Fill with beer!
Inscriptions are essential evidence for Classicists (and other scholars) because they can enlighten us about aspects of daily, political, and social life that are often unseen, colored, or not noted in extant literature. They often convey a public message that was meant to be read or understood by any passerby or a more personal note to be shared among a select audience. With the study of inscriptions (epigraphy), the physical objects themselves must be considered in order to effectively interpret the audience for the inscription and its socio-cultural meaning. This requires an understanding of the inscription’s context, such as its place of discovery, physical form, and accompanying art. Thus, even short inscriptions (like the above) can shed an important light on the ancient world.
Today’s inscription is found on a drinking vessel with one line of writing on opposite sides. Although fragmentary, the vessel likely records two identical inscriptions (Déchelette 1904; Nelson 2005, 143). An earlier interpretation of the first line, however, reconstructs the inscription as “cervesariis feliciter” i.e. “blessings to the brewers,” a type of “cheers?” (de Barthélemy 1877).
This inscription was found in Banassac, France and is/was housed in the St. Germain museum (no. 19664). Although undated, its use of Latin, subject matter, and find location suggests it was inscribed by or for a local of the Roman province of Aquitania Gaul. This demonstrates that there most likely were beer-drinkers living and practicing their liquid habits in this location during the Roman period.
Beer-drinking among the ancients who lived in the region of the modern state of France will not come as a surprise to BCS’s regular readers (remember: in our first post, Pliny the Elder mentioned the hygenic benefits of beer in Gaul). The Celtic Gauls, i.e. the northern neighbors to the Romans (modern France), in fact, are well-known as beer drinkers in antiquity (Celtic word: cervesia). But, how did they become some of the finest craftsmen of the vine by our modern era? They copied the Romans, of course! After bringing the vine back to their homeland, elite Gauls developed a preference for wine and used the practice of wine-drinking to associate themselves with the wealthy and powerful Romans while distinguishing themselves as a class separate from the beer-drinking, Gallic hoi poloi. Yes, that is right! Originally, the French were beer geeks! And, this inscription tells us that one ancient Gaul couldn’t get enough of his/her ancient brew.
de Barthélemy, A. 1877. “Vases sigillés et épigraphiques de fabrique Gallo-Romaine.” Gazette Archéologique 3: 172-181.
Déchelette, J. 1904. Les vases céramiques ornés de la Gaule romaine. Paris
Hirschfeld, O. and C. Zangmeister 1905. Inscriptiones Trium Galliarum et Germaniarum Latinae. Part 2.1.
Nelson, M. 2001. “Beer in Greco-Roman Antiquity.” Ph.D. dissertation, University of British Columbia, p. 388.
Nelson, M. 2005. Barbarian’s Beverage. London: Routledge, p. 143.
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