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‘Wine-contamination’ of the Adriatic: Examples of punishing wine smugglers from medieval Dubrovnik

“Wine-contamination” of the Adriatic: Examples of punishing wine smugglers from medieval Dubrovnik

By Gordan Ravančić

Acta Histriae, Vol.22:4 (2014)

Wine in the 16th century

Abstract: Strict import-export regulations of the medieval Dubrovnik (Ragusean) authorities included also a rather rigid control of the wine trade. Namely, since wine was considered as important nutrition sustenance, these regulations included not only wine import from foreign countries, but also control over the inner trade within the borders of Dubrovnik district (later The Republic of Dubrovnik). Each violation of these regulations was followed by high fines and shedding of the smuggled wine to the sea. However, during the 14th century these regulations had softened and spilling of the wine was substituted with some other forms of punishment.

Introduction: Questions and problems regarding medieval wine-trade on Mediterranean are rather well elaborated in the existing historiography. Undoubtedly wine was quite an important commodity and – as far as regarding Mediterranean – it was not luxurious merchandise. Its importance was tightly connected with the fact that wine, and its production, were one of the foundations/basis of the daily life in the Mediterranean basin.

Pre-modern Dubrovnik in any sense was a part of this pre-modern Mediterranean world, and thus in medieval Dubrovnik situation regarding wine and its daily usage was not different than in any other pre-modern (medieval) city on the Adriatic coast. Wine, its production and trade was an important part of Dubrovnik’s economy which is quite obvious even from Dubrovnik’s medieval statutes, since there are 26 ordinances regarding the treatment of grapes and vine, 9 ordinances regarding vintage, and 20 ordinances regarding wine-trade. In comparison to some other medieval cities on the eastern Adriatic coast like Split and Trogir which had far less ordinances regarding the wine-trade, one has to note that Dubrovnik authorities obviously considered wine and grapes very important for their city.

Moreover, as Major Council of Dubrovnik explicitly stated in one of their conclusions in 1415 wine was considered as one of the first and most necessary things for the health of the human body (“vna de principalioribus et neccesarioribus rebus requisitis sanitati corporum humanorum”). Such a statement reveals the fact that wine in medieval Dubrovnik was considered not only as food trading commodity but primarily as foodstuff with valuable nutritional sustenance. Such an opinion can be corroborated with many examples where wine was given as addition meal to the laborers who worked at communal (public) edifices. Still, the fact that wine contains alcohol could cause in daily life many “problems”, since extensive drinking could lead to alcoholism and possibly to violence.

By the same token, wine and its usage left some trace in Dubrovnik’s contemporary literature. Namely, famous tradesman and author of merchants’ manual Benedetto Cotrugli in his study Della mercatura e del mercante perfetto wrote also about wine and its value in business and daily life. He states that any respectable merchant should have own vineyard and wine cellar, but also that one should be careful with wine consumption since love towards wine drinking could damage his business. Moreover, Cotrugli reveals that extensive drinking can cause spiritual lethargy, impotence and various other diseases.

Click here to read this article from Acta Histriae

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