Top 10 Famous Drunks in the Ancient World

Drunken People and Drunken Behavior in the Ancient World

In the ancient Mediterranean world, diluted wine, the gift of Dionysus, was the favored beverage, preferred to water, and drunk in moderation. Control was normally counted a virtue, but there were exceptions. Drunken behavior in the ancient world led to a variety of consequences, from horrible to humorous. Here are some examples of famous drunken ancient people and occasions from myth, festival, history, and legend.
Ino and Agave Tear Pentheus Apart
Pentheus torn apart by Agave and Ino. Attic red-figure lekanis (cosmetics bowl) lid, ca. 450-425 BC. Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikimedia Commons.

Agave was a devotee of the god of wine, Dionysus. In a frenzy, she and her sister Ino tore her son Pentheus apart. Agave and Ino were not voluntary Bacchantes, but victims of Dionysus' wrath. They may not actually have been so much crazy drunk as made insane by the power of the god.

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Alcibiades and Socrates
Alcibiades and Socrates. Clipart.com
Alcibiades was a handsome young Athenian to whom Socrates was attracted. His behavior at the drinking parties (known as symposiums) was occasionally outrageous. During the Peloponnesian War, Alcibiades was accused of drunkenly profaning sacred mysteries and of defacing the herms -- with dire consequences.
  • Plutarch - Alcibiades
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Alexander fighting a lion mosaic
Alexander fighting a lion mosaic. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Alexander the Great, son of a great drinker who wound up assassinated, killed a great friend in a drunken rage.

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Festival of Anna Perenna

On the Ides of March, the Romans celebrated the festival of Anna Perenna, which included drunkenness, sexual and verbal freedoms, and inversion of gender roles. The festival Saturnalia involved much the same features, but instead of gender roles, social status was inverted.
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Attila
Attila. Public Domain. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
Attila was known for his heavy drinking, but he probably didn't die as a result of an alcohol-related esophageal hemorrhage. More »
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Hercules

Alcestis
Alcestis. Clipart.com
When Hercules arrives at the home of his friend Admetus, his host explains that the melancholy atmosphere is because of a household death, but don't worry, it wasn't a member of Admetus' family. So Hercules wines and dines and carries on in his accustomed manner until one of the servants can't keep her mouth shut any longer. She tells Hercules off in no uncertain terms for living it up when her beloved mistress, Alcestis, has just died. Hercules is mortified by his inappropriate conduct and makes suitable amends.
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Cleopatra and Antony
Cleopatra and Antony. Clipart.com

Mark Antony was known for overdoing it, a bit like a fully human Hercules. His youthful life was wild, with gambling, drunkenness, and women. There was even a bit of competition among the reckless men as to who was worst. Men with a claim included Cicero's son, according to Pliny, and Clodius Pulcher. More respectable later, Mark Antony was the one to make a famous oration when Caesar was assassinated and was an ancestor of some of the Julio-Claudian emperors.

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Blinding Polyphemus - Odysseus and his men poke out the eye of the cyclops Polyphemus.
Blinding Polyphemus - Odysseus and his men poke out the eye of the cyclops Polyphemus. Clipart.com

In the Odyssey, almost everywhere Odysseus goes, he feasts and drinks, without overdoing it -- himself. The Cyclops Polyphemus was eating Odysseus' men until Odysseus found a way out. He had to get the Cyclops drunk before he could proceed.

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Trimalchio's Banquet

The Banquet of Trimalchio in Petronius' Satyricon is perhaps the most famous scene of gluttony and drunkenness. This passage from it mentions Falernian, one of the finest Roman wines.

A
A "Replica" of the Trojan Horse in Troy, Turkey. CC Alaskan Dude at Flickr.com
Who knew the Trojan War was won by a good party? Although drinking wouldn't have been enough, between the exulting inebriation of the city and the cunning of Odysseus (again), the Greeks were able to put one over on the Trojans and get their troops inside enemy walls. More »