Stone Age through Ancient Greece
From before 10,000 BC to 500 BC.
Fermented beverages have been made by humans since before recorded history. Anthropologists have suggested that humans may have first settled in specific places in order to cultivate the ingredients of beer, which may have preceded bread as a staple. Alcoholic beverages provided both nutrition and needed calories, a trading commodity, a medication, and alalgesic, a social lubricant, and played a role in religion.
Note: This timeline presents events in the history of alcohol and drinking from before 10000 BC to about 500 BC in chronological order. When events are listed as having occurred within a period of time, such as during 3100-2900 BC, they are listed before more specifically dated events, such as cir. 3000 BC, which is listed before the more specific date of 3000 BC.
The earliest alcoholic beverages in the world may have been made from berries or honey.1
A variety of alcoholic beverages have been used in China since Paleolithic times (before cir. 10000 B.C.)2.
People may have begun farming not so much to grow food, which they could usually find easily, but to obtain a steady source of ingredients needed to ferment alcohol beverages.3
Cir. 10000 B.C.
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.”5
- Beer may have preceded bread as a staple.6
Cir. 8000 B.C.
Around 8000 B.C., after humans created agricultural communities, they converted some of their production into brewed beverage. This is known from chemical analysis of pottery found in Jiahu, in northern China dating 7000-6600 B.C. The containers had contained a fermented drink made with rice, honey, grapes, and hawthorn berries. 7
“Proof that people were cultivating plants to manufacture alcohol first appears in the so-called Fertile Crescent, a geographical area curving between the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf. The analysis of a yellow residue found on the inside of a jar at a Neolithic settlement in Haji Firuz Tepe (Iran), dating to 5400-5000 BC, revealed that the jar once held wine.”8
Cir. 4000 B.C.
- Wine clearly appeared as a finished product in Egyptian pictographs around 4000 B.C.9
- The world’s oldest known winery dates to about 4,100 and is located in a cave in Armenia.10
- Jars dating back to the second millenium B.C. have been found in Azerbaijan with the remains of wine.11
Early Egyptian writings encouraged mothers to send their children to school with plenty of bread and beer for their lunch. 12
Post cir. 4000 B.C.
- Brewing dates from the beginning of civilization in ancient Egypt and alcoholic beverages were very important in that country.13 Reflecting this is the fact that while many gods were local or familial, Osiris, the god of wine, was worshipped throughout the entire country.14
- The ancient Egyptians made at least 17 types of beer and at least 24 varieties of wine.15
- Egyptians believed that Osiris, the god of wine, invented beer, a beverage that was considered a necessity of life; it was brewed in the home "on an everyday basis."16
- Both beer and wine were deified and offered to gods in ancient Egypt. Cellars and wine presses even had a god whose hieroglyph was a wine press.17
- Alcoholic beverages in ancient Egypt were used for pleasure, nutrition, medicine, ritual, remuneration18 and funerary purposes. The latter involved storing the beverages in tombs of the deceased for their use in the after-life.19
- The importance of moderation in alcohol consumption was stressed in ancient Egypt and these norms were both secular and religious.20While ancient Egyptians did not generally appear to define drunkenness as a problem, they warned against taverns (which were often houses of prostitution) and excessive drinking.21 There is extensive evidence that drinking in ancient Egypt was widespread but generally moderate.22
Cir. 3,500 B.C.
Chemnical analysis of containers dated to this period in Cyprus proves that they once held wine.23
Cir. 3400 B.C.
The Egyptian city of Hierakonpolis contain the remains of the world’s oldest known brewery, dating to circa 3400 BC. “It was capable of producing up to three hundred gallons per day. Hierakonpolis was also the site of a thriving pottery industry whose principal products were beer jugs and cups.”24
Cir. 3100 B.C.
By around 3100 BC, beer (hqt) was the beverage of workers and wine (irp) was the beverage of the elite.25
“The first proof that beer was being brewed in the region [Fertile Crescent] derives from the residues of an alcoholic barley brew found in a pottery vessel at Godin Tepe, in the Zagros Mountains of Iran, and dating to 3100-2900 BC.”26
Cir. 3000 B.C.
- “infrared spectroscopy of residue deposits recovered from pre-Bronze Age ceramic jars from the Near East revealed high levels of tartaric acid, a principal residue of grape wine.”27
- 3000 B.C. The first known illustration of wine drinking is on a 5,000-year-old Sumerian panel.28
Third Millenium B.C.
Between 2900 and 2000 B.C., mead, a fermented beverage made from honey and water, was the first alcoholic beverage to obtain widespread popularity in what is now Greece.29 However, a limited supply of honey may have restricted its availability.30
Beer was the major beverage among the Babylonians and as early as 2700 B.C. they worshiped a wine goddess and other wine deities.31 Babylonians regularly used both beer and wine as offerings to their gods.32
Middle of Third Millenium B.C.
- “In Uruk, the principal city of Sumeria and probably the largest in the world at the time, brewing was practiced on an epic scale.”33
- The Sumerians “...appointed a goddess, Ninkasi, to rule over the brewing and associated both the production and distribution of beer with women. The fragments of their laws that have survived, incised on clay tablets, tell us that they had regulated drinking places; their material culture; shows us that they staged formal drinking sessions and associated alcohol with ceremony and rank.”34
“...the laborers who built they pyramids of the Giza Plateau were provided with a daily ration of one and a third gallons [of beer with an estimated 5% ABV].35
Winemaking is a significant theme in perhaps the oldest written story in the world, the Epic of Gilgamesh, written by anonymous authors between 2700 B.C. and around 600 B.C. in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq).36
Cir. 2000 B.C.
- Beer and wine were used for medicinal purposes in Sumeria as early as 2000 BC.37
- The art of wine making reached the Hellenic peninsula by about this time.38
- Specific containers were used for wine in Italy, according to archaeological evidence.39
Post cir. 2000 B.C.
In ancient China alcohol was considered a spiritual food rather than a material (physical) food, and extensive documentary evidence attests to the important role it played in the religious life.40 "In ancient times people always drank when holding a memorial ceremony, offering sacrifices to gods or their ancestors, pledging resolution before going into battle, celebrating victory, before feuding and official executions, for taking an oath of allegiance, while attending the ceremonies of birth, marriage, reunions, departures, death, and festival banquets."41
Alcoholic beverages were widely used in all segments of Chinese society, were used as a source of inspiration, were important for hospitality, were considered an antidote for fatigue, and were sometimes misused.42
Around 2200 B.C.
A cuneiform tablet recommended beer as a tonic for lactating women.43
“In 1800 BCE, there was a communication that the land of Israel was ‘blessed with figs and with vineyards producing wine in greater quantity than water.’”44
Cir. 1750 B.C.
The famous Code of Halmmurabi devoted attention to alcohol. However, there were no penalties for drunkenness; in fact, it was not even mentioned. The concern was fair commerce in alcohol.45 Nevertheless, although it was not a crime, it would appear that the Babylonians were critical of drunkenness.46
By 1700 B.C., wine making was commonplace in Greece, and during the next thousand years wine drinking assumed the same function so commonly found around the world: It was incorporated into religious rituals, it became important in hospitality, it was used for medicinal purposes and it became an integral part of daily meals.47 As a beverage, it was drunk in many ways: warm and chilled, pure and mixed with water, plain and spiced.48
Cir. 1500 B.C.
Wine was first produced in Malta with the arrival of the Phonicians.49
Oral tradition recorded in the Old Testament (Genesis 9:20) asserts that Noah planted a vineyard on Mt. Ararat in what is now Turkey.
Egyptian King Tutankhamen died and was entombed in 1323 B.C. When his tomb was opened in 1922, the wine jars found buried with him were labeled with the year, the name of the winemaker, and comments about the quality of the wine (such as “very good wine.” The labels were so specific that they could actually meet modern wine label laws of several countries.50
Cir. 1200 B.C.
The Hebrews were reportedly introduced to wine during their captivity in Egypt. When Moses led them to Canaan (Palestine) around 1200 B.C. they are reported to have regretted leaving behind the wines of Egypt (Numbers 20:5); however, they found vineyards to be plentiful in their new land.51
Cir. 1116 B.C.
A Chinese imperial edict made it clear that the use of alcohol in moderation was believed to be prescribed by heaven. Whether or not it was prescribed by heaven, it was clearly beneficial to the treasury. At the time of Marco Polo (1254-1324) it was drunk daily.52 and was one of the treasury's biggest sources of income.53
1100 B.C. - 1400 A.D.
Laws against making wine were enacted and repealed forty-one times between 1100 BC and AD 1400 in China.54
Cir. 1100 B.C.
“Vines were first planted c. 1100 BC around Cadiz [Spain] by, it is believed, te Phoenicians.”55
Cir. 1000 B.C.
- “...by about 1000 BC, all over the world, wherever humanity had settled in villages or towns, alcohol was consumed.”56
- The earliest traces of wine in what is now Bulgaria appeared.57
The Mayans by 1000 B.C. “... were a mead-drinking culture, who flavored their mead with the bark of the balche tree. They also made a fermented drink from corn....”58
How is mead associated with honeymoon? One theory is that in ancient Babylon, the bride's father would supply his son-in-law with all the mead (fermented honey beverage) he could drink for a month after the wedding. Because their calendar was lunar or moon-based, this period of free mead was called the "honey month," or what we now call the "honeymoon." 59
- Deuteronomy 8:8 lists the fruit of the vine as being found in the land of Israel.60
- The prophet Hosea (780–725 B.C.) is said to have urged his followers to return to God so that "they will blossom as the vine, [and] their fragrance will be like the wine of Lebanon."61
- “...wine, playeda pivotal role in Greek culture. Our word wine derives from their oin, whose consumption was considered to be both one of the defining characteristics of Hellenic civilization and a point of difference between its members and the population of the rest of the world, whom they termed barbaroi, or barbarians. Wine was omnipresent in Hellenic society. It was used as an offering to their deities; as a currency to buy rare and precious things from distant countries; and it was drunk formally, ritually, as a medicine, and to assuage thirst. In some Greek states such as Athens its consumption could be a civic duty. At the great public feasts officials known as oinoptai oversaw its distribution and ensured that all present got their fair share, and such equality of proportions was the seed from which grew the concept of demokratia, or “people power.”62
- “Rigveda, the literary masterpiece of ancient India (1700-1100 B.C.) contains the oldest known description of mead.”63
Wine was the highly preferred beverage in the Greco-Roman world. Calling someone a “water-drinker” was an insult and they were thought to exude a “noxious odor.” 64
Cir. 850 B.C.
The use of wine was criticized by the Rechabites and Nazarites, two conservative nomadic groups who practiced abstinence from alcohol.65
753 B.C. - cir. 200 B.C.
Between the founding of Rome in 753 B.C. until the third century B.C., there is consensus among historians that the Romans practiced great moderation in drinking.66
Cir. 650 B.C.
A commentator in China asserted that people "will not do without beer. To prohibit it and secure total abstinence from it is beyond the power even of sages. Hence, therefore, we have warnings on the abuse of it."67
Cir. 600 B.C.
Greeks landed at the mouth of the Rhone, establish present-day Marseille, and teach the French how to prune their vines to improve yield.68
Following release of the Hebrews from Exile in Babylon, wine became a common beverage for everyone, including the very young; a major source of nourishment; an important part of festivities; a widely used medication; an essential provision for any fortress; and an important commodity. It thus came to be an essential element in the life of the Hebrews, who had developed Judiasm.69
Cir. 530 B.C.
“Childebert the First (511-558 BC) proclaimed that drunkenness was an offense in the eyes of God....”70
Cir. 525 B.C.
- It was ruled that the Kiddush (pronouncement of the Sabbath) should be recited over a blessed cup of wine. This established the regular drinking of wine in Jewish ceremonies outside the Temple.
- King Cyrus of Persia frequently praised the virtue of the moderate consumption of alcohol. However, ritual intoxication appears to have been used as an adjunct to decision making and, at least after his death, drunkenness was not uncommon.71
Cir. 500 B.C.
Roman law prohibited pregnant women from drinking for fear of damage to the fetus.72
Around 500 B.C.
People in what is now France began making wine. They acquired vines and learned both viticulture and viniculture from the Etruscans (who lived west of Rome), from whom they had long been importing wine.73
To learn more about alcohol and drinking after about 500 BC, visit
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- 2 Granet, Marcel. Chinese Civilization. London: Barnes & Noble, 1957, p. 144.
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- 11 Robinson, Jancis, (ed.) London: Oxford University Press, 2006.
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- 16 Robinson, Jancis, (ed.) London: Oxford University Press, 2006.
- 16 Heath, Dwight B. Drinking Occasions: Comparative Perspectives on Alcohol and Culture. Philadelphia: Brunner/Mazel, 2000, p. 78.
- 16 Cherrington, E.H., (ed.) Standard Encyclopedia of the Alcohol Problem. 6 vols. Westerville, OH: American Issue Publishing Co., 1925-1930. v. 1, p. 404.
- 16 Lucia, S.P. The Antiquity of Alcohol in Diet and Medicine. In: Lucia, S.P., (ed.) Alcohol and Civilization. NY: McGraw-Hill, 1963, pp. 151-166. P. 152.
- 16 Ghaliouqui, P. Fermented Beverages in Antiquity. In: Gastineau, C.F., et al., (eds.) Fermented Food Beverages in Nutrition. NY: Academic Press,1979. pp.3-19. Pp. 8 and 11. logy Symposium of the Kettil Brunn Society for Epidemiological Research, 1992.
- 17 Ghaliouqui, P. Fermented Beverages in Antiquity. In: Gastineau, C.F., et al., (eds.) Fermented Food Beverages in Nutrition. NY: Academic Press,1979. pp.3-19. P. 5.
- 18 Cherrington, E.H., (ed.) Standard Encyclopedia of the Alcohol Problem. 6 vols. Westerville, OH: American Issue Publishing Co., 1925-1930. v. 1, p. 405.
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- 20 Darby, W.J., et al. Food: The Gift of the Osiris. London, Academic Press, 1977. Vols 1 & 2. p. 58.
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- 22 Darby, W.J., et al. Food: The Gift of the Osiris. London, Academic Press, 1977. Vols 1 & 2. p. 590.
- 23 Cyprus “first to make wine.” Decanter, May 16, 2005.
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- 29 Hanson, David J. Preventing Alcohol Abuse: Alcohol, Culture, and Control. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1995, p. 3.
- 30 Engs, Ruth C. Do traditional Western European drinking practices have origins in antiquity? Addiction Research, 1995, 2(3), 237-23.
- 31 Hyams, E. Dionysus: A Social History of the Wine Vine. NY: Macmillan, 1965, pp. 38-39
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- 36 The Epic of Gilgamesh. Ancient Texts Organization. ancienttexts.org/library/mesopotamian/gilgamesh/; The Epic of Gilgamesh. The History Guide: Lectures in Ancient and Medieval European History. historyguide.org/ancient/gilgamesh.html.
- 37 Babor, T. Alcohol: Customs and Rituals. NY: Chelsea House, 1986, p. 1.
- 38 Younger, William A. Gods, Men, and Wine. London: Wine and Food Society & Michael Joseph, 1966, p. 79.
- 39 Cottino, Amedeo. Italy. In: Heath, Dwight B., (ed.) International Handbook on Alcohol and Culture. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995. Pp. 156-167. P. 158.
- 40 Hucker, O. China’s Imperial Past. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1975, p. 28; Fei-Peng, Zhang. Drinking in China. The Drinking and Drug Practices Surveyor, 1982, 18, 12-15, p. 13.
- 41 Fei-Peng, Zhang. Drinking in China. The Drinking and Drug Practices Surveyor, 1982, 18, 12-15, p. 13.
- 42 Samuelson, James. The History of Drink. London: Trubner, 1878, pp. 19-20, 22, 26-27; Fei-Peng, Zhang. Drinking in China. The Drinking and Drug Practice Surveyor, 1982, No. 18, 12-15, p. 13; Simons, Frederick J. Food in China: A Cultural and Historical Inquiry. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1991, pp. 448-459.
- 43 Escohotado, Antonio. A Brief History of Drugs. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press, 1999.
- 44 The History of Israeli Wine. KaKerem: The Israeli Wine Blog. israeli-wine.org/the-history-of-israeli-wine/#
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- 47 Babor, Thomas. Alcohol: Customs and Rituals. New York: Chelsea House, 1986, pp. 2-3.
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- 50 Esteicher, Stefan K. Wine from Neolithic Times to the 21st Century. New York: Algora Publishing, 2006, p. 18.
- 51 Lutz, H. F. Viticulture and Brewing in the Ancient Orient. New York: J. C. Heinrichs, 1922, p. 25.
- 52 Gemet, Jacques. Daily Life in China on the Eve of the Mongol Invasion 1250-1276. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1962, p. 139.
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- 54 Alcoholism and Drug Addiction Research Foundation of Ontario [booklet], 1961, p. 5.
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- 57 History of Bulgarian Wines. Bulgarian Wines website. com/index.php?action=history
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- 60 Robinson, Jancis, (ed.)The Oxford Companion to Wine. Third Edition. London: Oxford University Press, 2006, pp.364-365.
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- 62 Gately, Iain. Drink: A Cultural History of Alcohol. NY: Gotham, 2008, pp. 11-12.
- 63 Sietuviskas Midus website. midus.lt/en.php?p=History
- 64 Role of Wine in Greco-Roman culture. tasting-reviews.com/wine-blog/wine-culture-philosophy/211-wine-culture-ancient-greece-rome.html.
- 65 Lutz, H. F. Viticulture and Brewing in the Ancient Orient. New York: J. C. Heinrichs, 1922, p. 133; Samuelson, James. The History of Drink. London: Trubner, 1878, pp. 62-63.
- 66 Austin, Gregory A. Alcohol in Western Society from Antiquity to 1800: A Chronological History. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC - Clio, 1985, p. 19.
- 67 Roueche, Burton. Alcohol in Culture. In: Lucia, S.P., (ed.) Alcohol and Civilization. NY: McGraw-Hill, 1963. pp. 167-182.p. 179; similar translation quoted in Samuelson, James. The History of Drink. London: Trubner, 1878, p. 20.
- 68 Esteicher, Stefan K. Wine from Neolithic Times to the 21st Century. New York: Algora Publishing, 2006, p. 25.
- 69 Raymond, Irving W. The Teaching of the Early Church on the Use of Wine and Strong Drink. New York: Columbia University Press, 1927, p. 23.
- 70 Sournia, Jean-Charles. A History of Alcoholism. Oxford, UK: Basil Blackwell, 1990, p. 13.
- 71 Austin, Gregory A. Alcohol in Western Society from Antiquity to 1800: A Chronological History. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC - Clio, 1985, p. 19.
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