The Origins and Ancient History of Wine

By Patrick E. McGovern; Stuart J. Fleming et al. | Go to book overview
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Egyptian Wine Production During the New Kingdom

Leonard H. Lesko



Our documentation of the ancient Egyptians' production, distribution, and consumption of wine is both sporadic and diverse, just as is our knowledge of most other aspects of ancient Egyptian culture. My own interest in the wines of ancient Egypt was excited by the wine jar labels surviving from several sites, other intriguing textual references (both Egyptian and classical), and the detailed artistic representations of winemaking in tomb paintings. But, I am also interested in the wine-related artifacts (mostly from tombs) and the recent excavation reports describing actual ancient wineries. From all these sources it is possible to present a fairly substantial picture of the Egyptians' winemaking techniques and also relate something about their careful attention to the labeling of wine jars, their personal tastes in wines, their moderation in drinking wine, and even a little about their use of wine in medicines and for offerings to their gods. That the jar labels have some historical importance has made an enjoyable project a fairly respectable area of research. A reexamination of these minor records certainly shows that there is still more to be savored from these empty and broken old jars.

Much more information about ancient Egyptian wines comes from the New Kingdom (ca. 1500-1100 B.C.) than from the earlier periods (see chapter 13 by James, this volume). Tomb scenes from the vast Theban necropolis depict almost every aspect of winemaking that we could hope for, from tending the vines, to harvesting the grapes, to crushing them in vats, to pressing the must in sacks, to bottling and storing the wine, even shipping, serving, and drinking it.


Tomb Scenes of Viticulture and Viniculture

Theban Tomb (TT) #155 of the early 18th Dynasty belonging to the Royal Herald, Intef, is particularly informative in this respect, with a series of five scenes with accompanying cartoon-like commentary (Figs. 14.1-14.3; Säve-Söderbergh 1957:17-18 and pls. 14-15). The picking and crushing scenes are known from much more colorful and wonderfully preserved scenes in


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