History of alcoholic drinks in Ancient Civilizations

The making of pulque, as illustrated in the Florentine Codex (Book 1 Appendix, fo.40)

Deliberate production of alcoholic drinks is widespread and often reflects religious and cultural peculiarities as much as sociological and geographical conditions.

The Discovery of late Stone Age jugs confirms that intentionally fermented beverages existed from 10,000 BCE onwards (Neolithic period).

Ancient China

Historians discovered the earliest jars of Jiahu in China, which date to around 7000 BCE.

The ancient Chinese population produced this early rice wine by fermenting honey, fruit, and rice. What later evolved into Chinese civilization grew up along the more northern Yellow River and fermented exotic huangjiu from millet. The Zhou attached great significance to alcohol and ascribed the loss of heaven’s command by the earlier Xia and Shang as mainly due to their wicked and alcoholic rulers. A decree ascribed to 1116 BCE clarifies that the use of alcohol (social drinking- in moderation) was believed to be prescribed by gods.

Ancient India

Alcohol distillation was invented in India. Alcoholic beverages in the early Indus Valley Civilization developed in the Chalcolithic Era. These drinks were in circulation between 3000 BCE and 1800 BCE. Sura, a beverage brewed from rice meal, sugar cane, wheat, and grapes, was common among the Kshatriya warriors.

The Hindu Ayurvedic books illustrate both the practical uses of alcoholic beverages and the consequences of drunkenness and alcoholic conditions. Ayurvedic texts resolved that alcohol was a medicine if taken in limits but a poison if consumed in plenty. This practice is still followed today by medical practitioners globally.

Ancient Babylon

Beer was the primary beverage among the early Babylonians, and as early as 2500 BCE, they worshiped a divine wine goddess and other wine goddesses. Babylonians routinely used both wine and beer as offerings to their deities. Around 1750 BCE, the Code of Hammurabi dedicated attention to alcohol. Although it was not a violation, the Babylonians were against drunkenness, according to archaeological findings. 

Ancient Egypt

Brewing records from the inception of civilization in ancient Egypt and alcoholic beverages were vital for the kingdom’s royals. Egyptian brewing started in Hierakonpolis around 3400 BCE; its ruins include the remains of the world’s earliest brewery, capable of producing up to 1,136 liters (three hundred gallons) per day of beer. Symbolic of this is that while many gods were familial or local, Osiris was celebrated throughout the nation. Osiris was believed to be the ultimate god of life, the dead, vegetable regeneration, and wine.

Ancient Greece

While the craft of winemaking spread to the Hellenic land by about 2000 BCE, the first alcoholic beverage to gain far-reaching popularity in Greece was mead, a fermented drink made from water and honey. However, by 1700 BCE, winemaking was typical. During the next thousand years, wine drinking picked the same function as generally found worldwide: Greece incorporated it into religious ceremonies. It became necessary in hospitality, used for therapeutic purposes, and became an indispensable part of daily diets. As a beverage, it was consumed in many ways: pure and warm, chilled and mixed with water, spiced and plain. Alcohol was considered so valuable to the Greeks that consumption was considered an important aspect of the Hellenic culture between their community and the rest of the world; those who did not drink were thought to be barbarians.

Pre-Columbian America

Many Native American cultures produced alcoholic beverages. Numerous versions of these beverages are still manufactured today.

  1. Pulque, or octli, is an alcoholic beverage made from the maguey’s fermented juice and is a legendary native beverage of Mesoamerica. Though initially believed to be a beer, the main carbohydrate is a complicated form of fructose rather than sugar. Pulque is depicted in Native American rock carvings from as early as 200 CE. The origin of pulque is unknown, but many folk tales explain its roots because it has a significant religious position.
  2. Balché is a honey wine brewed by the Maya, linked to the Mayan deity Acan. The drink receives its name from the balché tree (Lonchocarpus violaceus), the bark of which is fermented in the water together with honey from the natural stingless bee.
  3. Tepache is a moderately alcoholic beverage indigenous to Mexico created by fermenting pineapple, including the rind, for a brief period of 72 hours.
  4. Tejuino, common in the Mexican state of Jalisco, is a maize-based drink that includes fermenting masa dough.

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