The ancient world was a dangerous and freaking terrifying place. Pretty much any time before the invention of wifi and the microwavable burrito are dark ages full of ignorance, plague, and terrible monsters. Even just drinking the water back in the day could lead to a slow and agonising death.
To ancient Egyptians, the Nile was pretty much the beginning and end of their world. It sustained their farms and lead them to be one of the most prosperous states of the ancient world. But drinking from it would kill you for sure. Diseases, parasites, and god-knows-what-else lurked just below the surface, ready to make any unsuspecting peasant bleed out from places they didn’t even know they had. Thankfully the gods were pretty cool and gave them the knowledge of brewing. The fermentation process would kill any grossness in the water that sometimes just boiling it wouldn’t catch, and if you drank enough of the fermented liquid, you felt warm, happy and instantly became an expert at communicating with the opposite sex.
Beer in the ancient world would be unrecognisable nowadays. Thick and full of chunks of bread, herbs, and spices, the stuff needed to either be filtered thoroughly or drunk through a straw. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before some hipster brewery gets all retro and starts serving extra thick ‘beershakes’ with papyrus straws.
This liquid bread was perfect for laborers, like the ones at Giza that built the pyramids. It was full of all the vitamins and important energies that would keep them working and hydrated during the day and kept them drunk and sleepy at night so they didn’t revolt.
'I had such a long day, stabbing stuff with my spear. Slave boy, get my beer straw!
Everyone, that couldn’t afford wine, drank beer. It provided everyone from slaves to merchants with their daily allotment of vitamin B (for beer) and kept commoners from thinking about how terrible everything was before we got around to inventing Xanax. And like everything else even mildly important in Ancient Egyptian life (like farming and erections) there was a big section of mythology dedicated to beer.
Tenenet was the ancient Egyptian goddess of beer, and uh childbirth. I’m not sure what the connections are there but hopefully, it was just because women were traditionally the ones in charge of the brewing, and not some kind of fetal alcohol syndrome. She bore a symbolic cow uterus on her head, which is really weird but with all the other crazy shit that happens in Egyptian mythology this is actually kind of ‘meh’.
This one Egyptian myth, from the Book of the Heavenly Cow
no less, plays out like a university student’s weekend bender mixed with some of the old-school apocalyptic bravado of the Old Testament. The story goes that Ra (falcon-headed, sun-king and creator of everything) was pissed that humans weren’t being grateful enough to him for inventing the universe and sent war goddess Sekhmet to eat everyone. That’ll teach ‘em.
Sekhmet’s bloodlust became insatiable. The lioness-headed goddess rampaged, ripping people's head’s off and drinking their blood like an American university sophomore chugging cheap beer. Ra, being the guilt-prone immortal lord of the universe that he was, saw the destruction he had wrought by sending Sekhmet and thought to himself 'I might have overreacted on this one a little bit.' He used a ton of blood-coloured beer to trick Sekhmet into getting wasted and falling asleep. In the morning when she woke up, she had become Hathor, cow-horned goddess of happiness, laughter, and feminine love. This proves that everybody needs to blow off some steam with a couple drinks every once in a while. Even murder-crazy, blood drinking ladies with lion heads.
Drunk chicks are scary. Drunk chicks with cat heads are scarier.
Ancient Egyptians thought the story was so great that every year there was a Festival of Drunkenness at the Temple of Hathor. Different than the daily drinking they did or the social group drinking that surely existed, this festival cranked the dial up to 11. Festival goers would drink, and dance by torchlight until they eventually passed out. They would then be woken by drums and the party would start all over again. There is even talk that there might have been some serious hanky-panky involved too. References to ‘traveling through the marshes’ in ancient texts are believed to be a euphemism for knocking sandals together. Sex, I’m talking about sex. Graffiti depicting couples doing it has been found at the Temple of Hathor. Not all that surprising since Hathor was a goddess of love. All that sounds like just a normal Friday night to us, but for the ancients this was how they got closer to their gods.
Now with the dampening of the alcohol industry, one that has existed in this country for thousands of years, the only beer that can even vaguely be called Egyptian is made by a foreign company. Many other parts of the world are experiencing a surge in the number of small breweries crafting regional beverages based on theorised, even sometimes ancient recipes. The people of Egypt must be content for now with beer loosely disconnected from its heritage. Meanwhile foreign brands like Dogfish Head create brews based on recipes written in hieroglyphics