Founder: Gaius Plinius Secundus
Founding date: AD 77
House Instrument: Rebab
House Wines: Allobrogica de Vienne and Caucinian Falernia
Current Chair: The Hon. Jacinda Rougegorgefils
House Archivist was founded in AD 77 by Gaius Plinius Secundus, better known as Pliny the Elder. A philosopher, writer and Roman military commander, Pliny was a pivotal figure in the Minstrels of Wine and the driving force behind the relocation of the Institute from Athens to Rome in AD 79.
Pliny joined the Rome chapter of the Minstrels of Wine in 55 AD, shortly after leaving military service. He had commenced a period of low-profile literary activity and wine appreciation, eschewing contentious pursuits such as politics or law, so as to avoid attracting the attention of Nero, the new emperor, a despot whose acquaintance was avoided by wise men. After Nero’s death in 68 AD, Pliny returned to military service under Emperor Vespasian and around that time began his most famous work, Naturalis Historia (Natural History), the first encyclopaedia.
Drawing upon his deep knowledge of wine, developed and cultivated by his membership of the Minstrels, Pliny dedicated Book XIV of his Naturalis Historia to the vinous world, intending to commit to paper humanity’s entire knowledge of viticulture and vinification. He founded House Archivist for this very purpose, intending to focus all the resources of the Institute on research for his tome. At that time, the Institute was based in Athens, but the centre of Mediterranean commerce and military power had long since moved to Rome, and Pliny had little difficulty in convincing the more ambitious Minstrels to relocate and aid him in the creation of his encyclopaedia. The lure of the imperial capital proved too strong for the remaining Minstrels to resist and two years later, in AD 79, the Institute formally moved its headquarters to Rome, where it remained for over 400 years.
The day after the decision to move was an ominous one. Emperor Vespasian died and Pliny, who had been appointed fleet commander of the Roman Navy earlier that year, was stationed in Misenum in the Bay of Naples. There, he witnessed the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and, in the face of clear danger, sailed a small frigate to the shores of Herculaneum so as to rescue his colleague Pomponianus, as glowing embers and pumice rained upon the city.
A strong wind prevented their departure from Herculaneum’s harbour so, marooned in the city, Pliny ordered his sailors to unload several barrels of wine he had purchased from the vineyards of Campania, which had been destined for the cellars of the Minstrels in Rome. As ash and pumice accumulated upon the buildings and in the streets, Pliny hosted a legendary tasting, to this day considered the most erudite and illuminating wine lecture in history. Pliny took to his bed that night, having consumed several gallons of Campania’s finest wines, and never rose again. Many of those present at the tasting also perished the following morning, choking or burning to death as red-hot cinders snowed upon the helpless city. But several escaped to tell the tale, rowing their singed frigate back out into the Bay of Naples, the bows barely able to cut through the six-foot deep scum of hissing, floating pumice that choked the sea for miles around.
Today, House Archivist is the favoured House for historians of wine, scientists, ampelographers, classicists, learned authors, diplomats and spies. House Archivist is responsible for managing the foreign Chapters of the Minstrels of Wine and the Institute’s links with educational establishments. The House is subdivided into several ‘Sets’, one managing the foreign bureaux, another the relationships with universities, while others are engaged in academic research or diplomatic activity, the purpose of which is not always broadcast to the wider Minstrel community.
House Archivist has its own museum and oenotheque containing amphora and other treasures from antiquity, including several items rescued during the sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade (see the history of the Minstrels of Wine). In a temperature-controlled inner sanctum, one can view samples of ancient wines: Shiraz from Persia, pre-phylloxera claret, and orange wine from medieval Georgia. The museum also displays fragments from the first vine planted by the Romans in the Rhone, the works of Cato the Elder and Columella, and an original copy of Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis Historia, Book XIV.
House Archivist maintains strong academic links with the following institutions: