Wine and Sex in Ancient Rome: The Romans’ Views on Alcohol, Lovemaking, and Intoxication

What comes to mind when you think of wine, sex, and Ancient Rome? This article will explore Romans’ views on wine and sexuality in detail. We’ll look at who drank wine with whom, what role wine played in Roman lovemaking, and which gods were associated with wine and sex. So, pour yourself a glass of wine and join us for a fascinating journey into the ancient world!

Ancient Roman Views on Sex and Wine

Ancient Rome was a sexually permissive society. There were few laws regulating sexual behavior, and unmarried men and, in some cases, women were free to have sex with whomever they chose. Of course, there were social expectations surrounding sex. For example, it was considered respectable for a man to have an affair with a married woman as long as she wasn’t Roman, but it was scandalous for a married woman to have an affair with another man.

Women were generally expected to be monogamous, and adultery was a serious crime.[1] Conversely, men could freely engage in extramarital affairs and even keep mistresses without much social stigma. Roman attitudes towards sex were generally quite relaxed, and pornography and erotic art were commonplace.

Wine and Sex in Ancient Rome

M.Dirgėla, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The ancient Romans saw wine as an everyday drink and only occasionally the means to overindulge. For them, wine was not simply a way to enjoy a meal or relax after a long day. Instead, they saw it as essential to a healthy and balanced lifestyle. This is reflected in the many Roman proverbs about wine, such as “In vino veritas” (In wine there is truth) and “In vino veritas, in aqua sanitas” (In wine there is truth, in the water there is health).

Bacchus: The God of Wine and Fertility

Roman festivals dedicated to Bacchus, the god of wine and fertility, were often orgiastic affairs where wine flowed freely and sexual inhibitions were abandoned. For the ancient Romans, wine was intimately connected with sex, and Bacchus was seen as the god who could unleash the power of both.

In many ways, their approach to Bacchus reflected the Roman attitude towards wine and sex. He was a god who could bring both pleasure and destruction, and his followers often lived on the edge of society, indulging in excesses that others might find shocking. However, there was also a deep respect for Bacchus and his ability to bring about physical and spiritual ecstasy. (See our article  about the Greeks to learn more about the Greek god Dionysius.)

“Without food and wine, Venus freezes.”

The Romans knew the connection between wine and sex, as evidenced by the popular saying, sine Cerere et Baccho friget Venus[2], without food and wine, Venus freezes.

Their celebrations of Bacchus, the parties, and the extramarital affairs that are famous to this day were often riddled with indulgent sexual and wine-drinking behavior.

Dionysus-God of Wine and Fertility

And while we might view wine as romantic or sexy, the Romans saw it, when not overly indulgent, as a way to increase fertility. Many Roman weddings featured a special ceremony in which the bride and groom would drink from a common cup of wine, symbolizing their union and their hope for children.

“Baths, wine, and sex make fate come faster.”

It’s almost certain that a saying like this was commonplace in ancient Rome.[3] An ex-slave’s tombstone from the first century said, “wine, sex, and baths ruin our bodies, but they are the stuff of life.” In Turkey, there’s evidence that the original saying was, “Baths, wine, and sex make fate come faster.”

Just because the Romans knew the relationship between sex and wine doesn’t mean indulging in it was celebrated. Many philosophers warned about the epicurean society Rome slid into during the centuries. Plutarch and Seneca cautioned about the dangers of overconsumption of wine, arguing that it could lead to decreased fertility and other health problems.

In addition to the dangers of booze, the philosophers also cautioned against letting passion run wild. They believed uncontrolled passion could lead to all sorts of problems, including financial ruin and bad decision-making.

Ultimately, the Roman view of wine and sex was ambivalent, where both were seen as potentially dangerous and immensely pleasurable.

So next time you enjoy a glass of wine, think about the ancient Romans and wine’s vital role in their lives. Cheers!

This Day in Wine History

April 23: Vinalia Prima. Ordinary people would gather to taste last year’s wine in honor of the goddess of love, Venus.

August 19: Vinalia Rustica. This holiday evolved from the Latin celebration of the harvest. People would celebrate the grape harvest and fertility of all the crops.

Want to read more? Try these books!

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References

[1]Ricketts, Colin. 2018. “The Oldest Obsession: Sex Lives in Ancient Rome.” History Hit. History Hit. August 9, 2018. https://www.historyhit.com/the-oldest-obsession-sex-lives-in-ancient-rome/.

[2] Bull, Malcolm, The Mirror of the Gods, How Renaissance Artists Rediscovered the Pagan Gods, Oxford UP, 2005, pp. 218_219

[3]Martínez, Antonio Marco. 2016. “Wine, Sex and Baths Ruin Our Bodies, But… (Balnea Vina Venus Corrumpunt Corpora, Sed…).” History of Greece and Rome. April 4, 2016. http://www.antiquitatem.com/en/baths-wine-sex-hedonism-carmina/.

 

Categories: This Day in Wine History | ArticlesTags: , , , By Published On: September 5, 2022

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