In the early 6th Century B.C., the Greeks were toasting to the health of their friend’s to assure them that the wine they were about to drink wasn’t poisoned. In those days, spiking wine with poison was a common way to dispose of an enemy, silence competition, prevent a messy divorce, and so forth. It thus became a symbol of friendship for the host to pour wine from a common pitcher, drink it before his guests, and satisfied that it was a good experience, raise his glass to his friends to do likewise.
The practice of toasting was also popular with the Romans. The term “toast” comes from the Roman practice of dropping a piece of burnt bread into the wine. This was done to temper some of the bad wines the Romans sometimes had to drink. In time, the Latin tostus meaning roasted or parched, came to refer to the drink itself. In the 1700’s, party-goers even liked to toast to the health of people not present — usually celebrities and especially beautiful women. A women who became the object of many such toasts, came to be known as the “toast of the town.”
By the 1800’s, toasting was the proper thing to do. Charles Panati reported that a “British duke wrote in 1803 that ‘every glass during dinner had to be dedicated to someone,’ and that to refrain from toasting was considered ‘sottish and rude, as if no one present was worth drinking to.’ Oneway to effectively insult a dinner guest was to omit toasting him or her; it was, as the duke wrote, ‘a piece of direct contempt’.”