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Did the roman army use vinegar?

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Salve, M

In a different context, a few drops of vinegar in water does indeed work if you are very thirsty. The reason as it was explained to me is that if you drink just water, you can never get enough of the stuff, and end up with a full stomach but still thirsty. Add a couple of drops of vinegar, and something in the brain registers an impurity, and cuts down your urge to drink in case you get a large dose of something bad. It's the same reason that though technically a duiretic (needing more water to get out of the system than it puts in) a beer is better at quenching thirst than just water.


I'd be interested to know if there is in fact any documented research on this.

Nowadays, the same as in classical times, folk medicine is basically folklore.


As explained in a previous post, vinegar is fundamentally acetic acid (a weak acid; pKa = 4.8) in aqueous solution (typically 5% to 18% by mass); it has well established antimicrobial properties, but mainly in the context of food preparation, because it is only slightly effective at inhibiting the growth of only some pathogenic bacteria at concentrations that can cause skin irritation and toxic effects on skin cells; even if it is useful in the treatment of some ear infections and jellyfish stings, it is not recommended because modern chemical disinfectants are far more effective for the former and hot-water immersion for the latter.


Quenching thirst by anything different than water is presumably mostly a placebo effect; and of course, the main constituent of both vinegar and beer is water.

The urge for water (thirst) is mediated not by the stomach but by osmotic and pressure receptors in your cardiovascular and central nervous system.


There's a nice review on the therapeutic properties of vinegar done by Dr CS Johnston & CA Gaar from the Department of Nutrition of the Arizona State University in the Medscape General Medicine journal, vol. 8, number 2, pg. 61 (May 2006).

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There are two separate incidents in the gospels.  In all four, the soldiers offer Jesus sour wine (ὄξος) (Mat 27:48, Mk 15:36, Lk 23:36, Jn 19:29), but a second incident is listed in Matthew and Mark, where the soldier offer Jesus win mixed with gall (οἶνον μετὰ χολῆς, ἐσμυρνισμένον οἶνον(Mat 27:34, Mk 15:23).

Strong's entry for ὄξος gives it as "the mixture of sour wine or vinegar and water which the Roman soldiers were accustomed to drink".

In John, the soldiers give him the wine in response to his statement of thirst, so it does seem like a kindness.  Luke uses ὄξος instead of οἶνον, but it is possible that he is conflating the two incidents.  Interestingly, neither Matthew nor Mark has the soldiers mocking him in the first incident, and while wine and gall (Matthew) would be a nasty trick, Mark's words would translate as wine mixed with myrrh, not gall, which would have been considered an improvement.

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Caligula dissolved pearls in vinegar as drink fit for person of his assumed status.

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