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16 Times Alcohol Profoundly Changed History

Alcohol often plays an important role in celebrating the most momentous events in history. The French share glasses of wine on Bastille Day. Many Americans throw back a Budweiser or two in honor of the Fourth of July. On New Year’s Eve, people toast to a year gone by with flutes of champagne. But what many of those revelers don’t realize is that alcohol doesn’t just help us celebrate history, there are a lot of ways alcohol changed history too.

Alcohol has its own history as old as civilization itself. From the first barley farms and vineyards to the most modern microbreweries, alcohol in history has helped us drown our sorrows and celebrate our triumphs. Along the way, these devilish drinks effected massive changes of their own. Whether it’s rum, vodka, wine, or beer, alcohol has raised humanity up, dragged humanity down, and hosted every party in between. This list reveals how alcohol changed the course of history.

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  • Photo: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

    The Borgias Maintained Their Power Thanks to Poisoned Wine

    For a family obsessed with holding and keeping the Papal seat, the Borgias's methods were anything but moral. The Borgias were an Italian family who reigned during the Renaissance. The aristocratic clan counted two Popes among their ranks. More importantly, the Borgias are known as one of most power-hungry families in history. Their weapon of choice for dispatching enemies? Poison-laced wine, on enemies and subordinates alike.

    In a poetic twist of fate, some historians believe that it was a Borgia-poisoned bottle of wine, brought to the table by accident, that ultimately took the life of the patriarch of the Borgias, Pope Alexander VI. 

  • Rum Kept the World's Most Powerful Navy Happy and Healthy for 300 Years

    It wasn’t just pirates who had a taste for rum on the high seas. For more than 300 years, rum served as the main fuel of the British Navy. Beginning with England’s acquisition of Jamaica in 1655, sailors received a pint of rum as their daily ration. Sailors made sure the rum wasn’t diluted by adding gunpowder and setting it on fire, giving us the origin of the term “proof.” Rum didn’t just keep sailors safe from low morale; it also kept them safe from scurvy. When the higher-ups deemed rum too strong for duty in its purest form, Admiral Edward Vernon invented “grog,” a mixture of rum, water, lemon juice, and brown sugar.

    The vitamin C in the lemon juice actually helped fight scurvy, which gave the sailors more than enough reason to keep imbibing. 

  • Photo: Hans / Pixabay / CC0 1.0

    Beer Inspired the Agricultural Revolution and Basically Started Civilization

    Beer enthusiasts everywhere will be happy to know that beer may have been the catalyst for civilization as we know it. According to historians, the original reason that ancient farmers began to grow barley more than 10,000 years ago was not to create bread (as originally believed) but to create beer.

    This shift from hunter-gathering to farming marked the beginning of the agricultural revolution, a period that gifted modernity with little things like the wheel, irrigation, and the plow. 

  • Without the Whiskey Rebellion, Political Parties as We Know Them Wouldn't Exist

    The Whiskey Rebellion played an important part in the birth of the America that we know today. When thousands of colonists came together to protest a new tax on whiskey, the rebellion met the iron hand of the new US government, led by the commander-in-chief himself, George Washington. The break-up of the rebellion proved to colonists that the young government had the power to defend itself against uprisings and laid the groundwork for the prosecution of treason.

    Perhaps more interestingly, the whiskey tax was one of the issues pushed by the anti-Federalists, a move that helped spawn the division of ideology that created America’s first separate political parties.