During the time the Dacians lived, women were allowed to drink wine as long as they did not drink more than their husbands. The phrase “to drink like a girl” implies that women have to be chaste and drink water. The ruling was put into place by the ruling class but unofficially enforced by most people.
When Christianity took hold in Europe around 300 AD, many things changed for women—and one of those things was their ability (or inability) to drink wine. During that time, if a woman was caught drinking wine at home without the presence of her husband, she could be put into prison for six months or fined 100 pounds! This law led to gender disparity in Romania.
After Conquering Dacia
Romanians could drink wine after the Romans conquered Dacia, but Romanian women were not allowed to do so.
The reason for this is unclear, but historians believe it is due to Roman traditions regarding gender roles and modesty. If an average Roman female citizen were observed drinking a glass of wine with her friends at the bar, she would have violated social norms by exposing her bare arms and legs in public.
In the 4th century AD (300 years after they conquered Dacia), Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity throughout the Empire—and with it came transformations in how people dressed. Romanian women covered up more than before to avoid looking like hookers when they drank their wine on the sidewalk; outside their houses, so did their menfolk.
Under the Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Greek-speaking Christian Empire that emerged after the 4th century AD, after the fall of the Roman Empire. The capital of the Byzantine Empire from 330 to 1081 was Constantinople, which is now known as Istanbul in Turkey. The Byzantine Empire represented a vastly different society from modern-day societies. One of these disparities was concerned with gender roles.
In many ways, aspects of this society were very similar to some cultures we observe today, such as the Islamic world and Renaissance Europe. The Byzantine Empire did not view women as equals to men. They were treated less than second-class citizens.
This similarity existed primarily in the relegation of females to inferior statuses compared to their male counterparts. Under the Byzantines, women were not allowed to drink wine or alcoholic beverages in public places.
They would be restricted to their homes, or if they were invited to another woman’s house, they could drink as long as it was conducted in the presence of their husbands.
Several chryses (women who devoted their lives to religion) were recorded to have worked miracles by tricking Byzantine men into believing they could drink out of the Chalice of Salvation. These miracles were then interpreted to mean that the woman in question was divinely chosen by God and should therefore be taken seriously. This prohibition was observed as a test of respectability.
Under the Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman Empire began in the 13th century and lasted until 1923. During this time, Romania was under constant threat of attack by the Ottoman Turks. These attacks were often characterized by the burning of books about winemaking, which led to a lack of knowledge about viticulture in the country.
In addition, many vineyards were destroyed during World War II due to Russian occupation and other factors such as drought or damage from hailstorms. Under the Ottoman Empire, the Christian women of Romania were forbidden to drink wine until 1690. This prohibition reflected an Islamic custom observed during sieges in cases of severe shortage (such as at the Siege of Ctesiphon in 637–638).
Causes of Bans
Attempting to outlaw the consequences of alcohol consumption in Romania during the late 19th century, several Romanian provinces prohibited women from drinking wine. The basis for these restrictions was a belief that if women were not drinking, there would be no reason for drunkenness among men.
Vintilă Brătianu, the leader of one of Romania’s wine regions, expressed his opinion that banning women from drinking was “a serious violation of [Romania’s] constitutional rights and freedom.” Women were not allowed to drink wine in public or at home in the presence of a man. This is because the consumption of alcohol was associated with luxury and power, and only men could be considered either powerful or wealthy.
ON THIS DAY
Like most coastal civilizations, wine has been produced and consumed in Romania since ancient times. The Romanian wine history dates back thousands of years, when nomadic tribes first inhabited the country. The first proto-historic peoples that inhabited the Balkan Peninsula were the Thracians, mentioned by Homer in the 8th century BC, while they enjoyed wine and ritual feasts. Archaeological evidence in the form of an ancient Greek wine jug indicates that such activities began some 6,000 years ago. The wine trade was prevalent since Romanians have always been aware that natural wines possess many benefits that their domesticated counterparts do not supply.
December 26, 1690: Domnita Anna Porphyrogenita (fondly known as Anica), the daughter of Prince Alexandru Băleanu of Moldavia and Princess Ruxandra Rareshid of Wallachia, became the first woman to be permitted to drink wine in Romania.
September 14, 81 AD – September 18, 96 AD: Emperor Domitian published laws prohibiting female citizens from drinking wine and even attending gladiator fights. The prohibition of wine for women was formed by aristocrats, patricians, and the late Roman Emperor Domitian during the Empire. The low status of the wine strictly enforced the prohibition.
Sixth millennium BC: The history of wine in Romania dates back to the Neolithic by Ardeal pottery. During the Bronze Age, viticulture and wine production grew, as evidenced by mural paintings in all country regions, showing people gathering grapes and vintage scenes. The first vineyards were planted in the south, present-day Wallachia near the Danube and down south near the Black Sea.
Want to read more? Try these books!
 “The history of Romanian wine.” Discover, https://www.estikawines.com/history.php. Accessed 10 May 2022.
 Jasiński, Jakub. “Roman women could not drink wine « IMPERIUM ROMANUM.” Imperium Romanum, 19 April 2019, https://imperiumromanum.pl/en/curiosities/roman-women-could-not-drink-wine/. Accessed 10 May 2022.
 Rose, George, and Tomas O’Brien. “A Brief History of Women and Alcohol | Lip Magazine.” lip magazine, 6 May 2016, https://lipmag.com/featured/a-brief-history-of-women-and-alcohol/. Accessed 10 May 2022.
 “A Forbidden Pleasure – Wine Drinking in Ottoman Turkey.” Turkish-Cuisine.org, http://www.turkish-cuisine.org/drinks-6/alcoholic-drinks-92/wine-97.html. Accessed 10 May 2022.