“Humans have been making beer for at least 5,000 years, and most likely much longer”

Humans have been making beer for at least 5,000 years, and most likely much longer. Some anthropologists have argued that it was a thirst for beer, rather than a hunger for bread, that led to the Neolithic Revolution (c. 9500–8000 B.C.E.), during which humans gradually abandoned a hunter-gatherer lifestyle in favor of sedentary farming. Beer eventually became a defining characteristic of human culture, much like wearing clothes.

Nobody disputes the importance of beer in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, where it was the national drink. Beer was used to pay laborers and the fathers of brides. It was used medicinally for stomach ailments, coughs, constipation; one ancient Egyptian prescription calls for a beer enema. Hammurabi’s Law Code regulates the price and strength of beer. Many ancient temples had their own brewers. One text from Mari indicates the possible use of beer to induce a prophetic state. There is little doubt that these references are to beer. So there has been much academic attention given to beer in Mesopotamia and Egypt.

Two big reasons for the emphasis on beer (compared to wine) in these cultures are climate and agriculture. Grains such as barley can be easily grown throughout the Fertile Crescent, but grapes are harder to produce and can be grown only in certain regions. Due to the type of soils and weather in Egypt and Mesopotamia, it was difficult to grow grapes. They still drank wine, to be sure, but wines in Egypt and Mesopotamia were often imported from areas such as Palestine, Phoenicia and Greece, where grapes grew more easily. Yet even in the wine-producing regions of Canaan, Greece and Rome, the ancient people also produced and drank beer.

Michael M. Homan, “Did the Ancient Israelites Drink Beer?”, Biblical Archaeology Review vol. 36, no. 5 (September/October 2010), 50-51.