Wine & Winemaking In Ancient Egypt
Celebration & Intoxication
The Ancient Egyptians, like anyone else, loved a great party. The entire calendar year was filled with different celebrations for the various Names of Netjer, throughout the country. Almost any day of the week, a celebration of some sort could be found to honor the Netjeru and to be thankful for the gift of life. One inscription from antiquity says:
"....be joyful and make merry."
Egyptian people loved to celebrate and loved to commemorate births marriages and religious events. Wealthy Egyptians would routinely invite friends and other important persons to their homes in order to share in great feasts and parties. The wine flowed freely alongside the food which was rich and plentiful, people dressed in their best finery, eating meals seasoned by herbs, both domestic and imported. Guests would sit on cushions on the floor or on chairs eating the food with their fingers and drinking large quantities of wine. (The peasant classes were more inclined to drink beer at their own similar celebrations!) At such parties, the host would perhaps hire entertainers that could consist of storytellers, acrobats, dancers, singers and musicians. During religious festivals such as Opet and other large celebrations, crowds would gather for a "coming forth" when the statue of the God or Goddess went around about the streets in processions. After such appearances feasting consumption of large quantities of wine and beer were often a part of the celebrations.
Darby, Ghalioungui, & Grivetti"Food: The Gift of Osiris"
The Ancient Egyptians enjoyed a fabulous reputation throughout the ancient world for their fine wines. In spite of the very dry climate, Egypt produced some of the finest wines for export in the world. In the First Century BC, Diodorus Siculus praised the quality of the beer of the Egyptians, describing it as being 'barely inferior to wine'. The ancient Egyptians made and consumed red and white wine (irep) Throughout Egypt there are many tomb paintings illustrating the gathering and pressing of grapes and making them into wine. The most notable among them is that of of Nakht in the Luxor (Thebes) area.
Vineyards consisted of vines which were planted and trained on wooden trusses or rafters. These were supported by rows of columns, which divided the vineyards into avenues. These served the purpose of making the harvest of the grapes quite convenient and making them aesthetically pleasing to the Egyptians who were themselves avid gardeners and connoisseurs of natural beauty. The columns were often painted, (the Ancient Egyptian use of color often bordered on the ostentatious!) however, sometimes these supports may have been simple unpainted wooden pillars. They would be the support along the aforementioned poles that would hold the vines that lay over them. Some vines were allowed to grow as standing bushes. These, they tended to keep low and would not have required such an elaborate system of support. Sometimes, too, the vines were made to be formed into a series of bowers. There is no extant evidence that the Ancient Egyptians attached their grape vines to other trees such as the poplar or the elm as the Ancient Romans did. Even today the vintners of Italy will attach their vines on occasion to these trees or sometimes to the white mulberry.
Often vineyards would be located near a water source as well as the building which contained the winepress. Great care was taken to preserve the clusters of grapes from birds. Young boys were employed to scare the birds away using either a sling and rocks or the sound of their voices to drive them off.
When the grapes were gathered, the bunches were carefully placed into baskets which were carried, either on the worker's heads or shoulders or slung upon the backs of servants or on a yoke. These would then would be carried to the winepress. Sometimes monkeys were also trained to assist in harvest of the grapes or other fruit. Paintings in tombs depict monkeys or baboons handing down figs from the sycamore trees to the gardener standing below. When grapes were intended for eating, they were put, like other fruits, into a flat open basket and then covered with palm leaves. Similar baskets can still be found today in Cairo and other Egyptian cities and towns in the bazaars and marketplaces for purchase. In Egypt, grapes were in season in the month of Piphi, which is near the end of June or the beginning of July.