A Short History of Beer From the end of the Ice Age to Medieval Europe
After the Ice Age • Between 18,000 and 13,000 years ago the climate gradually became warmer and the ice sheets receded. • Most humans were organized in nomadic hunter/gather bands and diet consisted primarily of meat. • As early as 11,500 years ago, human diets began to evolve into one weighted more in cereal grain, supplemented with meat. • By at least 9,000 years ago, human society became sedentary tribes that cultivated cereal grains (wheat, millet, barley) and domesticated livestock (goats, sheep). Mesopotamia being the earliest.
The Perpetual Question • Did the development of beer brewing technology evolve from an established society that cultivated cereal crops, or was the discovery of grain fermentation a prime mover for people to become sedentary and develop crop agriculture? • In either case, there is little doubt that the development of crop agriculture is closely tied with the formation of beer brewing technology.
Mesopotamia • Mesopotamia-the “Fertile Crescent”. • Ca. 3,500 B.C. City-States began to form in Mesopotamia with specialized labor systems (i.e. farmers, brewers) and the development of written language. • Sumerian cuneiform clay cylinders and tablets dating to at least 3,200 B.C. are some of the earliest discovered written records that talk about beer and brewing technology. • By the time these first documents were made, it is likely that brewing technology had been around a few millennia and had spread to Europe, Asia, and Africa continents.
Beer As Workers Wages Beer has been known as a form of wage payment for over 5000 years. Egyptian tomb and pyramid builders were known to have their wages supplemented with beer. Medieval lords would often pay their knights and men-at-arms with a measure of beer and/or wine. Workers during the Irish Famine were paid in wages of beer and money. Today, many hipster companies use beer Friday as a benefit to their employees. Cuneiform Pay Stub from Uruk, Mesopotamia, recording payment in beer
Sumer • These documents record many different facets of beer in Sumerian society. • Practical-brewing instructions and recipes. • Law-Code of Hammurabi. • Religious- Hymn to Ninkasi, a poem to the goddess of beer. • Taxes-commerce records.
Sumerian Seal depicting people drinking beer out of reed straws. Practical Instruction
Code of Hammurabi • Hammurabi, The Sixth Babylonian king, reigning from ca. 1792 B.C. to ca. 1749 B.C. • Written ca. 1754 B.C., a set of 282 laws and subsequent punishments for Babylonians to follow. • This code contains laws concerning regulations on beer distribution and regulations on payments for beer consumption.
Hymn to Ninkasi • Ninkasi, goddess of brewing, a minor goddess in the Sumerian pantheon. • Dating to ca. 1800 B.C. • In Sumerian society, women brewed the beer and ran the taverns. • The Hymn contains the earliest currently recorded description of the beer brewing process known to the Sumerians.
Women Brewers • Prior to the end of the Renaissance and beginning of the Industrial revolution, beer brewing was primarily a woman’s occupation. • Women may have traditionally been the brewers as beer was often considered a byproduct of grain gathering and bread baking, both traditional female occupations. • Woman brewers in Medieval Europe were often called Alewives.
Hymn to Ninkasi Cuneiform tablet from the Hymn to Ninkasi describing the process of brewing beer.
Egypt • Ca. 2700 B.C., Egyptian society evolved into a state-organized society and would continue for more than three millennia. • The Egyptians are a prime example of the importance of beer on a state-based society. • Many hieroglyphic inscriptions can be found in tombs of all classes of people, describing beer and bread production. • Hieroglyphs often described beer as the Egyptian “National Drink”
Egyptian Beer • Called Zytum, Egyptian beer was different than what we know of beer today. • Zytum was a fermented bread gruel. • Zytum became a big part of Egyptian diet and had three aspects going for it. • The gruel was very nutritious, high in vitamins and amino acids. • The water was safe to drink because of the fermentation process. • The alcohol made everything better.
Tomb of Ti This inscription on the Tomb of Ti, a court official during the 5th Dynasty (2494-2345 B.C.), describes beer making. It is read bottom right to upper left.
Greece • The Greeks likely learned beer brewing technology from the Egyptians, evidenced by the similarity for the term for beer; zytum in Egyptian and zythos in Greek. • However, the Greeks considered beer as a barbaric drink reserved for the lower class. • High society Greeks preferred to drink watered down wine. • In relation to wine, there are few Greek texts that discuss beer or brewing technology.
Greek gods and alcohol • The importance of alcohol on Greek society can be seen in their religion. • Dionysus-god of grape harvest, winemaking, and wine, as well as fertility, theater, religious ecstasy and ritual madness. Son of Zeus and Semele, a Thebean princess. Also known as Bacchus. • Dionysus was followed by woodland spirits called Satyrs and Sileni, who were often associated with fertility and were represented as half man-half animal. (Satyrs-goats, Sileni-horses). • Salenus-Dionysus’ foster father and drinking companion, was often depicted as an old man with horse ears. Related to beer.
Cult of Dionysus • This Greek god became extremely popular in Ancient Greece. A cult developed that placed importance on sex, drinking, and debauchery. • There was a prominence on woodland spirits like satyrs, centaurs, elves, and Sileni. This can be seen in the use of these creatures in Greek tragedies and comedies. • The phallus was also a prominent symbol of the Cult of Dionysus, along with the bull, snakes, tiger, ivy, and wine. • “Ritual” drinking orgies are often associated with this cult, often called a bacchanalian celebration.
The Bacchae • Written by the playwright, Euripides, is considered one of the greatest tragedies ever written. • Dionysus v. King of Thebes • First premiered in 405 B.C. at the Theater of Dionysus, after Euripides’ death.
Rome • With the waning prominence of Greece, Rome became the center of the “known world”. • Rome followed suit with Greece in that they saw wine as a high status drink and brewed beer as low class and barbaric. • However, there were many more low-class roman citizens than those of the upper echelon. Wine may have been preferred but beer was everywhere.
Continuation of Dionysus in Rome • Ca. 200 B.C., many Romans adopted the Bacchus Cult, including its rituals. • The Romans often used Bacchus to refer to their god of wine. Other times and places they called their god Liber Pater, “The Free Father”. • By 200 AD, some wealthy Romans were buried in sarcophagi carved with scenes of bacchanalian celebrations, including satyrs and centaurs. • Pompeii
Dionysus Sarcophagi An example of a sarcophagus depicting a bacchanalian celebration, including Satyr and Centaur.
Beer in the Roman Empire • In 301 AD Emperor Diocletian created a categorization of beer in the Roman Empire and put a price per pint (sextarius) as follows: • Zythum is what the Romans called Egyptian beer and cost two denarii. • Celtic barley beer was called camumand cost four denarii. • Celtic wheat beer was called cervesiaand cost four denarii. • In comparison, Emperor Diocletian put a price of the cheapest unaged wine (vinum) at eight denarii for the same volume.
Beer in the Roman Empire • Pliny the Elder had a similar categorization for beer in Roman Europe, as follows: • Egyptian beer-zythum. • Beer from Gual-cervesia. • Beer from Hispania-caelia and cerea. • In any case beer was used by the less civilized like the Celtic and Germanic people or the poor. Wealthy Romans in Italy would not drink the stuff, preferring to drink wine with water.
Beer and Roman Christians • After the Roman Empire became a Christian state following the rule of Constantine the Great (ca. 272-337 AD). • In the compiled books of the New Testament there is not one mention of beer throughout the entire tome. • However, there is a plethora of mentions in the Bible about wine. • This may be the most divine evidence that the Roman Italians preferred wine and stigmatized beer.
The Barbarians drink Beer • So if the Romans and Greeks drank wine and called those that drink beer barbaric, who are the barbarians? • From the previous statements by Diocletian, Pliny the Elder, and Sextus Julius Africanus, the barbarians were everyone except for Italians and Greeks. • Germans, Huns, Celts, Goths, Spanish. The forefathers of modern European beer.
Germans • The Germanic tribes were known by the Romans to brew and consume beer. • After the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, Germanic tribes like the Angles, Saxons, Franks, Jutes, and Visigoths began to spread across Europe and so did their brewing technology. Often mixing and mingling with the brewing technologies of the resident populations. • Germans were not particular about the alcohol that they consumed, as the Romans were. They brewed beer, imported wine from France and Italy, and fermented honey into mead.
Angles, Saxons, Frisians, and jutes • These are Germanic tribes that lived along the North Sea and Baltic Sea and present day Denmark. • Invaded and settled into present-day England between the 6th and 8th centuries. • Controlled much of England before the invasion of the Vikings. • Beowulf describes many facets of Anglo-Saxon society, including their drinking culture.
Beowulf • This Anglo-Saxon epic poem written in Old English sometime between the 7th and 11th century AD about early 6th century Scandinavian warrior society. • There are four commonly used terms for beverages used throughout Beowulf: medo, wīn, ealo (or ealu), and beor. • Mead Halls
Franks • Modern day France was controlled by the Celtic Guals and had been Romanized from over 400 years of subjugation. • The Guals were grape growers and wine makers. • The Franks invaded and conquered this area to create the Frankish Empire. • Because of the dominance of wine in Gual, beer brewing technology never gained prominence.
Medieval and Christian Europe • As Europe became more Christian, beer consumption did not disappear. • Beer often became part of tributes, taxes, and rents. • Church regulations began to limit and/or tax production. • Monasteries became prominent beer brewing operations throughout Europe.
The London Beer Flood of 1814 • Occurred October 17th 1814 at the Horse Shoe Brewery on the corner of Great Russell St. and Tottenham Court Rd., London, England • A 22 foot tall wooden vat holding over 3,500 barrels of brown porter ale collapsed causing other beer vats to collapse. • The beer tsunami was of over 323,00 gallons was 15 feet high and inundated St. Giles Rookery, a poor area of London, killing 8 people and devastating the Rookery. • Over the next few days, at least one more individual died due to over consumption of the beer pooled in St. Giles Rookery.
Totten Hall, a sketch of the Horse Shoe Brewery building a year before the flood 19th Century engraving of the London Beer Flood of 1814.
The Death of Admiral Horatio Nelson • Admiral Nelson was killed during the Battle of Trafalgar off the coast of Spain, October 21, 1805. • Admiral Nelson was placed in a barrel of rum in order to preserve his body for burial back in England. • Upon arrival to England, the barrel the Admiral Nelson was in was found to be almost empty of the rum. The sailors sneaking drinks from the barrel during the journey home. • Naval rum from this time on was called Nelson’s Blood and drinking rum through a straw is called “tapping the Admiral.”
Poisoning Alcohol during the Prohibition Era • During Prohibition between 1920 and 1933, the federal government instituted a program of adding noxious chemicals to industrial alcohol in order to deter bootlegger cartels from stealing and selling this alcohol for human consumption. • Some of the chemicals added to the alcohol by the federal government include kerosene, gasoline, benzene, cadmium, iodine, zinc, mercury salts, nicotine, ether, formaldehyde, chloroform, camphor, carbolic acid, quinine, acetone, and methyl alcohol. • It is estimated that about 10,000 American citizens died during Prohibition due to the consumption of tainted alcohol.