Georgia made wine for Roman legionnaires

(ORDO NEWS) — An ancient winery was found near Batumi. Archaeologists believe that the consumers of the produced drink were the soldiers of the Roman fort Apsar.

A Polish-Georgian group of archaeologists has completed another season of excavations in the village of Gonio (Adzharia, Georgia).

Now it’s just a small Black Sea resort. But two thousand years ago this place was of great strategic importance, so there was (and still is, although not in very good condition) the Roman fort Apsaros.

Having scanned the area with the help of lidar, archaeologists have identified anomalies in the relief and thus determined the place where it is best to start excavations.

As a result, they found a winery a few hundred meters from the fortress wall, which, according to preliminary dating, is at least 1800 years old.

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The winery found this season was only a few hundred meters from the fortress wall

Apsara is first mentioned in the writings of Pliny the Younger (1st century AD) as an important fortress on the border of the Roman province of Cappadocia.

The only convenient road from Colchis (now it is Abkhazia, Western Georgia, Adzharia) to the Roman provinces of Asia Minor once passed near the fortress.

According to the rules of fortification and land development around fortifications adopted in the Roman Empire, this territory should be undeveloped: it is easier to defend this way.

But people have always been interested in doing business, so often – contrary to accepted norms – there were wineries or lupanaria next to military fortresses .

The owners of such enterprises were usually the veterans themselves – retired legionnaires who opened a profitable business thanks to good connections with the commandant of the fortress.

And there is no need to look for a market: the products were most likely consumed by legionnaires and auxiliary troops (soldiers without Roman citizenship) stationed in Apsara.

The researchers studied the winery and, based on this, suggested what type of wine was produced there. In addition to the grape press, they found clay vessels that had once been dug into the ground.

These vessels are kvevri, special ceramic products for making wine, which are also known in modern Georgia.

Qvevri is a conical clay vessel of a very large size – it usually contains one to two thousand liters of wine must. Although there are qvevris of much larger size – holding up to eight thousand liters – and very small ones, about the size of an ordinary jug.

The oldest items found today are at least five thousand years old. According to historians, the form and purpose of Qvevri have not changed over the past three thousand years.

The taste of wine made with Qvevri differs markedly from alcohol aged in barrels or steel tanks: it is sweeter and earthier.

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Modern Qvevris in Georgia

Researchers believe that the winery was built at the beginning of the 2nd century AD, it worked until the beginning of the 3rd century AD – while the Roman garrison was in the fortress.

Later, the production turned out to be abandoned, which clearly indicates that it was the Roman soldiers who were the consumers of the wine, and not the locals.

In the 2nd century AD, five cohorts were stationed in Apsara – at least a thousand people each (by that time the numerical composition of the cohorts had greatly increased compared to the times of Octavian Augustus).

Although Pliny the Younger called Apsar a fort (castra), in fact, it was a fairly large military town with a developed infrastructure. Even a hippodrome and a theater were located inside the fortress walls.

Scientists believe that there was a farm near the winery where grapes were grown, although traces of it have not yet been found.

It is noteworthy that the building of the winery has design features typical of the local wine-growing tradition, but a mortar typical of Roman construction was used to seal the working surface and the must tank.

The head of the archaeological group noted that Western Georgia is not the best place to produce wine because of the climate. In his opinion, it would be more expedient to make beer there.

Despite this, the ancients decided to do just that: most likely, the owner of the business knew from personal experience what drinks the legionnaires preferred, and it was not beer.

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