Caecuban wine (Latin: Caecubum, Greek: Kaikoubos) came from a small territory, ager Caecubus, at Amyclae in coastal Latium. (In the modern day area known as the Pontine Marshes). Varro, around 70 BC, already regarded this district as a place of legendary wealth. Strabo detailed the area's reputation for wine as he described the location "The Caecuban Plain borders on the Gulf of Caietas; and next to the plain comes Fundi, situated on the Appian Way. All these places produce exceedingly good wine; indeed, the Caecuban and the Fundanian and the Setinian belong to the class of wines that are widely famed, as is the case with the Falernian and the Alban and the Statanian.” (Geography V.3.6)
To many in the 1st century BC, Caecuban was the best of all wines, smoother than Falernian wine, fuller than Alban wine, strong and intoxicating. It was a white wine which turned fire-coloured as it aged. Dioscorides describes it as glykys "sweet". Athenaeus describes it as overpowering and strong, maturing only after many years time (Deipnosophistae, I.27a).
Occurrences in Horace Odes
As a testament to its popularity, Caecuban wine makes several appearances in the odes of Horace. In Ode 1.20, Horace gives Caecuban a greater stature then Falernian as he invites his prominent friend, Maecenas to drink with him.
- Then thou shalt drink Caecuban and the juice
- of grapes crushed by Cales' presses; my cups
- are flavoured neither with the product of
- Falernum's vines nor of the Formian hills.
Horace mentions Caecuban often in connection with celebrating particularly momentous occasions, such as Octavian’s defeat of Antony and Cleopatra.(Odes 1.37.5) and in Ode IX where he speaks again to Maecenas,
- When, O happy Maecenas, shall I,
- overjoyed at Caesar’s being victorious,
- drink with you under the stately dome (for so it pleases Jove)
- the Caecuban reserved for festal entertainments,
- while the lyre plays a tune, accompanied with flutes,
- that in the Doric, these in the Phrygian measure?
Decline and disappearance
The popularity of Caecuban seemed to have hit its apex in Horace’s time. Following the ascension of Augustus to power, Setinum was declared the Imperial wine-namely (according to Pliny) because it did not cause him indigestion and it rose in popularity accordingly (Natural History XIV.61). Pliny noted that the vineyard was starting to fall into neglect when Nero tore up the area, under the pretence of a planned ship canal across the land, in order to undertake excavations to find the legendary treasure of Dido which was supposed to have been buried there. The destruction of Caecuban’s single vineyard extinguished the wine completely; but in Martial’s time, if his words can be relied on, Caecuban wine was still maturing in cellars at Amyclae. Galen is the last person on record to have tasted Caecuban wine, nearly a century after it ceased to be made.
Among the grape varieties that have been speculated to be behind the ancient wine is the Abbuoto grape that is still grown in the Lazio region of central Italy today. However, wine experts and historians such as Jancis Robinson and Julia Harding cast doubt that the red Abbuoto grape was likely responsible for the ancient white wine.
- Roman Vintages
- Odes 1.20
- Horace: Some Odes in English Translation
- The Works of Horace - The Book of the Epodes of Horace. (by Horace)
- Roman Wine
- Hugh Johnson, Vintage: The Story of Wine p. 62. Simon and Schuster 1989.
- J. Robinson, J. Harding and J. Vouillamoz Wine Grapes - A complete guide to 1,368 vine varieties, including their origins and flavours pg 3, Allen Lane 2012 ISBN 978-1-846-14446-2
- Horace, Odes 2.14.25-28
- Dioscorides, Materia Medica 5.6.7, 5.6.11
- Pliny, Naturalis Historia 14.61, 23.35
- Galen 6.805, 6.809, 10.834
- Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum 15.4545-4548
- André Tchernia, Le vin de l'Italie romaine: essai d'histoire économique d'après les amphores. Rome: Ecole Française de Rome, 1986.
- Andrew Dalby, Empire of pleasures: luxury and indulgence in the Roman Empire. London, New York: Routledge, 2000. ISBN 0-415-18624-2.