Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Beer and Ancient Egypt

Other than the Sumerians, there was another ancient civilization capable of producing and consuming beer. The Sumerians were known as beer consumers. They produced it from the barley that grew in the fertile lands of the Tigris and the Euphrates River. Women had the monopoly of the beer brewing industry with the female goddess Ninkasi as the testament to this dominance. However, the Sumerians were not just the drunkards of beer in the ancient world. Just at the southwest of region of Mesopotamia, another civilization flourish and proved to be another beer drinking civilization. The Egyptians flourish for thousands of years. Its fertile lands were fit to cultivate barley which was used to produce beer or what they called heneket or booza.

The Ancient Egyptians flourish at the plains of the River Nile. Estimated to have rose 3,000 BCE, the Ancient Egyptian utilized the fertile plains flooded by Nile River. Dubbed as the granary of whatever empire that capture its lands, agriculture flourished and provided food for the Egyptians as well as other civilizations. Grain crops were cultivated and supported by irrigations build by the Egyptians. Harvest were so bountiful that it was enough to make bread as well as beer.

Beer was an essential consumer goods of the Egyptians. Like the Sumerians, the Egyptians loved their beer and saw it as a gift from divine. Agriculture and growing of barley was credited to the Egyptian god Osiris. And the brewing techniques were credited to Osiris’ wife, Isis. Beer was used as religious offerings. Jars of beer were usually found on the tombs of ancient Egyptians. Priests also consumed beer. Egyptian Pharaoh Unas or Unis inscribed to his pyramid dedications of different types of beer to the gods. In mythological stories, beer was also used by Gods. For example, a legend included the wrath of the sun god, Ra. According to the legend, Ra was suspicious and angry about the arising plot of mankind to overthrow him. Ra then sent his daughter Hathor as the Eye of Ra or sign of vengeance to mankind. Hathor descended and killed all men that wanted to rebel against Ra. After a day, she returned to his father to rest before another day of slaying the human race. Ra was pleased but concerned. Although his enemies were dead, the image of the massacre in the sands of Egypt was dreadful and outright concerning. And so, as an act of compassion, he decided to spare the surviving humans. In order to save mankind, he made 7,000 jars of red colored beer and poured it to the dessert. When Hathor returned to the dessert to finish of the remaining humans, she was distracted by the beer. Upon inspecting the beer, she saw her own reflection and was distracted and lost her interest in obliterating mankind. Ra had just save humanity with beer.

Beer was not just for the Gods and pharaohs. Beer was consumed by all Egyptians, regardless of their social class. From poor to rich, all drank beer. Other than class, all ages were also allowed to drink beer. Underage drinking was allowed only in moderation. Usually, many drank it as a substitute for water because it was safer and much less prone to contamination of deadly diseases. Beer was accessible to all. It could be brewed by men and women alike in their homes. They could also procure it through breweries in major cities. Large breweries were excavated at the cities of Luxor and Hierakonpolis. The royalties even had their own brewery for beer.

Beer brewing was easy. Egyptians used barley or sometimes emmer or both for production of beer. A soft baked bread was made from the grain. It was then soaked for days in water. It was then drained and kept into jars and vats and placed in the cellars. Sometimes, flavor was added by adding dates, spices, and honey to it. According to Strabo, Egyptians brewing technique were not standardized. Process changed and differ with the places.

Beer became a part of daily life of Egyptians. For thousands of years, beer continued to play a role in their daily lives. Greeks and Romans saw how the Egyptians love their beer. And so from their enthusiasm, beer continued to develop and spread from Asia and Africa to Europe, leading the way for continuing progress of one of the most consumed beverages in the world.

Bunson, M. Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2002.

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

Tyldesley, J. Book of Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt. London: Penguin Group, 2010.

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