Previously in Realm of History, we had covered a variety of world’s oldest stuff, ranging from bizarre masks to prosthetic limbs. Well this time around, bringing classiness back into culture, we have come across what is widely believed to be the world’s oldest known unopened bottle of wine. Known as The Römerwein, or Speyer wine bottle (named after the Speyer region of Germany), the ‘vintage’ object was originally discovered in 1867 from the Rhineland-Palatine area of Germany. Dated from a period between the years 325 and 359 AD, the unopened bottle of wine was located inside the tomb of a Roman noble.
The design of the decanter in question is pretty sophisticated with its hefty amphora like bearing with dolphin-shaped shoulders, complemented by a yellowish green tint. And in case you are wondering, the 1.5 liter capacity glass vessel and its contents were preserved in an adequate manner with a special mixture entailing olive oil, along with a thick wax plug that sealed the bottle.
Now the question naturally arises – why is the Speyer wine bottle still unopened after almost 1,700 years of its making? Well for one thing, while scientists have wanted to analyse the remnant contents of this ancient Roman wine vessel, they have stopped short because of concerns over the scenario of a potentially unstable interaction of the liquid with the outside environment – that could result in the irreversible deterioration of the entire content.
This leads us to the speculation surrounding the existing liquid inside the Speyer wine bottle. Researchers have hypothesized that the extant content has possibly lost much of its ethanol volume, though the vessel might just still boast its fair share of actual wine fortified with various herbs. Pertaining to the latter, the ancient Romans were known to have added honey, seawater and even lead to their wine (for sweetening), along with dashes of spices and herbs for flavor (like lavender and thyme).
Interestingly enough, a Roman named Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella, who rose from the ranks of a soldier to a tribune and then changed his profession to a winemaker, wrote detailed guides on producing wine. His instructions, along with the tips provided by Virgil in the Georgics (his poem about agriculture), helped researchers at the University of Catania to recreate ancient wine-making recipes and techniques.
And lastly, reverting to the Speyer wine bottle and its original owner, some historians have theorized that the deceased man was a high ranking Roman legionary. His tomb contained two sarcophagi, with the other compartment containing the remains of a woman. To that end, the interring of the preserved wine bottle as a funerary object was possibly a symbolic gesture that wished ‘good health’ (and acted as provision) for their ‘celestial’ journey.