The History of Beer in the Ancient World
No self-respecting website on the subject of beer should exist very long without an article on the history of beer. The actual basic process which results in a beer-like beverage is simple fermentation and anything which contains carbohydrates eventually ferments to some degree. Bearing this in mind it’s almost inconceivable that beer originated in one location and then spread around the world. It’s much more likely that it cropped up in many different spots at one time or another independently.
What is known however, are references to beer-like drinks dating back 6000 years BC in what we now call Iraq. A famous piece of prose dating to around 1800BC entitled “Hymn to Ninkasi” contains the following last verse:
Between these two periods, around the period 3000BC, there is documentation and
evidence to show that the Egyptians had a beer drink made from baked bread. They passed this on to the Greeks who called the drink Zythos. Also at this time, various Chinese cultures were brewing a beer-like drink called Zui. In fact it seems all the ancient civilisations of this period and the next couple of millennia were brewing their own beer including the Mesopotamians, the Syrians and the Babylonians (who also used it for religious ceremonies and enacted laws for the regulation of taverns). We know about the Syrians because of the existence of the Ebla Tablets (right) of which there are thousands, which document Syrian life in the city of Ebla until it’s destruction in 2250BC.
So here we have a drink we can firmly date back some seven or eight thousand years
although it’s form has been refined somewhat since those early days. It was a staple part of an Egyptian citizens diet and used in religious ceremonies by the Babylonians. In the next article we’ll have a look at beer in the modern world and the impact of industrialisation.
Part Two follows….