Dr Shaun A. Mudd

Department: Classics and Ancient History
Discipline: Classics and Ancient History

Project Summary

Constructive Drinking in the Roman Empire: The First to Third Centuries AD

My thesis explores ancient ideas regarding the constructive properties of intoxicating drinks, as presented in Greco-Roman sources from the first to third centuries AD.  In doing so, it responds to Mary Douglas’ Constructive Drinking (1987), which emphasised that, contrary to anthropological findings, many societies’ authorities tend to focus upon, and overemphasise, the destructive aspects of alcohol consumption.  This pattern is particularly prevalent in modern Western scholarship.

The same trend can be detected within both Greco-Roman society and classical scholarship.  Although many Greeks and Romans undoubtedly consumed quantities of wine, on a regular basis, in a manner which was widely considered ‘moderate’, the literary evidence from this period tends to focus most heavily upon excessive and/or destructive drinking.  Similarly, much of the modern scholarship which addresses drinking in the Roman Empire focuses upon drunkenness and the destructive aspects of drinking. 

Yet it is clear that Greco-Roman society considered wine consumption to be significantly beneficial, in a wide variety of ways, provided that moderation was employed.  The destructive consequences of drinking were almost exclusively associated with excessive and inappropriate consumption.

In reaction to this bias in the sources and scholarship, this thesis undertakes a re-reading of the ancient evidence through the ‘Constructive Drinking’ lens.  It identifies and explores the ways in which the Greeks and Romans of this period considered drinking to be important, useful, or otherwise ‘constructive’ to the individual and society.  Where possible, this thesis attempts to identify how important and widespread such beliefs were. 

This thesis has two main areas of focus.  First, the ways in which intoxicating drink was considered to be constructive for an individual’s health and wellbeing.  Second, the ways in which intoxicating drink was considered to be of social benefit to both individuals and groups.  This thesis accordingly provides a fresh perspective on drinking in antiquity, and illustrates the methodological significance of the Constructive Drinking lens for future research.

Supervisory Team

Professor John Wilkins ; Dr Martin Pitts

Authored Publications/Reports

Mudd, S.A. (2015) ‘“Don’t be Thirsty!” Wine Beakers with Drinking Mottos in Roman Britain’, in: D. Toner and M. Hailwood (eds.) Biographies of Drink: A Case Study Approach to our Historical Relationship with Alcohol. Newcastle. 72-99. (ISBN: 9781443871556)

Mudd, S.A. (2014) ‘Vinum vires: Trier Black-Slipped Ware and Constructive Drinking in Roman Britain’, in: M.A. Janković, V.D. Mihajlović and S. Babić (eds.) The Edges of the Roman World. Newcastle. 86-104. (ISBN: 9781443858991)