TACITUS, ON THE ORIGIN AND SITUATION OF THE GERMANS, 23.1

Potui humor ex hordeo aut frumento, in quandam similitudinem vini corruptus; proximi ripae et vinum mercantur. cibi simplices, agrestia poma, recens fera aut lac concretum: sine apparatu, sine blandimentis expellunt famem. adversus sitim non eadem temperantia. si indulseris ebrietati suggerendo quantum concupiscunt, haud minus facile vitiis quam armis vincentur.

 

A liquid can be made from barley or wheat, and having been corrupted [i.e. fermented] it is in the same appearance as wine; those living on the banks of the river also buy wine. They expel their hunger with simple food: wild fruits, fresh game and solid milk, all without affect or flourish. They do not have the same moderation with thirst; if you would indulge them with suggestions of drunkenness, they long for it [beer] so much, hardly less easily are they conquered by these vices than by weapons.

Background
Tacitus writes about the German people, the geography, and the local customs during the period of Rome’s greatest expansion.

Commentary
Germans dig beer – both barley brews and weizens. Some in the south even dabble in wine-consumption (it is the land of Riesling, after all).

It is noteworthy that Tacitus uses the word “corruptus” to describe the grain-drink; this gives the impression (to Tacitus) that the Germans drank spoiled/rotten grains, rather than a fermented (“fermentum”) beverage. Thus, Tacitus does not connect the use of yeast in bread with the alcoholic brew.

Finally, I have not been able to find (in my admittedly brief search), the typical color of ancient Roman wine: red or white? I would imagine that the use of grape must (skins, etc.) would result in a red wine. If this is the case, we can imagine a dark color for the German beer and, thus, the use of higher-temp kilned/roasted grains. However, when brewing with a base malt only – as is typical of my homebrew experiments – the resulting beverage is very light in color with a resemblance to white wine. Anyone know the color of ancient wine? This could provide a greater understanding of ancient German beer production processes.

Author’s Note
Tacitus (ca. 56-117 CE)
Roman historian. Less David McCullough and more . . . someone who writes dense history.

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