The Origins and Ancient History of Wine

By Patrick E. McGovern; Stuart J. Fleming et al. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 9

Wine and the Vine in Ancient Mesopotamia: The Cuneiform Evidence

Marvin A. Powell


1.

Introduction

Some seventy years ago the Orientalist H.F. Lutz tried, in his work Viticulture and Brewing in the Ancient Orient (1922), to give an overview of viticulture in the whole of the ancient Orient including Egypt “from the beginning of historic times down to the wine-prohibition of Muhammed.” The most important point of Lutz's work, which still holds true today, was that, once upon a time, the Near East was the home of remarkable wine and beer cultures, the traces of which-like the great civilizations in which they flourished-have been so thoroughly obliterated or transformed by the passage of time and humankind that one could never imagine their former existence without turning to the ancient records. Mention of “the wine-prohibition of Muhammed” is no accident, for Lutz clearly had in mind another Prohibition, under whose gathering cloud and dismal reality his work came into existence.

Lutz's work was good for its time, and it can still be read with profit and pleasure by the scholar, but the discoveries of this century, as well as progress in understanding the ancient languages and cultures, have long since made revisions necessary. Though a few attempts to treat the more abundant evidence for beer have been made, no one since Lutz has tried to provide a systematic account of wine. This is not because of lack of new evidence but rather the opposite. A wealth of additional information has been discovered, but it requires tedious labor and presupposes the work of many specialists to answer when, where, and what the ancient texts are really talking about. No scholar would blame Lutz for his attempt to deal with Egyptian, Babylonian, Hebrew, and Arabic sources for the whole of the ancient Orient, but the nonspecialist reader should be aware that-in spite of the fact that no one has attempted a similar work-the treatment is uneven, sometimes superficial, and frequently erroneous.

This is not to deny the desirability of a sound general treatment of the history of ancient Near Eastern viticulture and viniculture, and perhaps this is a topic whose time has at last come or is

-97-

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