Wine in ancient Egypt

Oct 1, 2010

Wine in ancient Egypt
A preferred drink for rich, gods and to the dead

Wine, known as yrp to the Egyptians, was very expensive. It was drunk by those who could afford it, used as offerings to the gods and to the dead. The resurrected pharaoh was known as one "one of the four gods ... who live on figs and who drink wine." Even in later times, the Greek tourists report that wine was confines to the wealthy. Though wine, too, was occasionally given out as pay - the workmen at the pyramids at Giza had four kinds of wine to drink, along with five kinds of beer.

Ancient Egyptian Wine Jar with Stopper The word wine, funnily enough, predates the word for vine, so it seems that the Egyptians imported wine long before they imported grapes to the Nile valley.

The Egyptians has several different kinds of wine, some of which have been commended by ancient authors for their excellent qualities. That of Mareotis was the most esteemed, and in the greatest quantity.

Athenæus tells us that the Mareotic wine was "white, its quality excellent, and it is sweet and light with a fragrant bouquet; it is by no means astringent, nor does it affect the head." Strabo wrote that the wine was also known for its long shelf-life.

Other wines of note to the Greeks were Teniotic, Thebiad, Sebennytic, Thasian, Manfesian, Ecbolada (forbidden to newly married brides!) This was only a small sample of wines made throughout Egypt. It seems, though, that the favourite wine from the Old Kingdom onwards was red wine. The white wine that the Greeks favoured was only produced from the Middle Kingdom onwards.

In ancient party scenes on the tomb walls, wine is seen offered to the guests. It seems that a lot of wine was consumed at the banquets, because there are a number of images depicting the guests throwing up or being carried home because of their drunken state - drunkenness was seen as an amusement to the ancient Egyptians!

At celebrations of drunkenness to the Eye of Ra, wine was also drunk by those who could afford it. The temples associated with the goddesses had their own vineyards to make sure that the celebrants had enough wine for the rituals. Wine was also an acceptable offering to the gods.

The search for the recipes and wine types of the Egyptians have yielded mixed results within the delta region of the Nile. Due to the climatic changes since the time of ancient Egypt, quests for the right vine, the right mixture of materials, and other factors, have left the modern renditions of ancient Egyptian wine with something to be desired ... It was not until 1931 that the first modern rendition of ancient Egyptian wine was produced. This rendition of the ancient wine continues to be made in the present day, however, many wine connoisseurs consider it of poor taste. Regardless, the taste of the ancients is still present 3,500 years later.

Treding on grapes to make wine Egypt had vineyards all over the country, though most of them were in the Nile delta. Grapes were hand picked, then placed in a vat for traditional treading on the grapes, or in special wine presses. The resultant juice was captured in open jars, where the fermentation process took place. When ready, these jugs were sealed and marked with the date, name of the vineyard and the person in charge of the wine. Aged in these earthenware jars, they had to be broken when it was time to decant the wine, and then poured into yet another earthen jar. When the wine was ready to be served, it was poured into shallow vessels with a short stem.

In the Pyramid Texts the god Shesmu brings the king grape juice for wine production. Although he was a god of wine and of the wine press, he was also a vengeful god - in a papyrus from the 21st Dynasty, Shesmu his cruel side was shown by two hawk deities twisting the net of the wine press which contains three human heads instead of grapes. Hathor, also a goddess of wine (and beer), was also both a goddess of love and a goddess of destruction.
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