Thursday, September 25, 2014

Sumerian Women and Beer

About 5000 BCE, civilization began to spring up in the Fertile Crescent. The two rivers of Euphrates and Tigris gave birth to a civilization that would last for thousands of years. The civilization of Sumer brought new developments to mankind. It developed so much that the modern had taken for granted. From writing to the wheel, the Sumerians made many progress for mankind. Including to its line of developments was the beer. Sumerians had during their time gave importance and reverence to their favorite beverage.

Sumerians were the first to develop a beer culture. Their beers were not just for past time but was divine. Other than being used as a salary to workers, beer was also used for several religious purposes. At temples, beer could be given as offering to the gods. At weddings, it could serve as wedding gift. Other than that, beer was not the only one given to the newlyweds, but, beer making tools were also given for the wife. But the most monumental sign of reverence of the Sumerians to beer became embodied by a goddess. The Sumerians had associated beer and beer making to the goddess Ninkasi. The Sumerians had high regard for Ninkasi and revered her well. As a display of their devotion to her, a hymn was dedicated to her, called the Hymn of Ninkasi. The Hymn was discovered in an inscription in a tablet during the excavation of the city of Ur.

The Hymn of Ninkasi provided information about the goddess and the process of beer making. In the beginning of the hymn, the parents of Ninkasi was mention. Her father was the Lord of Nidimmud, Enki. Her mother was the Queen of the Sacred Lake, Ninti. It was then followed by the process of making beer. From the lyrics, the process began by baking a bread called Bappir which was made of barley. After which it was then added with water and malt. Then it would be followed by adding the wort and honey. They were then left in a large vat in order to ferment.

As Ninkasi was a goddess, the art of making beer also fell in the hands of the women. Women were tasked to cook the food of the men. And so, women were capable of baking the bread necessary for making beer. Besides that, they were also given the task of brewing it. Therefore, for the sake of convenience, bakeries and breweries were placed mostly side by side. The combination of the skill of baking and brewing gave women significant economic opportunities. During the time of Hammurabi, women were not just owning bakeries. They combined the service of giving bread and providing beer in form of taverns. Taverns became a significant part of society, that when Hammurabi promulgated his law during 1700 BCE, taverns and beer drinking became under the scrutiny of the authorities.

The Sumerians were the recorded first brewers of beer. Today consumed on their millions of gallons, it was from the Sumerian civilizations of Mesopotamia that the art and science of brewing beer began. They put respect on it with Ninkasi as the evidence of their reverence. From their skill and process, following civilization in the area would continue beer making. From the foundation they built, modern beer was created.

See also:
Beer and Ancient Egypt
Phoenician Dye
Symbol of Lebanon in the Ancient World

Monaghan, P. Encyclopedia of Goddess and Heroine. California: New World Library, 2014.

Oliver, G. (ed.). The Oxford Companion to Beer. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Smith, G. Beer: A Global History. London: Reaktion Books Ltd., 2014.

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