Mead in the Naturalis Historia from Pliny the Elder

Gaius Plinius Secundus (AD 23 – AD 79), better known as Pliny the Elder, was a naturalist, natural philosopher and a naval army commander of the Roman Empire.
Spending most of his spare time studying, writing or investigating natural and geographic phenomena in the field, he wrote an encyclopedic work, Naturalis Historia (Natural History), which became a model for all such works written subsequently.
Pliny the Elder dies on August 24, 79 AD, while trying a rescue of some of the people of the towns at the foot the great eruption of the Mount Vesuvius, which destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum.

The Naturalis Historia is one of the largest single works to have survived from the Roman empire to the modern day and purports to cover the entire field of ancient knowledge and It encompasses the fields of botany, zoology, astronomy, geology and mineralogy as well as the exploitation of those resources. It remains a standard work for the Roman period and the advances in technology and understanding of natural phenomena at the time. Some technical advances he discusses are the only sources for those inventions, such as hushing in mining technology or the use of water mills for crushing or grinding corn. Much of what he wrote about has been confirmed by archaeology. It is virtually the only work which describes the work of artists of the time, and is a reference work for the history of art.

The Naturalis Historia consists of 37 books. Many of the manuscripts were copied in the 3rd, 4th, 9th and 12th century and the entire work is printed for the first time at Venice in 1469 by The brothers Johann and Wendelin of Speyer. The translation as imperfect and in 1601 a much improved translation is made by Philemon Holland’s and further versions multiplied as Pliny’s reputation grew during the Renaissance.

The Naturalis Historia of Pliny in a mid-12th century manuscript from the Abbaye of Saint-Vincent, Le Mans, France

One of the references related to mead in Naturalis Historia is in the book XIV, chapter 20 with the title “HYDROMELI, OR MELICRATON”

[Latim transcription]
Fit vinum et ex aqua ac melle tantum. quinquennio ad hoc servari
caelestem iubent. alii prudentiores statim ad tertias partes decocunt et
tertiam veteris mellis adiciunt, dein XL diebus canis ortu in sole habent. alii
diffusa ita decimo die obturant. hoc vocatur hydromeli et vetustate saporem
vini adsequitur, nusquam laudatius quam in Phrygia.

[English translation]
There is a wine also made solely of honey and water. For this purpose it is recommended that rain-water should be kept for a period of five years. Those who shew greater skill, content themselves with taking the water just after it has fallen, and boiling it down to one third, to which they then add one third in quantity of old honey, and keep the mixture exposed to the rays of a hot sun for forty days after the rising of the Dog-star; others, however, rack it off in the course of ten days, and tightly cork the vessels in which it is kept. This beverage is known as “hydromeli,” and with age acquires the flavour of wine. It is nowhere more highly esteemed than in Phrygia. [1]

Other reference to mead is found in the book XXII, chapter 52 with the title “HYDROMEL: EIGHTEEN REMEDIES”

[Latim transcription]
Aqua mulsa et tussientibus utilis traditur, calefacta invitat vomitiones,
contra venenum psimithii salutaris addito oleo, item contra hyoscyami cum
lacte maxime asinino, et contra halicacabi, ut diximus. infunditur et auribus
et genitalium fistulae. vulvis inponitur cum pane molli, subitis tumoribus,
luxatis leniendisque omnibus. inveteratae usum damnavere posteri, minus
innocentem aqua minusque vino firmum; longa tamen vetustate transit in
vinum, ut constat inter omnes, stomacho inutilissimum nervisque

[English translation]
Hydromel is recommended, too, as very good for a cough: taken warm, it promotes vomiting. With the addition of oil it counteracts the poison of white lead; of henbane, also, and of the halicacabum, as already stated, if taken in milk, asses’ milk in particular. It is used as an injection for diseases of the ears, and in cases of fistula of the generative organs. With crumb of bread it is applied as a poultice to the uterus, as also to tumours suddenly formed, sprains, and all affections which require soothing applications. The more recent writers have condemned the use of fermented hydro- mel, as being not so harmless as water, and less strengthening than wine. After it has been kept a considerable time, it becomes transformed into a wine, which, it is universally agreed, is extremely
prejudicial to the stomach, and injurious to the nerves.

[1] “Hydromēlum,” on the other hand, made of water and apples, was the same as our modern hard cider.

The formulas (recipes) for mead in this article was commonly consumed in historic times. The recipes and instructions for these meads are for historical and educational purposes only. The author do not recommend the making or use of these meads by the reader. The author shall be held blameless for any injury to the reader that may occur from the ingestion of any of these recipes.