GREECE PART I: UNDERSTANDING HOW IT ALL BEGAN

Here we go…

Wine has been embedded in Greek culture since the Neolithic era. Festivals were created around it and it was even given its own God, Dionysus, with a theater dedicated to him on the slopes of the Athenian Acropolis. The wine trade in Greece to the rest of the ancient world was immense and very important for the spread of vines and rituals of wine culture across the globe. In modern times the global market has been slow to accept Greek wines and there are reasons for this just as there are reasons it took a while for Spain, Southern Italy and other once unheard-of wine regions to grab hold of the merchants of the world.

In this series I will search for a deeper understanding of this ancient culture and their influence on my favorite drink.

The information I jot down in this and the following posts are the results of some extensive research but by no means am I an expert in the ancient history. I am just trying to connect the history to the wine so that I have a better understanding of Greek wine and where it came form. If at any point in my journey to grasp this immense subject I miss something by being too general please comment and let me know. I want to have a complete understanding of this part of wine history and would love input.

I love history and even more how wine is almost always present throughout it. The Greeks have always been a fascination of mine. When I was a kid in school I never did well but when it came to memorizing Greek Gods or building the Parthenon out of paper mache for a project or learning my columns I was all over it.

Another culture I truly dug was ancient Egypt. The way they saw the world and the customs they followed were so deep and mysterious it infected me.

With Greece it was more of a wow factor. They had these lively gods and goddesses with wandering heroes enduring impossible tests, slaughtering sheep for the Gods before a feast even in travel (they brought the livestock with them sometimes).

And they had wine.

The Egyptians had wine as well but they usually got it from the Minoan kingdom on the island of Crete, which was one of the fist major trading hubs in the ancient world. The Egyptian culture veered more towards beer and lotus or date wine.

Lotus wine Keith?

Yes Lotus wine. I have an idea of what that might taste like and as much as I would love to try it for giggles I don’t know if it is even made these days and what it might do to my palate ( I am thinking a mouthful of bath & Body Works products).

Anyway, the Greeks didn’t do a lot of buying of beer because to them beer was a drink for savages. This belief solidified the wine culture even more. And it even went a little beyond that. When the Greeks drank wine they always diluted it with a bit of water. This gives an indication as to how primitive the wine making process was. To not water down the wine a bit before consumption was also a savage act and those poor souls who did so were put into the beer club.

So with these general statements in mind let me refocus and talk about how it all began. Or should I say lets begin with what we know.

The following is a discussion on the beginnings of wine in this ancient culture and how it will eventually play a vital role in everyday life.

The vine has been recorded as being cultivated in as far back as the Neolithic Age in ancient Europe. This was a period where human technology really started to appear and develop. Farming and livestock became the norm. From 10,000 BC to about 7000 BC people started to settle down with yearly crops becoming a source of survival.

Among these crops were grape vines.

By the time the Bronze Age hit around 2000 BC the grape vine was being cultivated. And in ancient Greece the Minoan Kingdom, named after the mythical king, Minos was the at the center of trade in the Mediterranean. The kingdom was located on the island of Crete just south of the Peloponese. It was the perfect middle point for ships trading to the west and vice versa.

The Minoan society was known throughout the ancient world as a very organized mercantile civilization. Their organization and focus was probably a result of their way of life. It was a very inclusive society with men and women participating in sports and other public activities. The Minoans were farmers and artists dabbling in pottery, frescoes and cultivating a plethora of fruits and grains. I know all civilizations did have these things but when you read about the Minoans you get a sense of calm confidence. One really cool thing is their religion: it was based on Goddess worship. There is evidence of male Gods but very few and they were seemingly insignificant. There is also an idea of the, Minoan Peace” which is often disputed among historians but the idea is great in that there was not much in fighting among the Minoans. There was a general peace among them that other civilizations tried to emulate. Although some slightly disagree with this theory apparently more evidence is being looked at to prove the, “Minoan Peace” but there is also some possible evidence of human sacrifice. Who didn’t do that back in the day? I hear it was all the rage.

Crete became the most important trading hub for all types of textiles and grains and fruits including grapes and vines and amphora filled with wine.

I have read that excavation efforts have found strong evidence of how important wine was to the Minoans with traces of grape seeds and amphora found as well as winemaking technologies. Traces of their wine culture have been found in Egyptian archeology on pottery and in other parts of the near east.

Then around 1600 BC…. gone. The Minoan civilization disappears. The most popular theory is that of one of the largest volcano eruptions in the history of civilization occurred in the Aegean Sea on the island of Santorini then known as Thira.

I wanted to talk about this civilization because if you think about the way they lived with art and farming and equality binding the people, of course wine was going to be involved.

This was the beginning. Human life began to find a center. People started to settle into their spaces and civilizations were formed.

Wine and human history is parallel and as we will see in my next post how the two begin to evolve together.

The Minoans were one of the major influence of the ancient world with smaller surrounding islands following their lead in production, cultivation and trade (most notably Santorini to the north). This influence will gradually lead into the next phase of Ancient Greece were the wine culture of the Greeks will solidify and become religion and not just a luxury.

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One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Satria Sudeki on October 31, 2008 at 9:46 pm

    your posting is really informative, and that’s really usefull for me, actually I have the related blog like you, I hope you can check on http://www.winebarrels.blogspot.com, I hope it will be usefull for u.

    Reply

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