Why Did The Ancient Romans Drink Watered Wine

Historical Context

The ancient Romans had a fondness for drinking, which was largely due to the fact that much of Rome and its surrounding region was a hot, arid place with limited sources of drinking water. As a result, the Romans often watered their wine to make it last longer. This practice was so commonplace that the Latin word for “to water down” literally translates to “to Romanize.”

According to historical accounts, the Roman citizens would typically dilute their wine with an equal part of water, leading to a beverage known variously as “half-and-half” or “mix.” This was the most popular way of drinking wine in ancient Rome, where citizens of all social classes routinely drank watered wine. Ancient Roman texts from the first century BC, including works like Cato’s De agri cultura, and Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis Historia, provide evidence of the widespread use of watered wine in Rome at the time.

Nutritional Value of Watered Wine

In addition to its widespread availability, drinking watered wine had a number of practical benefits. Firstly, it was believed that the combination of water and wine was healthier than drinking wine alone. Pliny the Elder, for example, believed that the mixture was ideal for treating a number of medical conditions. Furthermore, by diluting their wine, the Romans were able to enhance its flavor and enjoy it for longer.

Another important factor was that watering down the wine allowed it to be more cheaply produced. This allowed the Romans to produce a large supply of the beverage, and was likely a major reason why the practice of watered wine was so popular during that time.

Social aspect

The custom of diluting wine with water was also deeply embedded in Roman culture, as seen in various stories, poems and plays. Cicero, for example, describes in one of his letters how he and his friends drank watered wine in the middle of the night, while in the poem Aeneid, Virgil describes the custom of watering down wine with several cups of water.

The practice of drinking watered wine was also linked to certain social codes. For instance, it was customary for anyone arriving at a Roman dinner party to be offered a cup of watered wine before the main meal was served. This was seen as a sign of hospitality and good manners. As such, if a guest refused the watered wine, it was seen as a sign of disrespect.


Watered wine also held an important symbolic meaning in Roman culture. At a mundane level, it was seen as a sign of civility and good manners, while at a more profound level it was used to symbolize friendship and solidarity. Ancient Roman poets such as Catullus even went so far as to describe the mixture of water and wine as a metaphor for the perfect union of two people in love.

Finally, the practice of drinking watered wine was also used to symbolize the importance of moderation. Ancient Rome had a reputation for excess, and the Romans viewed drinking watered wine as a way to practice self-control and stay sober.

Modern Relevance

Despite having largely fallen out of practice in the centuries since the fall of the Roman Empire, the custom of drinking watered wine is still remembered today. In modern-day Italy, for example, watered wine is an important part of Italian cuisine, and a number of Italian wineries produce wines that are made to be diluted with water.

Furthermore, watered wine is making a comeback in popular culture, thanks to the revival of ancient Roman cuisine. In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of restaurants and bars offering watered wine, as well as a growing interest in the history and culture of ancient Roman drinking habits.

Legal Implications

It’s worth noting that, while watered wine is still legal in some parts of the world, it is important to be aware of the potential legal implications. In many countries, including the United States, the sale and consumption of watered wine is strictly regulated, meaning that businesses and consumers alike should be aware of their local laws and regulations before purchasing or consuming watered wine.

Examining Health Benefits

From a health perspective, watered wine appears to be beneficial in moderation. Some studies have indicated that the combination of water and wine can help to reduce inflammation, lower cholesterol, and improve heart health. However, there is also evidence that suggests that excessive consumption of watered wine can also have a negative impact on health.

Furthermore, a number of recent studies have also suggested that drinking watered wine in moderation could help to reduce the risk of certain cancers, including those of the breast, prostate, and stomach. Still, it is important to note that more research is needed in this area to determine the precise benefits of watered wine.

Chemical Composition

Finally, it is also worth considering the chemical composition of watered wine. While the basic ingredients of watered wine are the same as those of regular wine (i.e. grapes, water, and yeast), the chemical composition is slightly different. This is due to the fact that the mix of water and wine is not perfectly homogeneous, meaning that the proportions of the various ingredients will vary from bottle to bottle.

Notably, the amount of alcohol in watered wine is typically lower than in regular wine, as more of the alcohol is diluted in the water. According to US legal standards, for example, a bottle of watered wine is required to contain less than 7% alcohol, whereas a typical bottle of table wine contains around 12-14% alcohol.

Cultural Significance

The practice of drinking watered wine has been a part of Roman culture for centuries, and its significance has not diminished in today’s world. From a nutritional perspective, watered wine can be beneficial in moderation, and it is still widely consumed in Italy and other parts of the world. Not only that, but watered wine continues to be seen as a symbol of friendship and solidarity in many cultures, and its importance is likely to continue for many years to come.

Heritage and Legacy

The legacy of watered wine is still visible in many aspects of modern life in Rome. In addition to the current practice of watering down wine, there are numerous vestiges of the past such as Roman winemaking equipment, vintage drinking vessels, and other artifacts that provide clues to the importance of watered wine in the Roman culture.

Moreover, various festivals dedicated to the practice of drinking watered wine are still celebrated throughout Italy today. For example, during the summer of 2021, the town of Orvieto in the Lazio region will host the annual “Festa della Coupette”, or “Festival of the Cup”. This celebration is a great opportunity to sample traditional watered wine and learn more about the customs of ancient Rome.

Trade Networks and Production Processes

The production and distribution of watered wine was an integral part of the Roman economy, and trade networks spanned far and wide. In addition to local Italian winemakers and merchants, the Romans also had business connections to producers in other countries, such as Ancient Greece and Egypt. This allowed Roman citizens to access a variety of different wines and other beverages, including watered wine.

Moreover, the production process of watered wine was relatively simple. As previously mentioned, the Roman citizens typically used an equal part of water to dilute their wine. This was often followed by bringing the mixture to a simmer, allowing the flavors to combine, and then letting the mixture cool before serving.

Consumer Demands

In ancient Rome, the demand for watered wine was high, and its popularity was particularly strong among the lower classes. This is likely attributed to the fact that it was significantly cheaper than regular wine, allowing those with limited finances to enjoy the beverage. In addition, due to its flavor profile, watered wine was also enjoyed by many wealthier citizens, especially those who were connoisseurs of the beverage.

It is also worth noting that watered wine was often used to entertain guests in a variety of settings. Ancient Roman authors, such as Pliny the Elder, often wrote of the custom of offering watered wine to guests upon their arrival. Furthermore, it was seen as a mark of hospitality and respect to serve guests watered wine at the end of a meal, and it still remains a popular custom in many parts of Italy.


In conclusion, the practice of drinking watered wine has been a part of Roman culture for centuries. During that time, it has been used as a vehicle for expressing friendship, as a symbol of civility, and as a way to practice moderation. Not only that, but it has also been linked to numerous health benefits and is still enjoyed by many citizens of Italy today.

Moshe Rideout is a professional writer and historian whose work focuses on the history of Ancient Rome. Moshe is passionate about understanding the complexity of the Roman Empire, from its architecture to its literature, political systems to social structures. He has a Bachelor's degree in classic studies from Rutgers University and is currently pursuing a PhD in classical archaeology at UMass Amherst. When he isn't researching or writing, he enjoys exploring ruins around Europe, drawing inspiration from his travels.

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