Take the 2-minute tour ×
History Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for historians and history buffs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I've heard some kind of story that after the Romans would conquer a new village or city, they would pour wine (or other alcohol?) down the wells to kill the bacteria and make it safe for future drinking. Has anyone ever heard of such a story?

share|improve this question
    
Never but now I am curious. –  sealz Feb 16 '12 at 22:24
3  
Sounds plausible, do you have any sources on where you heard this? –  MichaelF Feb 17 '12 at 13:37
    
It came up in passing in conversation, that's why I suspected it might be an old wives' tale of sorts. –  ChaimKut Feb 19 '12 at 11:55
    
I believe, although I too only have heard it second hand, it was "sour wine", and the concept of "bad water" certainly did exist, even if they knew nothing about bacteria.. Incidentally, "sour wine" is, of course, vinegar! –  user1574 Nov 27 '12 at 22:09

1 Answer 1

up vote 9 down vote accepted
+25

If you heard that the pouring of wine was to kill bacteria, you know it's a fake. You have to wait till Louis Pasteur for bacteria. Also, unless there was a whole lot of wine/alcohol poured, it would have no effect whatsoever on the water in the well. Wine was very expensive in Roman times -- up to several slaves for a barrel in Gaul around 50BC as Caesar tells us -- unless I remember wrongly the source but I am fairly sure it is Caesar. If Roman were indeed doing so, it would have had nothing to do with making it safe for drinking.

Any wine pouring must have been symbolic or/and religious. Sadly, I do not know of any sources for this.

share|improve this answer
1  
It may not be bacterial but cleansing, though I agree with you they would not know about bacteria but they knew about the health benefits of wine. Although I haven't seen any sources on wine or wells mentioned about the Romans. –  MichaelF Feb 20 '12 at 17:32
1  
@MichaelF: Agreed. My point was that if the stated reason was bacteria, then it would be bs. However, cleansing as part of a religious ritual is probable. I still would fail to see how a bottle or two of wine would purify the waters in a well. –  Sardathrion Feb 21 '12 at 7:13
    
I recently found this interview which makes no mention of the practice either (though admittedly his expertise is Classics and not in biology or the history of science): pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/roman-aqueducts.html –  ChaimKut Nov 29 '12 at 9:11

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.