Role of Pictorial Art and Written Sources in Wine Civilization

A plethora of visual art and written literature has been discovered from the relics of the early phases of human civilization. Today, these artifacts may be found in museums. These illustrative images include frescoes, wall paintings on tombs and temples, vase paintings, sculptures, iconography, mosaics, and miniatures. These representations would not have been possible without miniatures[1]. Similarly, cuneiforms, epigraphs, papyri, ostraca, and manuscripts were all utilized as written sources. These are the most critical pieces of information to understand the archaeological and vinicultural data of early history.

Papyri and Ostraca

Throughout human history, papyri and ceramic fragments—famously known as ostraca—had been widely utilized as writing materials. Archaeologists unearthed the so-called Papyrus Ebers book in the Valley of Kings. It is considered among the earliest and best-preserved medical documents of Ancient Egypt, and it dates back to about 1500 BC[2]. There are hundreds of prescriptions in this book. It contains ancient tax receipts, delivery orders, wine jar tags or labels, lists, antique scribal methods, and other precious and rare papers – among the ostraca’s many treasures[3].

Hieratic Wine Jar Dockets and Inscriptions

Wine jar dockets were inscribed in black ink on one side of the containers, and these containers were made to carry wine (sherds). However, that is not all: There were five unique groupings of words in the document, including a date, a type of wine, an organization that supplied it, and the location where it was manufactured. Tuthmosis IV, the eighth pharaoh of Egypt’s 18th dynasty, reigned between 1400 and 1390 BC at the hamlet of Gurna, located in ancient Thebes. Each of these objects was discovered in Tuthmosis IV’s royal tomb[4].

Archaeologists unearthed wine and grapes dockets in the 18th and 19th centuries in the cities of Malaga, Amarna, and Ramesseum[5].

When wine and oil were transported from villages or the royal vineyards to Israelite Samaria, inscriptions uncovered in the city’s 8th-century BC heyday portrayed the logistics of this conveyance. Samaria, which is today’s modern-day Israel, is now known as the West Bank[6]. In addition, the 2,600-year-old writing was discovered on the backside of a ceramic sherd in Arad, a desert fortress in present-day Israel. An appeal for wine was made in the text[7].

Text Evidence Based on Philosophers

The renowned philosopher and scientist, Theophrastus, was born in Lesbos. An Aristotelian, he lived from 371 to 287 BC. Theophrastus’ writings are among the early documents that shed light on the past’s technological prowess. Moreover, some of the most famous Roman agricultural works are said to have been written by Cato (234–149 BC), Varro (116–27 BC), Columella (who was of Iberian descent and thrived in the first century AD), or Pliny the Elder (AD 23/24-1979). Furthermore, in the late fourth or early fifth-century AD, Palladius produced a treatise, previously an unidentified author whose work then appeared in the Byzantine Greek agricultural guidebook Geoponika in the ninth century[8].

They relied majorly on the translations of Mago’s agricultural text, composed between the 3rd and 2nd century BC according to these authors, the “Father of Agriculture” is a Carthaginian writer. Owing to Carthage’s destruction during the Third Punic War, his compendium was lost forever[9].

Written Sources in Wine Civilization

Figure 1. This map shows where the oldest evidence of viticulture, winemaking, and wine ceramic assemblages was found.

Greek and Roman Literatures

Hippocrates—who was born in Greece and practiced medicine on the island of Cos between the years 460 and 375 BC—wrote the first medical treatises. The sensory features of wine may be originated from Galen, who lived in Anatolia between 129 and 216 AD. During that time, it was believed that these aspects were linked to the therapeutic powers of the wine. Galen was a Greek philosopher who flourished from 129 to 216 AD[10].

The early Greek and Roman poets created works of epic and timeless poetry. A few examples of these poets are Homer (who lived in the 8th-century BC), Vergil (70–19 BC), and Horace (65–8 BC). Similarly, to better grasp the shape of grapes and their growth processes, one may turn to religious scriptures, such as the Bible, Torah, and the Koran[11].

The only way to understand ancient winemaking and testing processes is to explore the written and pictorial references of these ancient sources. Ancient artifacts have benefited from the gradual development of translation and interpretation abilities among researchers throughout historical periods, in contrast to more recent discoveries[12].

Relevant Ancient Literary Sources

The wine trade between Armenia and Babylon is described in Herodotus of Halicarnassus’ Book IX of Histories, which he wrote between 484 and 425 BC. Such historical texts offer an excellent place to look for rare knowledge[13].

A famous ancient book titled “The oldest wine author in the world” was authored by Mago, a Carthaginian writer who lived between the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC. He assembled this collection of agricultural and viticultural texts, which spans 28 volumes and is written in Punic[14].

Regarding Latin agricultural literature, Marcus Cato the Elder—who lived between 234 and 149 BC—wrote the first treatise on the cultivation and growth of vines and olives. This famous piece was written in Latin language[15].

Marcus Terentius Varro (116—27 BC) made substantial contributions to early farming and agriculture techniques. Only three chapters made this technical book on farming and agricultural management much easier to read. One of those chapters begins with a discussion on winemaking, including everything from growing grapes to bottling wine[16].

During the 1st century AD, another prominent author, Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella, made important contributions to agriculture and winemaking literature. His collection consisted of a dozen books about Roman agriculture. Volumes III–V and XII, titled “under his name,” detail the techniques of viticulture and vinification as well as the cultivation of fruit trees and olives[17].

In the late 4th century and early 5th century AD, Palladius Rutilius Taurus Aemilianus was a Roman emperor. During his time, a fourteen-volume agricultural book titled Palladius was authored by the Greco-Roman author of the same name[18].

Known as “Pliny the Elder,” Gaius Plinius Secundus, or “Pliny the Second,” was a Roman historian (24—79 AD), who authored 37 book volumes under his pen name. The majority of his XIV, XVII, and XXIII were spent composing books on the production of vineyards, wine, and fruit trees. The books also include the healing properties of wine and several wine-based treatment methods, such as Falernian, Surrentine, Alban, and Pucinum[19].

Geoponika, a book written anonymously in the 10th-century AD, was a compilation of various works of ancient Greek and Roman authors. In this volume, twenty works on agricultural systems were dedicated to the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus (913—959)[20].

Note: The places referenced in the text are denoted by large numerals within circles, along with the matching dates.

On this Day

Between 6000 and 4000 BC: The South Caucasus (sometimes referred to as “Transcaucasia“) is where the oldest wine-related cultures originated. Extending between the Black (western) and Caspian Seas, it has been (east). It now consists of Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan republics[21].

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[1] Norrie, P. The History of Wine as a Medicine: From its Beginnings in China to the Present Day; Cambridge Scholars Publishing: Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, 2019.

[2] Eissa, M.A.; Nassar, M.A. Hieratic wine jar dockets from Tuthmosis’s IV temple. Sheet 2020, 7, 26–38.

[3] Aston, D. Amphorae in New Kingdom Egypt. Egypt Levant 2005, 1, 175–214.

[4] Rosen, B. Wine and oil allocations in the Samaria Ostraca. Tel Aviv 1986, 13, 39–45.

[6] Suriano, M.J. Wine shipments to Samaria from royal vineyards. Tel Aviv 2016, 43, 99–110.

[7] Faigenbaum-Golovin, S.; Mendel-Geberovich, A.; Shaus, A.; Sober, B.; Cordonsky, M.; Levin, D.; Moinester, M.; Sass, B.; Turkel, E.; Piasetzky, E.; et al. Multispectral imaging reveals biblical-period inscription unnoticed for half a century. PLoS ONE 2017, 12, e0178400.

[8] Donahue, J.F. Food and Drink in Antiquity: Readings from the Graeco-Roman World: A Sourcebook; Bloomsbury Academic: London, UK, 2015.

[9] Joanna, J. Wine and medicine in ancient Greece. In Greek Medicine from Hippocrates to Galen: Selected Papers; van der Eijk, P., Allies, N., Eds.; Brill: Leiden, The Netherlands, 2012; pp. 173–193.

[11] Harutyunyan, M.; Malfeito-Ferreira, M. Historical and heritage sustainability for the revival of ancient winemaking techniques and wine styles. Beverages 2022, 8, 10.

[12] Godley, A.D. Herodotus: The Persian Wars; Volume I: Books 1–2; Loeb Classical Library 117; Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA, USA, 1975

[13] Dalby, A. Cato: On Farming—De Agricultura: A Modern Translation with Commentary; Prospect Books: London, UK, 1998.

[15] Hooper, W.D.; Ash, H. Varro: De Re Rustica (On Agriculture); Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA, USA, 1934.

[16] Ash, H.B. Columella: On Agriculture; Volume I: Books 1–4; Loeb Classical Library 361; Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA, USA, 1941.

[17] Forster, E.S.; Heffner, E.H. Columella: On Agriculture; Volume II: Books 5–9; Loeb Classical Library 407; Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA, USA, 1954.

[19] Fitch, J.G. Palladius: Opus Agriculturae—The Work of Farming: A New Translation from Latin; Prospect Books: London, UK, 2013.

[21] Rackham, H. Pliny: Natural History; Volume IV: Books 12–16; Loeb Classical Library 370; Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA, USA, 1945.

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