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Chemical evidence for the persistence of wine production and trade in Early Medieval Islamic Sicily

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JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA
DateAccepted/In press - 12 Jan 2021
DateE-pub ahead of print - 22 Feb 2021
DatePublished (current) - 9 Mar 2021
Issue number10
Volume118
Number of pages8
Early online date22/02/21
Original languageUndefined/Unknown

Abstract

As a high-value luxury commodity, wine has been transported across the Mediterranean since the Bronze Age. The wine trade was potentially disrupted during political and religious change brought about by Islamization in the Early Medieval period; wine consumption is prohibited in Islamic scripture. Utilizing a quantitative criterion based on the relative amounts of two fruit acids in transport amphorae, we show that wine was exported from Sicily beyond the arrival of Islam in the ninth century, including to Christian regions of the central Mediterranean. This finding is significant for understanding how regime change affected trade in the Middle Ages. We also outline a robust analytical approach for detecting wine in archaeological ceramics that will be useful elucidating viniculture more broadly.Although wine was unquestionably one of the most important commodities traded in the Mediterranean during the Roman Empire, less is known about wine commerce after its fall and whether the trade continued in regions under Islamic control. To investigate, here we undertook systematic analysis of grapevine products in archaeological ceramics, encompassing the chemical analysis of 109 transport amphorae from the fifth to the eleventh centuries, as well as numerous control samples. By quantifying tartaric acid in relation to malic acid, we were able to distinguish grapevines from other fruit-based products with a high degree of confidence. Using these quantitative criteria, we show beyond doubt that wine continued to be traded through Sicily during the Islamic period. Wine was supplied locally within Sicily but also exported from Palermo to ports under Christian control. Such direct evidence supports the notion that Sicilian merchants continued to capitalize on profitable Mediterranean trade networks during the Islamic period, including the trade in products prohibited by the Islamic hadiths, and that the relationship between wine and the rise of Islam was far from straightforward.All study data are included in the article and/or SI Appendix.

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