Iron Age Celts bonded over love of wine, suggests study

Iron Age Celts bonded over love of wine, suggests study

Story by – Chris Mercer
in Decanter

Celts in southern Germany were sipping Mediterranean wine by the Danube river up to 2,700 years ago, and it wasn’t just for social elites, suggests new evidence. 

A recreation of how Heuneburg might have looked in the early sixth century BC

Iron Age Celts were drinking wine in what is now Germany’s Baden-Württemberg region long before the Romans arrived, according to a new peer-reviewed study published in the PLOS One journal.

Researchers analysed 133 vessels, from local drinking goblets to imported jugs, to learn about life in the hillfort of Heuneburg between the seventh and fifth centuries BC.

What they found also challenged a commonly held view that imported wine had  always been the preserve of social elites in Celtic societies.  Twenty-four vessels analysed contained traces of tartaric acid, which is considered an archaeological calling card for wine.

Grape wine consumed at the Heuneburg was probably imported from the Mediterranean, said the researchers, who found no evidence of winemaking in the area.  Unlike recent results from a similar site in Burgundy, wine traces were found in both imported and locally made vessels, and from both poorer and richer areas.

This suggests wine was more of an everyday drink that helped to define the community’s identity, said the researchers.  Maybe labor was even mobilized by “work-party feasts” that included wine consumption,’ they said, citing a theory in earlier research.

But things changed and wine appeared to become more of a status symbol.

By the late sixth century, wine was only drunk from imported Attic pottery and from a new-wave of wheel-made pottery, researchers said.

Perhaps wine consumption became more conspicuous, they said.

Certain actors within Early Celtic society seem to have managed to transform the meaning of wine by successfully limiting its consumption to certain vessels and spaces.

This, said researchers, could have been a turning point and might be why Greek writer Poseidonius would remark several centuries later that Celtic elites drank wine whereas the lower parts of Celtic society consumed beer.