Burebista (82 BC – 44 BC) was the first Thracian king to succeed in unifying all the tribes of the Dacian Kingdom, laying the foundation of what will later be known as the Dacian State, its territory approximately coinciding with modern-day Romania and Moldavia.
According to Strabo, a Greek historian and geographer contemporary to Burebista, he was a great political and military leader, who “ruled his people, exhausted by frequent wars, and helped them grow with military exercise, abstinence from wine and obedience to commands, and in a few years he built a state that subdued most of the neighboring tribes and population, becoming feared even by Romans”.
It is known that Burebista managed to unify all the tribes, some amicably and some by force, convinced that was the only way to defend themselves from raids and invasions. However, the real challenges were to maintain order and prevent the State from falling apart.
During his rule, Burebista did not make all his decisions alone, but with the help of his trusted advisor, the high priest Deceneus, also a philosopher and astronomer.
One of the most famous stories involving this matter is the “wine reform” and the burning of dacian vineyards, ordered by King Burebista following Deceneus’ advice.
According to the historians of the time, Thrace (the region that also includes Dacia), was a known wine-growing region, the main reason for being also considered by folklore the birthplace of the god of wine, Dionysus. Even Plato, in one of his works, mentions that “Thracian tribes used to drink pure wine”, unmixed with water as their contemporary Greeks did, and “both women and men also scattered it on their clothes, considering that a ritual to bring beauty and happiness”.
It is possible that such traditions revolving around wine and drinking pushed Burebista to adopt one of his most famous reforms, the one that prohibited dacians from abusing wine and represented a true “death sentence” to many of the region’s vineyards, its ultimate goal being to eliminate excesses and establish moderate drinking habits.
A first variant of the story recounts of Burebista wanting his soldiers to always stay healthy, sober and alert, in case of any attack or incursion. To achieve such, the King and his advisor banned dacian men from abusing of “Dionysus’ Liquor”, having to consume it moderately, prohibiting long drinking nights at the military camp. Having to reduce wine production after the reform was dictated by Burebista, many vineyards were cut or simply burned down to assure compliance to the rule, being replaced by other crops.
A second version of the story, more poetic yet unrealistic, tells about Dacia being one of the most fertile lands in the region at the time, covered in fruitful vineyards that attracted many invaders wanting to own such a territory. In order to protect his people from raids, eliminating part of the treasured vineyards was considered a necessary measure.
King Burebista isn’t, however, the only ruler in history to edict rules that refrained people from excessive drinking: the Roman Emperor Domitian, in 92 AC, banned new vineyards in Italy and ordered half of the ones situated in roman provinces to be eliminated. The idea survives even in the Middle Ages, when some French kings also adopted restrictive rules in order to limit viticulture.