The the origins of brewing were obscured long before recorded history. For the very earliest period we must use fragmentary physical evidence. Fortunately, writing provides much more information about later periods in the history of beer before Christianity began.
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Beer Before Christianity
Cir. 10000 BCE1
Discovery of late Stone Age beer jugs demonstrates that intentionally fermented alcoholic beverages existed at least as early as the Neolithic period.4
• Robert Braidwood suggested that ‘the desire for beer spurred the rise of intensive farming in the Near East 10,000-12,000 years ago.’
• Anthropologist Alan Eames believes that “beer was the driving force that led nomadic mankind into village life” He says “It was this appetite for beer-making material that led to crop cultivation, permanent settlement and agriculture.”
• Beer may have preceded bread as a staple.
Cir. 9000 BCE
Chemical tests of ancient pottery jars show that beer was made in what is now Iran.
Fifth Century BCE
Thracians made beer made from rye. They were Indo-European groups living in a large area in southeastern Europe.
Cir. 4300 BCE
Babylonian clay tablets listed recipes for at least twenty kinds of beer. Wages could be paid in beer.
Post cir. 4000 BCE
Egypt made at least 17 kinds of beer. Egyptians believed that their god Osiris invented beer. It was brewed at home daily and was considered a necessity of life. It was also deified and offered to gods.
Cir. 3400 BCE
The world’s oldest known brewery was in Egypt. It could produce 300 gallons per day.
The residues of an alcoholic barley brew were found in a pottery container in Iran. It was dated to 3100-2900 BCE.
Cir. 3100 BCE
Beer was the beverage of workers and wine was the beverage of the elite in Egypt.
Cir. 3000 BCE
Beer was just as important as bread in Sumeria, according to the Epic of Gilgamesh.
Cir. 2700 BCE
Beer was the major beverage among the Babylonians. They also used it as an offering to their gods.
Middle of Third Millenium BCE
The Sumerians thought their goddess, Ninkasi, ruled over brewing. Women were associated with both the production and distribution of beer. In Sumeria’s major city brewing was on an ‘epic scale.’
The workers who built the Egyptian pyramids received a daily ration of one and a third gallons of beer. It was about 5% alcohol.
The ‘Alulu” Beer receipt was written in Sumeria. The translation is ‘”Ur-Amma acknowledges receiving from his brewer, Alulu, 5 sila [about 4 1/2 liters] of the ‘best’ beer.”
Cir. 2000 BCE
Beer was used for medicinal purposes in Sumeria.
Cir. 1800 BCE
The Sumerian hymn to Ninkasi, goddess of beer, was written down.
Cir. 1728-1686 BCE
Babylonian King Hammurabi decreed a daily beer ration for social ranks. The high priests got five liters per day. The workers got two liters. Hammurabi also decreed that only barley could be used to buy beer. When a saloonkeeper accepted silver instead of barley, he had her drowned.
Cir. 1600 BCE
• Beer was a part of about 100 medicinal remedies in Egypt.
• Flavorings used in beer included balsam, hay, dandelion, mint, wormwood seeds, horehound juice, crab claws, and oyster shells.
Cir. 800 BCE
• Germans were brewing beer .
• Franch were cultivating hop vines.
Cir. Fifth Century BCE
Plato wrote that “He was a wise man who invented beer.”
Cir. 55 BCE
The Romans introduced beer to the rest of Europe during their military campaigns,
Cir. 49 BCE
Caesar toasted his soldiers with beer after crossing the Rubicon.
Cir. 23 BCE
The Chinese brewed beer.
The history of beer before Christianity is a very long one. Its history since then is relatively short. But we know much, much more about the later period.
We’ve learned something about the history of beer before Christianity. Now we explore the History of Beer in Early Christianity and Beyond.
Fun with Beer
1 BCE generally stands for ‘Before the Common Era,’ and CE stands for ‘Common Era.’ The term ‘common’ refers to the dates used in the most commonly used calendar, the Gregorian. To some people, BCE stands for ‘Before the Christian Era’ and CE stands for ‘Christian Era.’ The dates of BCE are the same as those of BC. The same is true of CE and AD.
Resources on the History of Beer before Christianity.
Bostwick, W. The Brewer’s Tale: a History of the World According to Beer. NY: Norton, 2014.
Brown, P. Man Walks into a Pub: a Sociable History of Beer. London: Pan, 2004.
Hennessey, J., et al. The Comic Book Story of Beer: the World’s Favorite Beverage from 7000 BC to Today’s Craft Brewing Revolution. Berkeley: Ten Speed, 2015.
Hornsey, I. A History of Beer and Brewing. Cambridge: Royal Soc of Chem, 2003.
King, A. Beer Has a History. London: Hutchinson’s, 1947.
Nelson, M. The Barbarian’s Beverage: a History of Beer in Ancient Europe. London: Routledge, 2005.
Smith, G. Beer: a Global History. London: Reaktion, 2014.
_______. Beer: a History of Suds and Civilization from Mesopotamia to Microbreweries. NY: Avon, 1995.