Posts Tagged ‘apiculture’

Topic: Egypt-Fermented Honey-Drink of the Gods:

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“Fermentation needs fire and pottery,” wrote R.J. Forbes in his Studies in Ancient Technology volume III published in 1965, part of a 9 volume set covering such topics of the ancient world. He goes on to say “ the techniques of fermenting came with organized

 agriculture, some traces of which go back to the Upper Palaeolithic Period. These would have probably involved wild grasses, and then only when there was an excess of grain. Regular production of ferment cereal grains would have only come about in Neolithic times.

Honey would have been the exception, plentiful and easy to turn into mead, it could very well have been the drink of choice, for the early inhabitants of the Nile River Valley; first with gathering wild honey and later with a large domestic apiculture, especially in the Delta region. As time went on that changed and honey became according to records we have the prerogative of the rich and of royalty. This has been well documented on the walls of many temples and tombs   

Although I can find very little except conjecture that the Ancient Egyptians produce Mead in any quantity; there are records that would seem to imply that they might have. There are countless references to the uses for honey in everything from cooking to medicine, so I decided to dig a bit deeper. Looking over my sources I discovered fermented honey is mentioned several times. One application is for use in an eye ointment, another is for treating herpes and still another for a prescription used in bandaging a broken bone. No explanation as to what was meant by the term “fermented honey” but why fermented at all if at least a portion did not go into the making of wine?

A fifth dynasty illustration in Ne-Woser-Re’s Solar Temple at Abusis, shows us what is thought to be a man kneeling in front of a pile of jars, holding before his mouth an elongated vessel. Because the word nft, for “to breath” or “to exhale”, is found above his head it is thought to mean he is a bee keeper using smoke as a repellent, but looking at the jars pictured I had another thought. The jar in front of the man looks more like a wine vessel. What if the man was breathing in the sweet smell of honey-wine before putting on the lid to the jar or he was preparing to sample some to be sure of its quality for the tombs owner?  In that same scene you can see two men (third from the left), one is pouring something, probably honey, from a small vessel into a much larger one typically used for storing wine. Although it is not labeled honey-wine, it could very well have been. An interesting reference also comes from the scenes depicted on vizier Rekhmire’s tomb in Thebes (eighteenth dynasty). Presiding over the temple treasury Rekhmire receives officials who bring honey as part of their dues. He also watches over the manipulation of the precious liquid. My guess is the latter is honey-wine!

The Ancient Egyptians even had a word for honey-wine, which I found in E.A Wallis Budge’s An Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary.

Arp: in one of its many meanings is the term for honey-wine. It also means, wine, wine cellar, wine shop etc. Each meaning for the word is depicted by a different set of hieroglyphics.

More to come…


Food: Gift of Osiris covers wine and beer in vol2-but not honey-wine. Vol 1 does mention honey used as a primer for wine and beer-it is still up to us to”dig” for the facts where honey and wine are concerned. 


 E.A Wallis Budge, An  Egyptian Hieroglyphic Dictionary, Vol 1 

Darby, Ghalioungui, Grivetti: Food: The Gift of Osiris. Vol 1 

Manniche: An Ancient Egyptian Herbal 

Forbes: Studies in Ancient Technology, Vol 3

Tomb drawings:

1. Handling of Honey: Tomb of Rekh-mi-re at Thebes, New Kingdom

2. Honey production: Ne-Woser-Re’s Solar Temple, Old Kingdom

Original article:

By Joanna Linsley-Poe

copyright 2011

Ancient Foods



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