Mosaic pieces from the history of winemaking in Szekszárd

In and around Szekszárd, just like all over Hungary, ancient texts and relics predating the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin clearly demonstrate that the culture of growing grapes and making wine has a long and strong tradition in the region.

The first examples of undisputed textual evidence take us back to the time of Christ’s birth. In order to strengthen his control over the Amber Route the Roman Emperor Augustus occupied the inner parts of Pannonia. By the end of the 1st century the expansion of the Roman dominions to the Danube was completed. Archaeological field studies and ground-penetrating radargrams clearly show that the fortress of Alisca that is popularly connected to Szekszárd is actually located at the site of Gábor-major close to Őcsény and is yet to be excavated.

It is scripts by the highly developed Roman government which record the peoples inhabiting the area before the establishment of the Province of Pannonia, namely the Iron Age Scythians and Celts. The Celtic period lasted for about 500 years. They have left no written records but this was a tribal-based empire of the Iron Age that utilized iron as weapon with high efficiency and great success. It was in the South Transdanubian area – which today includes Tolna County – where the tribe called „Herciunates” lived.

According to Latin sources both the Celts and the Scythians consumed fermented alcoholic beverages. The consumption of beer is clearly indicated but it is almost certain that with their developed commercial connections they imported wine from the Mediterranean Basin.

The arrival of the Romans brought along the integration of peoples inhabiting the region, close cooperation with other peoples living beyond the Limes, commercial links, the opportunity of Romanization and the cosmopolitan tumult of the integration process into a world power. It isn’t established yet whether there was grape production in the region before the Roman times but there is a large body of historical evidence showing a highly developed Roman viticulture and the proselytization of a sophisticated way of life which involved wine consumption.

The „Szekszárd wine region” of the Roman era was not typically connected to major cities but to smaller settlements within the province. Villa farms with large holdings were established around the small, standardized fortresses which protected the Empire’s borders and they were connected by arterials and local roads facilitating a booming commerce. Among other goods terra sigillata pottery and glassware were imported from the Rhine region and wine was exported to regions afar.

The sarcophagus found in Szekszárd which is adorned by vine motives on its side was originally made in Sirmium (Szávaszentdemeter, Mitrovica) which is 300 km away from Szekszárd in what is today Croatia. So it is not a direct proof of viticulture in Szekszárd but other relics of growing grapes (kacorok) have been found in the area, e.g. near Őcsény.

In A.D. 425 the Romans surrendered the province of Valeria to the Huns, the part of East Transdanubia which also includes Szekszárd. Then other partly Romanized tribes arrived and settled – Langobards, Gepids, Avars, Goths – and under the Avar rule the Slavs as well. In Transdanubia there is a voluminous body of archaeological findings dating from the 6th and 7th centuries left behind by people of Germanic descent. During the construction works of the M6 motorway wells from the Avar period were excavated and the sludge samples contained grape seeds. So grapes as fruit must have played a part in the everyday lives of local people and in this respect at least its significance can be established.

The transitory period until the Hungarian conquest of the Carpathian Basin lasted for six centuries. The arriving Hungarians witnessed the surviving areas of viticulture centered around the villa farms of the Roman times.

The beginning of this period is marked by the development of feudalism, Latin customs and legal system, the emergence and strengthening of the institutions of Christianity. Though written relics directly connected to our region are scarce, there is abundant archaeological data which indicates that this turbulent period which brought about fundamental changes sometimes even within a few generations was strongly influenced by Latin culture and customs and a certain kind of Romanization tendency. Therefore  wine was undoubtedly loved and it played an important role in the lives of people in our region.