Rome's Imperial Leaders Once Made Vast Quantities of Wine

University of Sheffield
University of Sheffield / University of Sheffield

Researchers recently discovered evidence of industrial wine production while excavating a vast imperial estate called Vagnari in southeast Italy, Archaeology reports. Turns out, residents of the Roman Empire's greatest landholding once manufactured a lot of alcohol.

Vagnari sits east of the Apennine Mountains in Puglia, and was once connected to Rome by one of Italy’s main Roman roads, the Via Appia. The Roman empire conquered the large territory sometime during the early 1st century CE and transformed it into imperial landholdings. It previously contained a central village, a cemetery, and a villa that possibly belonged to the estate’s manager.

In 2015, archaeologists from the University of Sheffield were excavating Vagnari when they discovered a large stone-built complex dating back to the second century CE. According to online magazine site Past Horizons, its collection of rooms connected to a cella vinaria—a wine fermentation and storage room. There, the team of researchers found three heavy wine vats buried up to their necks in the ground, which would have helped keep the beverage cool.

The vats had the capacity to hold more than 1000 liters; they were “impossible to move—they were in the ground and stayed there for a long time and were reused year after year,” said excavation leader Maureen Carroll. “The Roman agricultural writers said it was a good idea round late summer to clean out what was left, give them a good rub, and reline them with pitch.”

The archaeologists still haven't determined whether the wine produced at Vagnari was consumed or sold, but considering the scale of viticulture, it was likely the latter, they say. They plan to excavate more of the cella vinaria, find how much wine it made, and “determine how diverse the estate’s economy was, and how the cultivation of vines and wine-making fitted into the emperor’s wider agricultural and industrial landscape,” Carroll said.

Which emperor? The archaeologists didn't specify. Nine emperors ruled during the 2nd century CE (two of them for mere months), among them Trajan, Hadrian, and Marcus Aurelius.

[h/t Archaeology]