Saturday, October 24, 2009

Wine Sodden Gauls - Who's To Blame?

As a bit of a follow up to my previous post on Roman wine, I read today in the Telegraph that Professor Paul Cartledge at Cambridge has posited the theory that the Ancient Greeks actually introduced wine to Gaul and it wasn't the Romans as is commonly believed (although, I'm sure Cartledge is not the only scholar aware of the Greek influence here, despite the news reports). (The news piece from Cambridge is here).

His study claims that Massalia (Marseilles), founded unambiguously by Greeks (and which prior to the Romans was a bustling trading centre owing to it's location on the coast, and the rivers allowing goods to be transported inland), became a centre for the spread of viticulture among the tribes of Gaul.

He rests the theory on the notion that (i) Massalia survived because Greeks arrived and integrated themselves into the area (thereby introducing Greek ideas and tastes) and (ii) that evidence of amphorae found in Celtic sites indicate that there was a wine trade quite some time prior Roman domination of Gaul. Seems all quite plausible to me that it was the Greeks what did it because the foundation of Massalia certainly pre-dates Roman expansion into Gaul and provides more evidence than the notion that the Etruscans introduced wine to the area.

The Telegraph article also mentions that Cartledge is currently involved in a revision of what constituted "Ancient Greece", with the belief that it covered a huge geographical area, from Spain to Georgia, which is much greater than how it is usually considered as covering roughly the same area as Modern Greece. Establishing the Greeks as a major influence in bringing wine to the Gauls seems to be a facet of this. This partly explains why this is all being treated as entirely new - Cartledge has a new book! (although I doubt it's his fault).

There is no doubt that Roman expansion certainly increased the spread of viticulture (and the availability of wine) in Gaul, but it's rather fascinating to think that initially it game from Greece through Massalia, although it certainly makes sense considering the period in which Massalia was founded (around 600 B.C.E - well before Roman expansion into the area), and that Greeks, who drunk wine, were the ones that settled there.

If the Greeks did bring wine to Gaul, then I suppose they should receive the blame for all the drunken Gauls marauding around the country drinking undiluted wine and selling people into slavery for a single amphora. The Cambridge news story adds the funny titbit that:

"Travelling up the river might even have constituted the original booze cruise"

which suggests the pretty funny image of a load of smelly barbarian Gauls shouting at nearby women as their wine laden boats floated along the river.

The idea that Greece covered a much larger area than people assume, also seems to me a pretty sound one. "Greece" was not a nation as we conceive it, but rather a people linked by language. Greece was a "nation" of individual city-states, and so the notion of "Greece" as a geographical expression does not really work. The upshot is that essentially this expression "Ancient Greece" to mean some kind of nation, means that any place in which "Greeks" (i.e. Greek speakers) were could be considered "Greece".

So then, we can blame the Greeks for wine sodden Gauls, but also thank them for wonderful modern French wine. Balances out, I think.

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