Strabo (4.1.2), The Grains of Gaul

προϊόντι δ᾽ ἐπὶ τὰς ἄρκτους καὶ τὸ Κέμμενον ὄρος ἡ μὲν ἐλαιόφυτος καὶ συκοφόρος ἐκλείπει, τἆλλα δὲ φύεται. καὶ ἡ ἄμπελος δὲ προϊοῦσιν οὐ ῥᾳδίως τελεσφορεῖ: ἡ δ᾽ ἄλλη πᾶσα σῖτον φέρει πολὺν καὶ κέγχρον καὶ βάλανον καὶ βοσκήματα παντοῖα, ἀργὸν δ᾽ αὐτῆς οὐδὲν πλὴν εἴ τι ἕλεσι κεκώλυται καὶ δρυμοῖς: καίτοι καὶ τοῦτο συνοικεῖται πολυανθρωπίᾳ μᾶλλον ἢ ἐπιμελείᾳ. καὶ γὰρ τοκάδες αἱ γυναῖκες καὶ τρέφειν ἀγαθαί, οἱ δ᾽ ἄνδρες μαχηταὶ μᾶλλον ἢ γεωργοί.

[. . .] Proceeding to the north and the Kemmenos Mountain [Cévennes Mountains] where one passes over the olive-fruiting and fig-bearing land, [to where] other things grow. There. the grape-vine does not easily reach maturity, but the rest of the country bears much grain, millet, acorn, and all kinds of livestock. Nothing is untilled except if [the land] is hindered by marsh or thicket. Still, these areas are inhabited – due to the large population, rather than their hard-work. For the women are not only fertile, but they also nurse well; and. the men are fighters rather, than farmers.

Background
This is a continuation of the series that examines the “Grains of Gaul.” Previously, we read Pliny the Elder’s description of the grains harvested in Gaul. This (less-detailed) passage was written a hundred years before Pliny, but does not contradict the later account.

Commentary
Strabo confirms that the Gauls love their grains. However, we are not provided with a description of the specific grains that were grown in the region. The reference to millet (kengchros/κέγχρον) is confirmed in Pliny (18.72 – milium/panicum) where we learn that, unusually, the Gauls picked that grain manually with a type of comb – very time consuming work! Previously, BCS brewed beer with millet before (check it out!) [we certainly have more millet brews planned]. To my knowledge, there is no evidence that the Gauls brewed millet beers like the Pannonians and the Ethiopians did.

This passage contrasts the olive-, grape- and fig-bearing lands of the south (e.g. Italy/Greece) with that of the fertile grain-producing soil. Because of these differences in environment, several authors have concluded that the Gauls (and others) turned to beer rather than wine for their alcoholic beverage of choice (1, 2, 3, 4). The additional implication, of course, is that wine is the superior drink and that beer was a drink of necessity.

Aside from its description of Gallic gains, this passage also offers more insight into the broader diet of the Gauls. For me, this is useful, because, in the long-term, I hope to recreate region-specific, ancient beer-and-food pairings. This passage can contribute a spectrum of ingredients for considering Gallic ingredients: grain, acorns, millet, and livestock. Other than acorns, there is nothing unusual to the modern, western diet, but We know that their fellow Celts in Spain washed down their buttered acorn cakes (mmm. . . acorn cakes) with beer. Salud!

Author’s Note
Strabo (64/3 BCE-ca. 24 CE)
Greek geographer during the Roman era. He traveled extensively, writing about many of the regions that he visited.

Image Source
Wikimedia Commons. Cévennes Mountains, by Serge Bibauw

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