ANCIENT EGYPTIAN DRINKS: BEER, WINE, MILK AND WATER

ANCIENT EGYPTIAN DRINKS

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drinking beer
As early as 1450 B.C., depictions on wall painting from a pharaoh’s tomb show, the ancient Egyptians practiced a form of water purification. It shows one person pouring water into a vessel and another sucking on a hose apparently to get the water to go through a series filters.

In 2000 B.C. an Egyptian priest told a pupil. "I, thy superior, forbid thee to go to the taverns. Thou art degraded like the beasts." Ancient people, before the ancient Egyptians, found that if they crushed grapes or warmed and moistened grain, would bubble and produce a drink with a kick. Depictions of alcohol brewing in Egypt have been found on papyrus from around 3000 B.C.

Dr. Michael Poe wrote: “There are five basic groups of Egyptian wines; those from grapes, dates, palm, pomegranates, and other fruits. Palm wine was produced by tapping the trunk near its branches and collecting the juice and then fermenting the liquid. Date wine is produced by mashing dates and fermenting the resulting juice. Pomegranate wine was also produced. I have tasted a bottle of pomegranate wine (of recent vintage), and find that it has a fruity, sweet taste no unlike many ‘blush’ wines made today. Meads from honey were also made.” [Source: Dr. Michael Poe Phd, Touregypt.Net, 2004]

A text called the “Teaching of Ani” written during the 18th Dynasty (1550 to 1292 B.C.) offers the following advice on drinking: “Do not indulge in drinking beer lest bad words come out of your mouth without you knowing what you are saying. If you fall and hurt yourself, no one will give you a helping hand. Your drinking companions will stand around saying, ‘Out with the drunkard!’ If someone comes to find you and talk to you, you will be discovered lying on the ground like a little child.” [Source: Nathaniel Scharping, Discover, September 22, 2016]

On drinks found in Nubia, ancientsudan.org reported: “Since the people of Nubia had domesticated animals, milk would have been a common drink. Strabo, a Roman geographer who lived in the first century B.C. writes that Kushites live on the “meats, blood, milk, and cheese.”(Strabo xvii Ch. 2: 2) Traces for milk have also been found on the teeth of Nubian mummies and pots.Wine was, one the most flourishing product in Nubia. Pottery containing wine was contained in almost every grave. At Kerma, dating to about 1600 B.C., 250 jars of wine were found deposited in a ground depression.10 The jars were turned upside down to prevent the odor of alcohol from spreading. About fourteen vine presses for producing wine were discovered in Sudan. Although vines were not apt for growth in arid and semi-arid environments like that of Northern Sudan, a limited production is possible.” [Source: Ancientfoods, ancientsudan.org, May 13, 2011]

Websites on Ancient Egypt: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Discovering Egypt discoveringegypt.com; BBC History: Egyptians bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/egyptians ; Ancient History Encyclopedia on Egypt ancient.eu/egypt; Digital Egypt for Universities. Scholarly treatment with broad coverage and cross references (internal and external). Artifacts used extensively to illustrate topics. ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt ; British Museum: Ancient Egypt ancientegypt.co.uk; Egypt’s Golden Empire pbs.org/empires/egypt; Metropolitan Museum of Art www.metmuseum.org ; Oriental Institute Ancient Egypt (Egypt and Sudan) Projects ; Egyptian Antiquities at the Louvre in Paris louvre.fr/en/departments/egyptian-antiquities; KMT: A Modern Journal of Ancient Egypt kmtjournal.com; Ancient Egypt Magazine ancientegyptmagazine.co.uk; Egypt Exploration Society ees.ac.uk ; Amarna Project amarnaproject.com; Egyptian Study Society, Denver egyptianstudysociety.com; The Ancient Egypt Site ancient-egypt.org; Abzu: Guide to Resources for the Study of the Ancient Near East etana.org; Egyptology Resources fitzmuseum.cam.ac.uk

Ancient Egyptian Beer

Egyptians are regarded by some historians as the inventors of beer. Made from barley, Egyptians beer was thick and nutritious. The fermentation process added essential B vitamins and amino acids converted from yeast. According to Egyptologist Zahi Hawass, they "had five types of beer with higher alcohol content than modern brews."


pouring beer

It is said the Ancient Egyptians believed that one day Osiris, god of agriculture, made a decoction of barley that had germinated with the sacred waters of the Nile, and then distracted by other urgent affairs, left it out in the sun and forgot it. When he came back the mixture had fermented. He drank it, and thought it so good that he let mankind profit by it. This was said to be the origin of beer. Most of the problems in the Moscow Mathematical Papyrus are algebraic pefsu problems. A pefsu measures the strength of the beer made from a hekat of grain.

Megan Garber wrote in The Atlantic: “Beer, some have argued, helped give birth to civilization. In ancient Egypt, sustaining humans through the vagaries of the hunt and the harvest, it was consumed by children as well as adults. It was drunk by the wealthy and the poor alike. It was an integral part of both religious ceremonies—Egyptians offered their thick, sweet version of the stuff up to their gods—and everyday life.” [Source: Megan Garber, The Atlantic, January 3, 2014 ]

The glyph for a beer jug also appears in the words: "Htpt" ("hotepet"-a bowl for bread offerings); "iaw r" (breakfast); "athw" ("atkhu"-brewers); "swr" ("sur"-drink); "hmu" ("hemu"-payment for employment); "Awt" ("ahut"-gifs, food); "Htp ntr" ("hotep netjer"-gods offerings); "hbbt" ("khabbit"-jar); "sTt" ("sejet"-beer jar); "Hnw" ("henu"-possessions, goods); "st ht" and "SAbw" ("set khet", "shahbu"-meal); "irTt" ("irtjet"-milk); "mhr" ("meher"-milk jar); "wdHw" and "Htp"("wedhu", "hotep"-offering); "msyt" ("mesyut"-supper).” [Source: ancientegyptonline.co.uk]

Beer and Ancient Egyptian Everyday Life

Beer was perhaps the most common drink and affordable enough that ordinary people could drink it every day. Beer came jars and freshly made beer may have been consumed with straws. Many workers were buried with jars of beer so they wouldn’t be without it in the afterlife. An industrial scale beer factory dated to 3500 B.C. has been found in Hierakonpolis. Eight vats discovered there could produce 300 gallons of beer a day.

John Noble Wilford wrote in the New York Times, “Artistic depictions and written sources attest to beer's popularity in early Egypt. The elite and hoi polloi alike enjoyed beers with names like Joy Bringer, the Beautiful and Heavenly. They drank through tubes from ceramic cups and sometimes did not know when to say when. An Egyptian papyrus of 1400 B.C. warned of the dangers of loose talk "in the taverns in which they drink beer." [Source: John Noble Wilford, New York Times, July 26, 1996]

According to ancientegyptonline.co.uk: “Beer was generally known as "Hqt" ("heqet" or "heket"), but was also called "tnmw" ("tenemu") and there was also a type of beer known as haAmt ("kha-ahmet"). The determinative of the word Hqt (beer) was a beer jug. It is no exaggeration to say that beer was of central importance to ancient Egyptian society. Beer was enjoyed by both adults and children, was the staple drink of poor Egyptians but was also central to the diet of wealthy Egyptians. The gods were often made offerings of beer and beer was mentioned in the traditional offering formula. Wages were often paid in beer (and other supplies) and the workmen living in the workers village at Giza received beer three times a day as part of their rations. [Source: ancientegyptonline.co.uk <|>]

“There is some evidence that as a staple foodstuff, ancient Egyptian beer was not particularly intoxicating. Rather it was nutritious, thick and sweet. However, it is clear that beer could also be as intoxicating as egyptian wine as participants in the festivals of Bast, Sekhmet and Hathor would get very drunk as part of their worship of these goddesses. A popular myth tells how beer saved humanity when Sekhmet (in her role as the "Eye of Ra") was tricked into drinking coloured beer which she mistook for blood and became very drunk, passing out for three days! Although the above three goddesses were closely associated with beer, it was Tjenenet who was the official ancient Egyptian goddess of beer. <|>



Ancient Egyptian Beer-Making

According to ancientegyptonline.co.uk: “According to legend, Osiris taught ancient Egyptians the art of brewing beer, but the brewing of beer was traditionally but not exclusively a female activity though which women could earn a little extra money (or bartered goods) for themselves and their families. The main ingredient in the beer was bread made from a rich yeasty dough possibly including malt. The bread was lightly baked and crumbled into small pieces before being strained through a sieve with water. Flavour was added in the form of dates and the mixture was fermented in a large vat and then stored in large jars. However, there is also evidence that beer was brewed from barley and emmer which was heated and mixed with yeast and uncooked malt before being fermented to produce beer. [Source: ancientegyptonline.co.uk ]

Scholars have not been sure how the Egyptians brewed their beer. In some temple art, it appeared that beer was made by crumbling bread into water and letting it ferment by yeast from the bread, yielding a coarse liquid swimming with chaff. But a researcher at Cambridge University in England has now examined beer residues and desiccated bread loaves from Egyptian tombs and found evidence of much more sophisticated brewing techniques in the second millennium B.C.

Dena Connors-Millard of Minnesota State University, Mankato wrote: “Legend teaches that Osiris taught humans to brew beer. In keeping with this idea the Egyptians often used beer in religious ceremonies and as the meal-time beverage. Because of the prevalence of beer in the Egyptian life, many Egyptologists have studied beer residue from Egyptian vessels. For a very long time it was thought that the Egyptians made a crude beer by crumbling lightly baked, well-leavened bread into water. They then strained it out with a sieve into a vat and the water was allowed to ferment because of the yeast from the bread. It has been thought that the Egyptians flavored the beer with date juice or honey, because the straining method would not give much flavor." [Source: Dena Connors-Millard ,Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com, Menon, Shanti "King Tut's Tipple" Discover, January 1997, Samuel, Delwen "Investigation of Ancient Egyptian Baking and Brewing Methods by Correlative Microscopy" Science July 1996]

New Insights Into Beer Making in Ancient Egypt

In 1996 Dr. Delwen Samuel from the University of Cambridge found that the Egyptians seem to have used barley to make malt and a type of wheat, emmer, instead of hops. They heated the mixture then added yeast and uncooked malt to the cooked malt. After adding the second batch of malt the mixture was allowed to ferment. In the analysis Samuel did she found no traces of flavorings. Samuel and her colleagues tried brewing the beer using the recipe derived by the analysis. They brewed it at a modern brewery and found the beer to be fruity and sweet because it lacked the bitterness of hops.[Source: Dena Connors-Millard ,Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com, Menon, Shanti "King Tut's Tipple" Discover, January 1997, Samuel, Delwen "Investigation of Ancient Egyptian Baking and Brewing Methods by Correlative Microscopy" Science July 1996]

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In a report published in the journal Science in 1996, Dr. Delwen Samuel, a research associate in archeology at Cambridge, said "the current conceptions about ancient Egyptian bread and beer making should be modified." A microscopic analysis of beer residues, she said, indicated a more elaborate brewing process, blending cooked and uncooked malt with water and producing a refined liquid free of husk. The microstructure of the residues, Dr. Samuel concluded, "is remarkably similar to that of modern cereal foods."

In an accompanying article, Dr. Glynis Jones, a researcher at the University of Sheffield in England, who studies cereal-processing methods, said the findings were "the first real scientific evidence for the ancient brewing techniques." The study was possible because it was the practice of ancient Egyptians to leave food and beer in their tombs for sustenance in the afterlife and the arid climate preserved those remains. Dr. Samuel examined with optical and electron microscopes nearly 70 loaves of bread from several sites and beer residues from more than 200 pottery vessels found among the ruins of workers' villages.

Almost all of the bread was made from a type of wheat known as emmer, sometimes flavored with coriander and fig. Both emmer and barley -- not barley alone, as previously thought -- were used for brewing. No flavorings have been detected in the beer residues. An analysis of starch granules, in particular, showed that the Egyptians did not use lightly baked bread as the main ingredient in brewing. Instead, they seemed to use a two-part process. The grains were deliberately sprouted and heated to provide sugar and flavor. The cooking made the grain more susceptible to attack by the enzymes that convert starch into sugars. This batch was then mixed with sprouted but unheated grains in water. Yeast was added to the combination of sugar and starch in solution, and this fermented to make beer.

In 1996 Dr. Samuel and Dr. Barry Kemp, a Cambridge Egyptologist, in collaboration with a British brewery, brewed an ale according to the recipe inferred from this recent research. The beverage was slightly cloudy with a golden hue. "It does not taste like any beer I've ever tried before," Dr. Samuel said. "It's very rich, very malty and has a flavor that reminds you a little of chardonnay."

Beer in Ancient Egyptian Temple Rituals

Mu-Chou Poo of the Chinese University of Hong Kong wrote: “Being the most popular and affordable drink in ancient Egypt, beer featured prominently as an offering in funerary as well as temple rituals. The brewing of beer involves the fermentation of cereals, and, as studies of beer residues show, the brewing of beer in general comprises several steps. First, a batch of grain was allowed to sprout, thereby producing an enzyme. Then another batch of grain was cooked in water to disperse the starch naturally contained within it. The two batches were subsequently combined, causing sugar to be produced, and then sieved. Finally, the sugar-rich liquid was mixed with yeast, which fermented the sugar into alcohol. [Source: Mu-Chou Poo, Chinese University of Hong Kong, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org <>]


offering table

“Like the offering of wine, the beer-offering was a common ritual in Egyptian temples. However, although Hathor’s epithet “Mistress of Drunkenness” was found in beer-offering scenes , it is somewhat surprising to learn that, contrary to our expectations, the mythological story of the Destruction of Mankind does not appear to have been alluded to in the beer-offering liturgies. What were emphasized in the offering liturgies were concerns regarding the correctness and meticulousness with which the beer was brewed: “Take the sweet beer, the supply for your majesty, which is brewed correctly. How sweet is its taste, how sweet is its smell!. How beautiful are these beer jars, which are brewed at the correct time, which fill your ka at the time of your wish. May your heart be joyful daily. Take for yourself the wonderful beer, which the noble one has brewed with her hands, with the beautiful plant from Geb and myrrh from Nepy.”

“The deities’ emphasis on the proper brewing of beer is interesting, since the production of wine was never mentioned as having been done by gods. It is mentioned that music was performed during the offering of beer: “Take the beer to appease your heart...for your ka according to your desire, may you drink it, may [you] be happy, as I make music before you”. This leads us to rethink whether the epithet of Hathor as “Mistress of Drunkenness” necessarily alludes to the mythological story of the Destruction of Mankind, and not to a more general sense of intoxication and rejuvenation. After all, beer, above all other offerings, would be the obvious choice for alluding to the story if indeed the story gave rise to Hathor’s epithet.” <>

Tomb of an Ancient Egyptian Beer Brewer

In 2014, archaeologist excavated the tomb of Khonso-Im-Heb, an ancient Egyptian beer brewer. Judiging from the tomb’s layout and decorations he was quite rich and highly-ranked. Megan Garber wrote in The Atlantic: “While doing routine cleaning of the burial plot of a statesman in the court of Amenhotep III—King Tut's grandfather—in Luxor, a group of Egyptologists from Japan's Waseda University discovered another tomb: that of Khonso-Im-Heb. He was, apparently... the court's head of beer production. [Source: Megan Garber. The Atlantic, January 3, 2014 ]

“The beer-brewer's tomb—estimated to be more than 3,000 years old—is T-shaped, Ahram Online's Nevine El-Aref reports, with two halls and a burial chamber. And in the image above, provided by Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, you can see the well-preserved painting decorating the tomb. It features scenes of grain fermentation as well as the finished products being presented in jugs, ostensibly to Mut. According to Jiro Kondo, the head of the Japanese mission, the wall's scenes depict Khonso-Im-Heb himself, accompanied both by family members and various deities.

Khonso-Im-Heb was, in addition to being a brewer, also the head of the warehouse where the beer he made was stored. And his resting place in death is fitting for his role in life: golden-hued and exuberant and intoxicating. As Egypt's minister of antiquities, Mohammed Ibrahim, explains, the tomb features "fabulous designs and colors, reflecting details of daily life ... along with their religious rituals."

Ancient Nubian Antibiotic Beer

Ancient Nubians appear to have consumed a beer made from grains containing antibiotics. According to a study published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology. large amounts of tetracycline was found embedded in the bones of ancient Nubian mummies, who lived along the Nile in present-day Sudan,and their most likely source is the beer they drank consistently throughout their lifetimes, beginning early in childhood. “Given the amount of tetracycline there, they had to know what they were doing,” lead author of the study George Armelagos, a biological anthropologist at Emory University in Atlanta, said. “They may not have known what tetracycline was, but they certainly knew something was making them feel better.” [Source: Emily Sohn, abc.net.au, discovery news, September 2010 )=(]


Emily Sohn wrote: “Armelagos was part of a group of anthropologists that excavated the mummies in 1963. His original goal was to study osteoporosis in the Nubians, who lived between about 350 and 550 A.D. But while looking through a microscope at samples of the ancient bone under ultraviolet light, he saw what looked like tetracycline — an antibiotic that was not officially patented in modern times until 1950. At first, he assumed that some kind of contamination had occurred. “Imagine if you’re unwrapping a mummy, and all of a sudden, you see a pair of sunglasses on it,” says Armelagos. “Initially, we thought it was a product of modern technology.” )=(

“His team’s first report about the finding, bolstered by even more evidence and published in Science in 1980, was met with lots of scepticism. For the new study, he got help dissolving bone samples and extracting tetracycline from them, clearly showing that the antibiotic was deposited into and embedded within the bone, not a result of contamination from the environment. They were also able to trace the antibiotic to its source: grain that was contaminated with a type of mold-like bacteria called Streptomyces. Common in soil, Strep bacteria produce tetracycline antibiotics to kill off other, competing bacteria. )=(

“Grains that are stored underground can easily become moldy with Streptomyces contamination, though these bacteria would only produce small amounts of tetracycline on their own when left to sit or baked into bread. Only when people fermented the grain would tetracycline production explode. Nubians both ate the fermented grains as gruel and used it to make beer...It appears that doses were high that consumption was consistent, and that drinking started early. Analyses of the bones showed that babies got some tetracycline through their mother’s milk. Then, between ages two and six, there was a big spike in antibiotics deposited in the bone, Armelagos said, suggesting that fermented grains were used as a weaning food. )=(

“Today, most beer is pasteurised to kill Strep and other bacteria, so there should be no antibiotics in the ale you order at a bar, says Dennis Vangerven, an anthropologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder. But Armelagos has challenged his students to home-brew beer like the Nubians did, including the addition of Strep bacteria. The resulting brew contains tetracycline, tastes sour but drinkable, and gives off a greenish hue. )=(

“There’s still a possibility that ancient antibiotic use was an accident that the Nubians never knew about, though Armelagos has also found tetracycline in the bones of another population that lived in Jordan. And VanGerven has found the antibiotic in a group that lived further south in Egypt during the same period. Finding tetracycline in these mummies, says VanGerven, is “surprising and unexpected. And at the very least, it gives us a very different time frame in which to understand the dynamic interaction between the bacterial world and the world of antibiotics.”“ )=(

Ancient Egyptian Wine

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collecting grapes
Ancient Egyptian wine was made from a domesticated species of grape, Vitis vinifera vinifera . Early wine is believed to have been fermented by natural yeasts that blooms on the grape's skin. Some of it was sweetened with figs. Some of the best wines were produced in the Bahariya Oasis.

Patrick McGovern, and ancient wine expert and scientific director of the Biomolecular Archaeology Laboratory of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, said in ancient Egypt "you have illustrations inside the tombs showing how many jars of beer and wine from the Nile Delta are to be provided to the dead." New Kingdom tomb reliefs and paintings depicts rows of wine jars used in royal celebrations and elaborate wine cellars and storehouses in palaces and temples at Amarna and Thebes. The Great Papyrus Harris, one of the longest and best preserved manuscripts from ancient Egypt, shows Ramses III (1184-1153 B.C.) boasting of presenting 59,588 jars of wine to the chief Egyptian deity, Amun, at his temple in Thebes.

Much of ancient Egypts wine appears to have been imported from the Jordan valley. Wine found in Abydos, dated to 3000 B.C., was produced in produced in the Jordan Valley and had evidence of an ancient customs seal.

Wine in Ancient Egypt

Jennifer Taylor of Minnesota State University, Mankato wrote: “Egyptian wine has an extensive history within the history of Egyptian civilization. Grapes were not native to the landscape of Egypt, rather the vines themselves are hypothesized to have been imported from the Phoenicians, though the actual origins remain in dispute. What is known, is that by the third millenium B.C., Egyptian kings of the first dynasty had extensive wine cellars, and wine was used extensively in the temple ceremonies. The main consumption of wine in Egypt, took place between the king, nobles, and the priests in temple ceremonies, and is evidenced by numerous painted relief's, and other archeological evidence. [Sources: Minnesota State University, Mankato, De Blij, “Wine: A Geographic Appreciation.” Rowman & Allanheld: New Jersey, 1983; “Alexis Lichine's New Encyclopedia of Wines and Spirits”, Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 1984. ethanholman.com]

An ancient Egyptian proverb goes: “In water you see your own face, but in wine the heart of its garden”. Dr. Michael Poe wrote: “There is still considerable speculation about where “vitis vinifera” or the wine grape first originated. Some think it started south of the Caucasus and south of the Caspian sea; others believe in Egypt and traveled into the Middle East. According to William Younger in his book, ‘Gods, Men and Wine’ “It is in Egypt where we must go for our fullest knowledge of man’s early and deliberate growing of wine.” Plutarch said that he was told that Osiris was the first to drink wine and to teach men how to plant the vine.” [Source: Michael Poe, Phd, Touregypt.Net, 2004 ^=^]

“Wine was considered a particularly special offering to any of the ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses. But it was Renentet (also called Ernutet or Renen-utet) the goddess of plenty and harvests who invariably had a small shrine near the wine press and vat, as well as on the spout where the juices flows from the vat to the receiving tank. Osiris was also a god of wine as head honoree at the Ouag festival. the hieroglyphics making up the festival name include three wine jars on a table, and a fourth jar being offered by an outstretched hand. The goddess Hathor (Het-hor) was, among other things, the goddess of wine and intoxication. So while we constantly read of beer being the drink of the people and one of the chief staples of life of the ancient Egyptian, it is wine and the vineyard that holds a special place of honor as a Food of the Gods.” ^=^

Evidence of Early Wine-Making in Ancient Egypt


Dr. Michael Poe wrote: “First dynastic tombs of Abydos record the existence of vineyards including the earliest record of wine cellars and by the time of King Zoser, whose step pyramid was the first pyramid built there existed a partial list of vineyards including the famous vineyard “Horus on the Height of Heaven” which produced wine down into the Greek period.” [Source: Michael Poe, Phd, Touregypt.Net, 2004 ^=^]

According to the University of Pennsylvania: “The wild grape never grew in ancient Egypt. Yet a thriving royal winemaking industry had been established in the Nile Delta—most likely due to Early Bronze Age trade between Egypt and Palestine, encompassing modern Israel,the West Bank and Gaza, and Jordan—by at least Dynasty 3 (ca. 2700 B.C.), the beginning of the Old Kingdom period. Winemaking scenes appear on tomb walls, and the accompanying offering lists include wine that was definitely produced at vineyards in the Delta. By the end of the Old Kingdom, five wines—all probably made in the Delta—constitute a canonical set of provisions or fixed “menu,” for the afterlife. [Source: University of Pennsylvania, ancientfoods.com, July 26, 2010 <+>]

“The evidence for winemaking in the Delta during the preceding Early Dynastic Period (Dynasties 1 and 2) is more inferential. Rather than recording a large number of wine jars in an offering list, actual jars in large quantities were buried in the tombs of the pharoahs at Abydos and those of their families at Saqqara, the main religious centers. The jars are stoppered with a round pottery lid and a conical clay lump that was pressed over the lid and tightly around the rim. The clay stopper was generally impressed with multiple cylinder seal impressions giving the name of the pharoah. <+>

“While chemical tests have yet to verify that the Dynasty 1 and 2 jars contained wine, less common seal impressions on the jar stoppers do include hieroglyphic signs for “grapevine/vineyard” and possible geographic locations (e.g., Memphis, the northern capital, near Saqqara), in addition to the king’s name. Such seals have been interpreted as a primitive kind of wine label, possibly giving the location of the winery and its owner. The impressions with only the king’s name might then be an abbreviated form of registration for jars that generally contained wine. Viniculture in Egypt must have taken some time to develop, and the Early Dynastic “wine jars” may well represent the first “fruits” of the nascent industry. <+>

“Is it possible to know when the first grapevines were transplanted to the Nile Delta? The answer is vital for understanding the prehistory of an industry that eventually spread over the entire Delta, to the large western oases, and even to towns on the upper Nile where the climate would seem to preclude viniculture. The domesticated grapevine could only have come from some region of the Levant that was already exploiting it, and many specialists—farmers, horticulturists, traders, and above all, vintners—would’ve been involved in the establishment and success of the developing industry. The grapevine hieroglyphic itself, showing a grapevine trained to run along a trellis or arbor, indicates that the Early Dynastic viniculture was quite sophisticated.” <+>

Vineyards in Ancient Egypt

Jennifer Taylor of Minnesota State University, Mankato wrote: “The vineyards of ancient Egypt, were quite different from the modern methods of wine making today. As viticulture (or wine making), ceased to serve an exclusively ceremonial purpose, the Egyptians began to experiment with simple structures for their vines to train on, as well as found a way to train their vines so they were easy low maintenance bushes, and found ways for the soil to retain more moisture for the vines. [Sources: Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com]


Dr. Michael Poe wrote: “There were several types of early Egyptian vineyards. The first grapevines incorporated into a formal garden for creating beauty as well as for utility. The second was a work of agriculture and existed in an orchard garden along with fruit trees and vegetables. The third was a formal vineyard as we know them today. The 3rd dynastic administrator of northern Egypt, Methen, had a garden-vine at his estate and a regular vineyard by itself in another area. In addition to nobles owning vineyards, temples had their own on their temples estates, and the pharaohs had theirs as well; Rameses III lists 513 vineyards belonging to the temple of Amon-Ra.” [Source: Michael Poe, Phd, Touregypt.Net, 2004 ^=^]

“In orchards grape vines were object of special attention and was one of the gardeners most important jobs. The hieroglyphic sign for vines is used in the writing of the words “orchard” and “gardener.” There were also specific jobs with titles like “Master of the Vineyard,” and “Master of the Vine-Dresser.” ^=^

“The best vineyards were in the Delta, followed by the Fayyum, Memphis, and then southern Egypt and the oasises. The major sources of information on the production of wine are the wall paintings and reliefs from tombs of the Old Kingdom (Saqqara) and the New Kingdom (at Thebes). The comments and recommendations of classical authors give us insight into the qualities and types of the various wines, vineyards and types. ^=^

“Many scenes from tombs gives us a fairly accurate picture of the Egyptian vineyards and the techniques of wine production. The best site to locate a vineyard was on a hill, but if there wasn’t one than the Egyptians made an artificially raised plot of land and planted the vines there. A wall generally enclosed the area and vegetables and fruit were planted with the grapes. They were watered by hand generally from a water basin. ^=^

“There were four ways to grow grape vines. One was to erect two wood pillars with the upper ends forked, and a wooden pole laid over the top where the vines were laid. This type of support also forms a hieroglyph which is used in the words meaning ‘garden,’ ‘wine,’ and ‘vine’. A second way is to train the grape vines to grow on trellis’s supported on transverse rafters that rested on columns. Occasionally the columns were carved and painted. A third way was to make vine arbors consisting of branches with the ends placed in the ground to form an arch. And lastly, some vines were grown and pruned to make low bushes and needed no support.” ^=^

Wine-Making in Ancient Egypt

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wine press
Dr. Michael Poe wrote: “When the grapes ripened they were picked by hand and put into large rush baskets. These were carried on the shoulders, on the head, or slung on a yoke. The baskets of grapes were emptied into vats for crushing. These large vats were large enough to contain up to six men who crushed the grapes with their feet. The grape juice flowed through a hole in the side of the vat into a smaller vat, and then poured into pottery jars where it was fermented. [Source: Michael Poe, Phd, Touregypt.Net, 2004 ^=^]

“Secondary pressing was used to separate the rest of the juice form the stems, seeds and skin. The residue was put into a sack and was stretched, either on a frame with a pole at one end or between two poles. The pole was twisted to extract the juice that was then collected into a large vessel. ^=^

“Fermentation took place in open vessels then the wine was racked and transferred to other jars, being sealed with rush bung-stoppers and covered with mud capsules. Small holes were left near the tops of the caps to allow carbon dioxide that was produced in the secondary fermentation to escape. When fermentation finally stopped the holes were sealed. ^=^

“Although there is no evidence of the widespread use of this technique, wine was sometimes clarified by being racked from jar to jar. Sometimes it was strained (a form of decanting) before drunk, and occasionally the Egyptians would use a siphon (see illustration) to keep the wine dregs from mixing with the wine to be poured.” ^=^

Jennifer Taylor of Minnesota State University, Mankato wrote: “Egyptian wine making experiments included the use of different wine presses, adding heat to the must (the grape juice ready for fermentation) in order to make the wine sweet, and differences in vat types and materials. The final finished product of wine, was poured through a cloth filter, and then into earthenware jars, where they would be sealed with natural tar and left to ferment. The Egyptians kept accurate records of their vintages, and quality of their wines, each jar of wine was clearly labeled with it's own vintage, and quality. [Sources: Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com]

Types of Wine in Ancient Egypt

Jennifer Taylor of Minnesota State University, Mankato wrote: “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, something to be desired. Nestor Gianaclis, set out in 1903 to find the mixtures of Egyptian wine, as well as growing conditions, which tasted the same as their primordial counterparts of ancient Egypt. Nestor searched out areas through out Egypt, looking for the right type of soil, moisture, and grape which could grow a wine worthy vine. With the aid of Egyptian ministries, seventy three conventional grape types were tried in addition to Nestor's twenty he himself had bred. Once the ideal soil type was found (similar to the soil of Champagne, France), it was not until 1931 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 connoisseur consider it of poor taste. Regardless, the taste of the ancients is still present 3,500 years later. [Sources: Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com]

Dr. Michael Poe wrote: “Egyptian wines were graded as good (nfr), twice good (nfr,nfr), three times good (nfr,nfr,nfr)as being the finest. There was also another type of grading; genuine, sweet, merrymaking (not so good), and blended. [Source: Michael Poe, Phd, Touregypt.Net, 2004 ^=^]

“Variations of wine from grapes or other products were “enhanced” occasionally by blending other wines with it, or the additions of herbs and other flavorings. There is also the possibility of adding honey to wine, and some wine labels indicated “sweet” wine which could indicate either a specific type of grape that makes sweet wine, such as a Muscat, or the addition of flavorings. And that brings us to one other matter.” ^=^

Analyzing Wine Types in Ancient Egypt Based on Color

20120216-WineVesselWithMaskOfGodBes.png
Wine vessel with mask
of god Bes
Maria Rosa Guasch Jané PhD wrote: “In order to study the kind (colour) of the wines that were made in ancient Egypt, we developed an analytical method for archaeological residues of wine was developed using the liquid chromatography mass spectrometry in tandem (LC/MS/MS) technique. [Source: Maria Rosa Guasch Jané, PhD form the University of Barcelona,"Wine of Ancient Egypt" (Irep en Kemet), wineofancientegypt.com*/*]

“Two compounds were identified in archaeological residue samples from Tutankhamun’s amphorae: tartaric acid, as grape marker, and syringic acid derived from malvidin, the latter being the main compound responsible for the red colour of grapes and wines, as red grape marker (Guasch-Jané, 2004; 2006a,b). The results of analysing residue samples from Tutankhamun’s amphorae revealed that in ancient Egypt red and white wines were given the name irp (Guasch-Jané, 2006b; 2008). The analytical results added new information to the inscription on the amphorae: about the type of wine they contained. Furthermore, the results of the analyses also confirmed that in Egypt, during the New Kingdom Period, three kinds of grape products were made (Guasch-Jané, 2008): red wine, white wine and the shedeh, a red wine with a different preparation.*/*

“The origin and nature of the shedeh, which has no translation, was a mystery since a century ago, with pomegranates or grapes having been proposed as a raw material. According to Papyrus Salt 825 at the British Museum (BM 10051) of the Late Period (715-332 B.C.), the only text found so far that mentions the elaboration of the shedeh, it was filtered and heated; nevertheless, due to a damage in the Salt papyrus, the botanical source of shedeh remained unknown.The results of analysing a sample of a residue from the shedeh amphora found in Tutankhamun’s Burial chamber, bearing the inscription “Year 5, shedeh of very good quality of the Estate of Aten of the Western River, chief vintner Rer” confirmed that shedeh was a red grape wine. Recent research suggested the use of the three wine amphorae found in Tutankhamun’s Burial chamber (the western amphora containing a red wine, the eastern amphora a white wine and the southern amphora containing shedeh) were for the King’s three-step resurrection ritual.” */*

Famous Wines in Ancient Egypt

Dr. Michael Poe wrote: “It appeared that ancient Egypt had the equivalent of the French ‘Appellation Controlee’ laws. There was a “Royal Sealer of Wine” who overlooked the honest labeling laws, and much of what you find on wine labels today were on the wine labels of ancient Egypt. These included: 1) Name of the Estate, 2) Location, 3) Type of wine, 4) Date of vintage, 5) Vintners Name, 6) Assessment of Quality.[Source: Dr. Michael Poe Phd, Touregypt.Net, 2004 ^=^]

“An example of such a wine label is Star of Horus on the Height of Heaven (this vineyard estate started around 2600 B.C. or the time of Zoser and lasted to 300 ce); Northern Xois District, Chassut Red (Chassut Red was reputed to be not ready to drink until it had aged 100 years!), Sekem-Ka, vintner; very, very fine grade. ^=^

“Keeping a wine for years to mature was not all that uncommon. In the annex of Tutankhamon’s tomb 36 wine jars were found and each bore a docket in heiratic giving the date, place, and vintage of the wine and showing the Aten Domain Vineyard wines to be maintained for at least 21 years. ^=^

“Something we don’t do today is to label the wine with the name of the vintner. It was important in ancient Egypt since if the vintner was famous for producing fine wines and moved to another vineyard, it would be a way that the Egyptian wine buyer could continue buying fine wine. Today we keep track to the movement of vintners through wine magazines and newsletters. We know that many nobles tombs have paintings of specially constructed storehouses in which the wine amphorae were stacked in rows on shelves, giving us a glimpse of the first true wine cellars. ^=^

“Other famous vineyards include Phoenix Estate on the Horizon of Kemet in the Sile district; the Vineyard Ways of Horus (Lake Menzalah district); Preserver of Kemet (royal estate in the Piramese/Tanis district); Estates on the Western River (on the Canopic branch of the Nile and highly thought of, this wine was found in cellars on the palace of Amenophis II at Tebes and Armana. It seems that it is possible that the ancient Egyptians also cut up Egypt into wine growing districts, much like France does today.

“The ancient Romans, who had quite a lot of vineyards of their own, also imported wines from Egypt. They considered the vineyards along the Canopic branch of the Nile to have some the best wines. Two writers during the Roman empire record the wine at Mareotis is white, fragrant, thin, but of good quality. They also record that the wine of Sebennytus in the central delta, ranked high in excellence. The Romans also were very impressed with wines grown around the lake Menzalah district, the Tanis district, northern Xois area and in the region of Sile.” ^=^

Wine in Ancient Egyptian Temple Rituals


two priests, one holding a vase for libations

Mu-Chou Poo of the Chinese University of Hong Kong wrote: “Wine was often an important item in funerary and temple cults. From as early as the Old Kingdom, wine was regularly mentioned in offering lists as part of the funerary establishment . In temple rituals, wine was also often offered to various deities. In the pyramid temple of Fifth Dynasty king [Source: Mu-Chou Poo, Chinese University of Hong Kong, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org <>]

Sahura, for example, the king was shown offering wine to the goddess Sakhmet. Besides its general significance as an item that pleased the deities, the offering of wine took on certain specific religious and mythological associations. Already in the Pyramid Texts, Osiris was mentioned as the “Lord of Wine in the Wag Festival”. The Wag Festival was celebrated at the beginning of the inundation, on the 17th, 18th, or 19th of Thoth, the first month of inundation . The festival itself was a funerary feast that was probably aimed at the celebration of the resurrection of life that the inundation brought. Since Osiris epitomized resurrection, there may be a certain connection between Osiris as the god of vegetation and rejuvenation and the symbolic coming to life of the grapevine. The fact that wine production depended upon the coming of the inundation might therefore have fostered the meaning of wine as a symbol of life and rejuvenation. A text in the Ptolemaic temple of Edfu contains the following sentence: “The vineyard flourishes in Edfu, the inundation rejoices at what is in it. It bears fruit with more grapes than [the sand of] the riverbanks. They [the grapes] are made into wine for your storage . . . .”. Thus the relationship between the inundation and the production of wine is clearly stated. <>

“On the day following the Wag Festival, there was, at least in the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods, a festival of “the Drunkenness of Hathor” celebrated at Dendara. The calendar of festivals at Edfu alludes to the relationship between Hathor and the inundation: “It is her [Hathor’s] father, Ra, who created it for her when she came from Nubia, so that the inundation is given to Egypt” . <>

“In the Ptolemaic and Roman temples, Hathor-Sakhmet was often referred to as “Lady of Drunkenness,” and this epithet was often regarded as an allusion to the famous story “The Destruction of Mankind”... Although beer was featured in the story, the effect of alcoholic drink in general was probably what made wine (and beer) an important temple offering, particularly in connection with the honoring of the goddess Hathor-Sakhmet. <>

“In another mythological story about Hathor- Tefnut, or the Eye of Ra, the god Ra commanded that his daughter, the lioness Hathor-Tefnut, be brought back to Egypt from Nubia. Parallel to the story of the Destruction of Mankind, Thoth and Shu were assigned the mission. After Hathor was brought back to Egypt, her wild and bloodthirsty nature needed to be appeased with dance and music, and the offering of wine. As Greek and Roman authors noted, the Nile water turned red during the inundation, which suggests the color of wine. As Hathor’s return to Egypt (according to the mythological story) corresponded to the rise of the Nile waters—which not only resembled wine in color, but could in fact bring a prosperous harvest of grapes and wine—it is fitting that she be referred to as the Mistress of Drunkenness and identified with the inundation. <>

“On the other hand, when we examine the numerous offering scenes on the temple walls, it becomes clear that, as a common offering, wine could be offered to many deities other than Hathor. The religious meaning of wine, moreover, was not limited to the allusions to the mythological stories related to Hathor, or to its intoxicating nature, important as it was in many ancient cultures, but had wider significance. The color of wine, when it was red, and even disregarding its association with the mythological story, already suggested an association with blood and the life-giving force of nature. As this association was not limited to ancient Egyptian culture, it is all the more possible to believe that the symbolic association of wine and blood did exist in Egypt. The winepress god, Shesmu, for example, was referred to as bringing wine to Osiris on the one hand—“Shesmu comes to you [Osiris] bearing wine”: shown pressing the blood of the enemies with the winepress. It is reasonable to suspect here an allusion to the grape juice being pressed from the winepress. <>

“Moreover, offering liturgies testify that wine was regarded metaphorically as the “Green Eye of Horus”—that is, the power of rejuvenation: “Take to yourself wine—the Green Horus Eye. May your ka be filled with what is created for you...”. And reference to the contending of Horus and Seth can also be found in the liturgy of wine-offering: “Take to yourself the wine that was produced in Kharga, O noble Falcon. Your wedjat-eye is sound and supplied with provision; secure it for yourself from Seth. May you be powerful by means of it . . . may you be divine by means of it more than any god.”“ <>

Ancient Egyptian Medicinal Wines


Ancient Egyptial wine amphoras

The ancient Egyptians drank alcoholic beverages with medicinal herbs and other ingredients, according to a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2009. The beverages, the oldest of which was an wine dated to 3150 B.C., were chemically analyzed to determine their ingredients, revealing the first direct chemical evidence of wines with organic medical additives. “The ancient Egyptians settled on adding herbs and other ingredients that had marked medicinal effects, probably just based on observational trial and error,” Patrick McGovern, an archaeochemist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum and lead author of the paper, told Discovery News. “Of course superstitions crept in too, such as when they would throw in a root because it resembled a certain body part, but we think there was some medical truth behind a lot of their wine additives.” [Source: Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News, April 14,2009 ><]

Jennifer Viegas wrote in Discovery News, “He and colleagues Armen Mirzoian and Gretchen Hall chemically analyzed residues found inside a jar excavated from the tomb of one of Egypt’s first pharaohs, Scorpion I. They also conducted chemical tests on a later amphora, dating to the 4the to 6th centuries A.D., from Gebel Adda in southern Egypt. Both containers tested positive for wine with medicinal additives. The scientists determined Scorpion I’s drink consisted of grape wine to which a sliced fig had been added, probably to start and sustain the fermentation process, while also adding flavor and sweetness. Terebinth, a tree resin known now for having antioxidant properties, was also found within a yellowish flaky residue scraped from the jar, which was decorated with swirling red paint “tiger stripes.” ><

“While McGovern and his team aren’t yet certain what herbs were in the drink, since many plants share similar chemical components, they suspect mint, coriander, savory, senna and sage were likely candidates. The researchers are confident, however, that the second, more recent Egyptian wine contained pine resin and rosemary. A previous study determined that an early beer-like fermented emmer wheat barley beverage from Spain contained rosemary, along with mint and thyme. All of these ingredients and more were outlined in Egyptian medical papyri dating to 1850 B.C. ><

“McGovern said the resin and herbal ingredients probably served three primary functions. “They helped to preserve the wines, while also adding flavor and medical benefits,” he said, explaining that the last two frequently went together, since flavor was, and still is, often linked to health effects. “Bitter flavors in nature can signal danger, but they can also sometimes have powerful medicinal properties,” he added.

Scorpion King Medicinal Wine

Researchers unearthed a collection of dozens of imported ceramic jars with a yellow residue consistent with wine in the tomb of Egyptian king Scorpion I, dated about 3150 BC, 1,000 years later than the Areni find. Grape seeds, grape skins and dried pulp also were found in the Egyptian tomb.

A tomb dated to 3150 B.C. of an Egyptian king, who may have been known as Scorpion I, contained three rooms full of 700 jars of wine, stacked up there or four levels. The jars contained grape pips. It was was reasoned they contained wine not grape juice or vinegar because grape juice (without modern preservatives) turns to wine very quickly in room temperature and the jars were sealed, which prevents it from becoming vinegar. Infrared spectrometry identified residues of alcohols, tannins, flavonals, aldehydes, acids, carbohydrates, esters, proteins and vitamins found in wine.

Brian Handwerk wrote in National Geographic News, “Deep inside the tomb of Scorpion I (no relation to the Rock), scientists discovered Egypt's oldest wines. And now it appears the 5,000-year-old wines were spiked with natural medicines---centuries before the practice was thought to exist in Egypt, researchers say. [Source: Brian Handwerk, National Geographic News, April 13, 2009, based on findings published in the journal PNAS. ]

20120216-Kingscorpion.jpg
Scorpion king
Archaeochemist Patrick McGovern and colleagues found chemical residues of herbs, tree resins, and other natural substances inside wine jars from the tomb, the previously discovered resting place of one of Egypt's first pharaohs (ancient Egypt time line).While the additives may have been flavorful, they were picked for their medical benefits, said McGovern, of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

The early Egyptians "were living in a world without modern synthetic medicines, and they were very aware of the benefits that natural additives can have---especially if dissolved into an alcoholic medium, like wine or beer," which breaks down plant alkaloids.

Papyrus records from as long ago as 1850 B.C. detail how such medicinal tipples were made to treat a range of ailments. "Now this chemical evidence pushes that date back another 1,500 years," McGovern said. Scorpion I's wines predate the advent of Egyptian vineyards and were imports from the Jordan River valley. The wines suggest that imports from the southeastern Mediterranean contributed to the Egyptian pharmacopoeia, which laid the groundwork for Greek and Roman medical traditions.

The wine find is just one of several from ancient Egypt, China, and elsewhere that document ancient medicinal mixology. "Over thousands of years, humans were searching their environment and trying to find natural medicinal materials," McGovern said. "They were tested empirically over generations, but then many were lost."

Now, collaborating with researchers at Penn Medicine's Abramson Cancer Center, McGovern's team is using biomolecular analysis to uncover the ancient wine-medicine recipes and hopefully put them to the test. "We're trying to rediscover why ancient people thought these particular herbs were medically useful," he said, "and seeing if they are effective for the treatment of cancer or other modern diseases."

Ancient Egyptian Drugs

The Egyptians and Sumerians were probably using opium 4,000 years ago. There are references in Egyptian hieroglyphics to poppy extract being used to quiet crying children. The oldest known opium cultivators were people who lived around a Swiss lake in the forth millennium B.C.

The Egyptians took opium for pleasure and as a sedative. There are references in Egyptian hieroglyphics to opium poppy extract being used to quiet crying children.

Ceramic jugs, dated to 1,500 B.C., shaped like an opium capsules and containing stylized incisions were unearthed in Cyprus and believed to have held opium dissolved in wine that was traded with Egypt. Ivory pipes, over 3,200 years old and thought to have been used for smoking opium, were found in a Cyprus temple. Some tools found in Egypt may have been used for opium, but there is no firm evidence.

Cannabis was used by the ancient Egyptians to make rope. It may have also been consumed for pleasure or for medicine. Traces of THC (the active ingredient in cannabis) have been identified in an Egyptian mummy dated to 950 B.C.

Liquids in Ancient Egyptian Temple Rituals

Mu-Chou Poo of the Chinese University of Hong Kong wrote: “In ancient Egypt the liquids most commonly used in temple rituals included wine, beer, milk, and water. The meaning of the rituals were intimately tied to the qualities of the liquid used as well as to the religious and mythological associations the liquids were known to possess. With the exception of beer, all the ritual offerings of liquids were connected in some way with the idea of rejuvenation. [Source: Mu-Chou Poo, Chinese University of Hong Kong, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org <>]

“Of the numerous rituals recorded on temple walls, the offering of liquids occupied a rather large proportion. Here we discuss four kinds of liquids employed in temple rituals: wine, beer, milk, and water. The meaning of an individual ritual act was intimately related to the nature of the liquid employed, as well as to whatever religious and mythological associations the liquid was known to have. Certain deities might have some particular connections with a particular offering, as we shall see below. Yet as far as we can tell, there could be multiple recipients for the same kind of offering, and a particular deity could receive multiple offerings at different times. <>

“In the Temple of Hathor at Dendara, on the outer wall of the sanctuary, the offering of wine was represented symmetrically opposite representations of beer offerings on the opposing walls, indicating a certain affinity between them, perhaps due to their alcoholic content. The offering of water, on the other hand, was paired with the offering of bread and beer, which suggests that water, bread, and beer were endowed with the power of sustenance. Moreover, the offering of wine was also in one instance paired with the “dance for Hathor,” which implicitly suggests a connection between wine and the “ecstasy of Hathor” . <>

“It is interesting that all the ritual offerings of liquids were, each in its own way, somehow connected with the idea of rejuvenation. Perhaps this need not be surprising, since all the offering-liquids were, in a sense, nutrients that could be used by the human (or divine) body, and could thus be considered sources of rejuvenation. In the case of beer, the absence of specific allusions to the intoxicating power of alcohol and the mythological stories of Hathor-Sakhmet or Hathor-Tefnut in the offering liturgies remains unexplained.” <>


Roman depiction of an Isis water ceremony


Milk in Ancient Egyptian Temple Rituals

Mu-Chou Poo of the Chinese University of Hong Kong wrote: “Since the function of milk is to nourish, and its white color is associated with purity, the significance of the offering of milk in temple rituals was also built around these allusions. Milk was often offered, for example, to Harpocrates (the child Horus), milk being a obvious source of nourishment for children: “May you be filled with milk from the breasts of the hesat-cow” ; “Take the milk, which is from the breast of your mother”. The result of nourishment was no doubt to strengthen the body, as the following texts indicate: “May your limbs live by means of the milk and your bones be healthy by means of the white Horus Eye [milk]....The king rejuvenates his [Osiris’s] body with what his heart desires [milk]”. <>

“Milk was also offered to other deities, among them Hathor and Osiris, in various rituals , especially in the Abaton-ritual, in which 365 bowls of milk were brought before Osiris daily . One offering liturgy reads: “Oh, ‘White [milk]’, which is from the breasts of Hathor. Oh, sweet [milk], which is from the breasts of the mother of Min; it entered the body of Osiris, the great god and lord of Abaton”. Here the whiteness of milk is clearly referenced, thus indicating milk as a liquid of purification. This is confirmed by such liturgical texts as “offering milk to his father and purifying [lit. overflowing] the offering of his ka,” or “purifying the offering of His Majesty with this White Eye of Horus [milk]”. Since the libation of water was metaphorically referred to as the “milk of Isis”, the reverse is also true. These general religious significations aside, there seem to be no further mythological or theological allusions that can be connected to milk.” <>

Water in Ancient Egyptian Temple Rituals

Mu-Chou Poo of the Chinese University of Hong Kong wrote: “Of all the temple rituals, the ritual of purification was likely the one that needed to be performed first in any program of daily ritual. The priest, the temple grounds, and even the libation jars needed to be purified before any ritual offerings to the deities were performed. The water of purification could be presented to the deities in two ways, either poured onto the ground or onto the altar or statue as a gesture of general purification: “Spell for purifying [ ] as far as the heaven, the earth, to Harakhty, to the great Ennead, to the small Ennead, to Upper Egypt, and to Lower Egypt. My arms are given the water [lit. inundation], that it may purify the offering and every good thing of Tebtunis, with its Ennead, [ ] for your ka [?]. It is pure. Purification with the four jars of water: take the Eye of Horus, as it purifies your body. Oh water, may you purge all impurity and evil from the daughter of the Creator, oh Nun, may you purify her face.” Thus the water cleansed the statue of the deity from the outside, as an ablution, purifying the image in a direct and mundane sense. [Source: Mu-Chou Poo, Chinese University of Hong Kong, UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology 2010, escholarship.org <>]

“On the other hand, water could be offered to the deities as a drink (libation). In a papyrus found in the Roman Period temple at Tebtunis, no less than six libation rituals were included in the daily temple ritual program. The deities were urged to drink the water offered to them in symbolic recognition of the rejuvenating power of the Nile: “Offering libation. Words spoken: May this water rejuvenate your body, may your majesty drink from the water. Offering libation. Words spoken: This libation is brought from Abydos, it came from the region of the Sea of Horus. May you drink it, may you live by means of it, may your heart be sound by means of it, the divine water to [fill?] your altar [with] the libation that I like.” <>

“The act of drinking the water provided a sense of purification from the inside, thus imbuing the ritual with a heightened spiritual significance. Moreover, allusions to the inundation were often made, as the pouring of the water was regarded as symbolizing the coming of the inundation, and the libation water was compared to Nun: “Hail to you, precious libation jar, which inundates Nun and Nut. Spell for presenting libation. Words spoken: Hail to you, Nun in your name of Nun. Hail to you, Inundation in your name of Inundation. Pouring libation to the altar. Words spoken: Hail to you, the Powerful, take to yourself the libation, which begot everything living. I have come to you, the vases are inundated, the jars filled with the flood, and the vases filled with the inundation for your Majesty.” <>

“Here the significance of libation is no longer merely purification; rather, it has been elevated to the level of cosmic rejuvenation by associating the pouring of water with the coming of the annual Nile flood. This metaphor, found in the Pyramid Texts, was of course very ancient: “O King, your cool water is the great flood that issued from you. You have your water, you have your flood, you have your efflux that issued from Osiris.” In sum, the overwhelming ritual significance of water was its affinity to the Nile flood: the rejuvenating power of nature. Whether the water was poured before the deities, or on the statues of the deities as an ablution, or drunk by the deities as a libation, merely expressed a variation of the same idea.” <>

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology, escholarship.org ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Egypt sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Tour Egypt, Minnesota State University, Mankato, ethanholman.com; Mark Millmore, discoveringegypt.com discoveringegypt.com; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, BBC, Encyclopædia Britannica, Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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