National Geographic : 2017 Feb
52 national geographic • february 2017 and regional capital. In the second and first cen- turies b.c. it was home to as many as 10,000 people. The town had a marketplace, a temple, taverns, a theater, and hundreds of houses. Corent, Poux says, is a vivid example of alco- hol’s role as cultural glue, social lubricant, and status symbol—and inciter of violence. There’s no need for sophisticated analysis to determine what the inhabitants preferred to pour. Around 140 b.c., eight decades before Julius Caesar’s invasion, Corent’s elites developed a ferocious taste for Roman wine. The evidence, in the shape of shattered clay wine jars, or amphorae, is so abundant that it crunches underfoot as Poux leads me across the site. Archaeologists have uncovered at least 50 tons of broken amphorae here; Poux estimates that 500 tons more remain on the hilltop. Bending down, he plucks a palm-size chunk of fired clay flecked with black volcanic glass from the dirt and hands it to me. “ We have millions of amphora sherds, all imported from Italy,” he says. “ This one has obsidian in it—you can tell it came from the countryside near Mount Vesuvius.” Roman vintners, whose elite Roman clients preferred white wines, tended vast plantations of red wine grapes for the Celtic market; traders moved the wine across the Mediterranean, in ships that carried up to 10,000 amphorae each, and then sent it north on small river barges. By the time it reached Corent months later, its value had multiplied a hundredfold. One contempo- rary claimed the thirsty Celts would trade a slave for a single jar. Wine was the focus of elaborate rituals that ce- mented the status of the tribal leaders. Things of- ten got rowdy. “ The ceremonies were pompous, official—and brutal too, with sacrificial victims and sword fights breaking out over portions of meat,” Poux says. “ Warriors drank heavily before battle and went into battle drunk.” Amphorae weren’t merely opened; they were beheaded with swords. By paving their streets with the broken jars, Poux says, the rulers of Corent flaunted their wealth and power. By his calculations, the Celts living here went through 50,000 to 100,000 wine jars over the course of a century, the equivalent of 28,000 JASON TREAT AND RYAN T. WILLIAMS, NGM STAFF SOURCES: WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION GLOBAL HEALTH OBSERVATORY; UN POPULATION DIVISION 2010 per capita consumption, age 15+ Alcohol content of beverages, in quarts Other Palm wine, mead, and other commercially available beverages Unrecorded Alcoholic beverages outside of government control, such as homemade brews and moonshine 8.7 5.5 8.9 10.7 12.8 6.9 5.3 Beer Wine Spirits ASIA AFRICA NORTH AMERICA SOUTH AMERICA EUROPE WORLD AUSTRALIA/ OCEANIA The Drinking World People in wealthy regions with long drinking traditions, such as Europe, tend to drink the most. Abstainers are more often found in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, where laws or tradition limit consumption.