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The MALIWI project, directed by Claudia Antonetti and originated from the collaboration of the Department of Humanities and the Department of Asian and North African Studies of the Ca’ Foscari University, aims to investigate wine culture in the Gandhara, corresponding to the north-west of the Indus Valley and Kafiristan (today split between Nuristan province, in Afghanistan, and Chitral district in Pakistan).
The project intends to fill a gap in current scholarship due to the lack of an accurate and exhaustive analysis of all the available sources (not only classical and not only literary) on the social, ritual, and ceremonial use of wine on the eastern frontier of Greco-Roman influence. A notable exception to this situation is James McHugh’s recent monograph: An Unholy Brew: Alcohol in Indian History and Religions (Oxford University Press, 2021), the most important work in the history of these studies dedicated to the Indian subcontinent. However, it is necessary to go further with the research, above all because recent archaeological investigations have offered new data that must be compared with the literary documentation already known.
The Greek historiography provides us with a good deal of material on the presence of wine and viticulture in the central Asian area, although often shows us contradictory evidence on the social use since viticulture was known in central Asia and especially in north-western India well before the arrival of the Greeks. Thus, the actual social use of wine was obviously an intricate and dynamic matter, and it varied according to the different circumstances and milieus of that complex historical and cultural world that we call ‘India’.
The way to untangle this complex picture passes through a change of approach and the reassessment of the full available evidence. It is necessary to pass from an inter-cultural view to an intra-cultural and globalized approach which considers diversity as a creative process. Therefore, Greco-Roman evidence will be put in dialogue with Indian and Iranian literary sources and with archaeological and ethnographic research to outline a more complete overall picture. In relatively recent times, the latter research has thrown new light on the wine culture of the Hindu Kush area, which is currently believed to be among the oldest vinicultural regions of the world: the complex vinicultural local techniques involved the pressing activity and fermentation in the mountains (in holes in the rock), while the distillation of the alcohol, perhaps among the earliest known in the world (according to the archaeologists: from the 2nd century BC; contra, McHugh and others: from ca. 1200 AD onwards), took place in urban settlements.
The core of these discoveries resides in Gandhara, a region even studied by ethnographers for the exceptional persistence of ancient collective uses of wine until the forced Islamisation of the late 19th century. Barikot and the Swat Valley represent in this context a privileged case study for the continuous diachronic succession of various hegemonic cultures in a multi-ethnic society and for the richness and variety of archaeological findings and ethnographic accounts. For all these reasons and more, the wine culture displays the perfect middle ground that allows us to explore the constant cultural exchanges that occurred in the Gandharan area, a pivotal area between the Mediterranean West and the Far East.


Building upon recent achievements, the MALIWI project aims to collect, analyse and comment on the full range of the sources (literary, archaeological, epigraphic, numismatic, papyrological) concerning the social, ritual, and ceremonial use of wine in the Gandharan area from the Achaemenid era to the Kushan age (ca. 6th cent. BC – 3rd cent. AD). Specific objectives include:
  • to verify the presence (or absence) of the elements that make up the space and modality of the symposium for the Greeks, and identify, if at all possible, the changes and continuities in the area;
  • to analyse the role of the elites, the aristocracies and kingship in the social and religious use of wine;
  • to analyse the social modalities that can be understood in terms of reciprocity based on the models developed by historical Anthropology;
  • to study the long-term diachronic persistence of cultural models highlighted in the previous objectives (for example: models of dining, ceremonies, hospitality, etc.)
  • to allow the widest possible audience to have access to the research results through a double strategy: outputs aimed at the scientific community and outputs aimed at a wider non-specialist audience