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?

  • Never but now I am curious.
    – sealz
    Feb 16, 2012 at 22:24
  • 3
    Sounds plausible, do you have any sources on where you heard this?
    – MichaelF
    Feb 17, 2012 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, 2012 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, 2012 at 22:09

1 Answer 1


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.

  • 2
    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, 2012 at 17:32
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    @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. Feb 21, 2012 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, 2012 at 9:11

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