Why did ancient Greeks and Romans mix their wine with water?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Why did ancient Greeks and Romans mix their wine with water?

—Dennis, Juneau, Alaska

Dear Dennis,

As far as we can tell, ancient Greeks started the practice. It was considered "civilized" to dilute wine with water (or snow when it got cold). But it was also believed only barbarians drank the stuff unmixed. While there is evidence that Hippocrates thought that wine was part of a healthy diet, he also had concerns that undiluted wine could have negative affects.

The Romans also liked the practice. Their fancy aqueducts were great for transporting water, but the water was often stagnant. Mixing the water with wine killed some of the potentially harmful bacteria.

I’ve read various accounts of the ratio—anywhere from 20 parts water to 1 part wine to something closer to 3 to 1. The Romans weren't putting water into their wine so much as they were putting wine into their water.

—Dr. Vinny

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