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The Roman poet Gajus Petronius Arbiter (14-66) wrote this 20-volume novel, only preserved in fragments. It portrays a funny, realistic, sometimes grotesque moral picture of the social situation in Rome in the first century. The main character and narrator is an educated, versatile young man named Encolpius who travels all over Lower Italy. Between many erotic and amorous adventures with people of both sexes and pranksters, he also travels to the coastal town of Puteoli (today's Pozzuoli in Campania ) devious. Here he takes part with his companion Giton, his friend Ascyltos and the rhetor Agamemnon in an extremely lavish and remarkable banquet by the newly rich and illiterate multimillionaire Trimalchio (a wine merchant).

Satyricon - Petronius (bust) and painting

This episode, known as "Cena Trimalchionis", forms the main part of the fragments. It is also an excellent source for the typical dishes, drinks and table manners of the upper class of Rome in the early imperial period. The cena was the main meal of the day for the higher classes and took place in the late afternoon (beginning 3 to 4 p.m.), usually after a bath. Especially the drinking culture Relevant passages in the present banquet with explanatory background information come from Christopher Daniel (work for the University of Erlangen), who has kindly given his consent for their use.

As a drink, water and wine played an important role in the everyday life of the Romans. Enjoying pure water was not common with a Cena (especially in rich circles), but was an essential part of every meal to dilute the wine. Wine was drunk with almost every meal (less often for breakfast), but especially with the main meal. Light wine was already enjoyed with the starters (gustatio), preferably the very popular honey wine Mulsum, Wine was considered a staple. Consumption was correspondingly high with a daily volume of 0.8 to 1 liter per male and 0.5 liter per female resident of Rome during the imperial period. Slaves were also entitled to this, although they certainly had to be content with simple quality.

At the "Cena Trimalchionis" the host instructs to mix a powerful pot (a large vessel) and to distribute full cups to the slaves. But for the guests there will be a Falernian, and not just anyone, but an (allegedly) hundred-year-old famous “Opimian” (ie from 121 BC) was served. Carefully plastered glass jugs were brought in, on the necks of which labels with the text "Falerner, anno Opimius, centenary" were stuck (whether this was actually true remains to be seen). As with any other wine, it was common for this very expensive and exceptional wine to be diluted before drinking. The reason was the relatively high alcohol content, the thick liquid of older top wines, as well as the fact that wine was sometimes even drunk for breakfast.

The aim was to drink considerably more of the diluted wine and enjoy its stimulating and intoxicating effects for longer. Either you mixed it with sweeter wine to soften the bitterness of an older vintage, or with water. Chilled wine was drunk in summer, using snow (often brought from far away). In winter it was common to add warm water. The mixing took place in the cup of the individual, more often in one with drinking binge crater (Mixing jug) into which you poured the wine first and then the water. A sieve-like funnel on the mixing jug made it possible to separate the often cloudy wine from the sediment.

The wine was made from the mixing jug with a ladle ( Cyathus, about half a liter) poured into the drinking vessels. Although mixing was common, information about common mixing ratios is almost completely lacking in the Romans. According to Greek information, there were variations depending on the occasion and mood. Two parts wine to five parts water was considered a strong drink, 1: 2, 1: 3 and 1: 4 were not uncommon; always more water than wine. The Romans may have preferred similar relationships. Those who only wanted to quench their thirst drank wine with plenty of water, those who wanted to forget their worries added less or none at all.

Fruit was eaten at all times of the day and in every course of a cena. Figs were an important basis for the diet at that time and took first place in Rome on the popularity scale for fruit in all classes. After drying, they formed after the author Columella (1st century) the usual winter food of the rural population. Wine was also made from figs. The grapes had a special position. In addition to the grapes, the Romans also cultivated specially grown grapes table grapes, which played an important role in daily nutrition from an early age. As fresh fruit, as a sweetener and also preserved, they were an essential nutritional component. Table grapes intended for consumption were grown (in order to keep them fresh) in the vineyards in the immediate vicinity of Rome. The most common method of preserving fruit was drying. For the production of raisins mainly the largest and sweetest fruits were used. In addition, there were many other techniques. Grapes were also hung in the smoke of the hearth for a long time, which dried them very slowly, which gave them a strange taste.

Usually a “Comissatio” followed on from a Cena. This was an exuberant drinking party that could drag on until dawn and not infrequently with one intoxication most of those present ended. They wreathed themselves and rubbed themselves with valuable, fragrant ointments. No comissatio took place without "Rex bibendi" (drinking king, also "Rex convivii" = banquet king). This was determined by acclamation or by dice from the round. In addition to determining the mixing ratio and the mandatory number of drinking units for each participant, his task also included maintaining the evening. The most frequent fixed points were above all musical performances such as dance, singing, playing the flute or lyric. The drinking king also had to determine who in the group had to entertain the society with amusing lectures or puzzles. People captained themselves to the most unusual and craziest ideas to fuel the mood and the limits of good taste were often exceeded.

During the commisatio, the well-being of those present, the absent, the emperor, the senate and the army was drunk while doing so toasts appropriate. The cup was filled to the brim with wine, the speaker made a statement to a person present and emptied it in one go. Now the cup was refilled and handed to the person just honored, who in turn had to empty the cup. That went around in the round. Deviations were understood as disapproval or rejection, which made many hidden rivalries visible. Although not specifically mentioned, Trimalchio himself was probably the drinking king at the “Cena Trimalchionis”. He asks his table mates to tell stories and makes artistic contributions.

At the Cena Trimalchionis, however, there are no toasts, only the "Flos tangomenas facere", i.e. the invitation to toast or to drink. In connection with the increasing intoxication, which was not a disgrace in the company of the party - a distinction was carefully made between "Ebrius", a temporary state of intoxication and "Ebriosus", a chronic alcoholic - because of the disinhibiting effect of alcohol, of course, this sometimes occurred to argument and sometimes to assault. The host Trimalcho, who is no longer sober, throws a wine mug at his wife, for example. See also on this topic Ancient wines. Ancient grape varieties. Bacchus. Dionysos and especially drinking culture,

Source: Christopher Daniel (work for the University of Erlangen)
Left picture: By P. Bodart - GoogleBooks , Public Domain, Link
Right: By Roberto Bompiani - J. Paul Getty Museum , Public Domain, Link

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