Wine is a widely affordable commodity in the modern world, and is enjoyed by the upper and lower classes alike. But this wasn’t always the case.
In the ancient world, wine was only available in small quantities and was expensive to transport, so only wealthy elites had access to it. The Assyrians, for instance, viewed wine as a symbol of prestige. In 870 BC, Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal made wine the drink of choice at a massive feast he held for the Empire’s elite, as it showcased his power to import the costly beverage from faraway lands.
Wine also became an integral part of the Ancient Greek social class system. The Greeks learned to produce wine in a way that was slightly more affordable, so it became the preferred drink among the intellectual elite. They exported their wine and wine culture throughout the Mediterranean, which contributed to their expanding influence around the world.
Wine was a status symbol in Ancient Rome, too. When Rome replaced Greece as the region’s dominant power in the second century BC, the Romans imported Greek grape vines into Italy, shifting the center of the wine trade.
Wealthy elites and slaves alike both enjoyed wine, so a person’s social class and status became marked by the kind of wine they drank. The best wines, of course, were reserved for the elite. Falernian, which was first produced in Campania, is still considered one of the world’s finest wines.