History of Alcohol

Alcohol has had a long history around the world. Throughout the years, numerous varieties of alcohol have appeared, brewed not only for enjoyment, but also for religious ceremonies. Different types of alcohol have varied depending on available resources, technology and culture.

Archaeologists and anthropologists have studied the remains of ancient cultures, which point to the usage of alcohol in almost every civilization. Alcohol consumption dates back to the Stone Age, wherein archaeologists believe that beer preceded bread as a stable food. The oldest jars of alcohol were found in China, dating back to 7000 BCE, making the Chinese the first known culture to have developed alcohol. The Chinese fermented honey, rice and fruit to make alcohol. For the most part, these beverages were used in religious ceremonies, prized for their spiritual rather than physical substance. Alcohol consumption accompanied all life events including military campaigns, rituals, weddings, births, funerals and festivals. Due to its reverential status, the Chinese condoned moderation, so consumption would not be abused.

Archaeologists found jars in a neolithic dwelling in the Zagros Mountains of Iran, bearing the residue of a substance the archaeologists believe may have been some type of alcohol. These jars can be dated back to 5400 BCE.

Beer and wine played important roles in religious ceremonies. Polytheistic religions glorified beer and wine in their rituals, offering the precious beverage to the gods. Ancient Egyptians worshiped Osiris, whom they attributed with the invention of beer. The dead were often buried with wine, so it could be used in the afterlife. Beer was considered a necessity and was brewed daily. Alcohol had a variety of purposes: religious, medicinal, recreational and nutritional.

Despite all its benefits, alcohol was often linked with wild and lewd behavior in taverns. The ancient Babylonians also attributed divine qualities to alcohol. They regularly worshiped a wine goddess and offered wine as a tribute to the gods. The ancient Greeks also had their own wine god, Dionysus. Wine was often present at social occasions, especially symposiums, gatherings of men for the purposes of conversation, political intrigue and victory parties. Symposiums often led to intoxication and drunkenness. Libations were offered in recognition of the gods and the dead. Philosophers praised alcohol as a source of good health and well-being but warned against intemperance. The Romans referred to Dionysus as Bacchus and believed that wine held the key to ecstasy and transcendence.

With the rise of alchemy in the medieval period, distillation techniques were developed and improved. Greek and Arab alchemists were the most successful at distillation. Monks were the primary brewers as monasteries were prime locations for vineyards. Ale, a thick alcohol, was consumed daily in Northern Europe. Monks valued alcohol for its medicinal purposes and developed aqua vitae or water of life, now known as brandy. Jews and Christians used alcohol for religious rituals whereas Muslims banned alcohol outright. The Old Testament makes several references to wine consumption as does the New Testament, though the New Testament disapproves of drunkenness and recommends abstinence.

For many years, governments promoted breweries and distillation to stimulate the economy. Due to increased wealth and prosperity, more people could afford alcohol. New resources found in the New World became staple ingredients for alcoholic beverages. Distilleries were established in new colonies. The widespread availability of alcohol, especially among the London poor, led to the gin epidemic. The industrial revolution heralded a new era of self-discipline, thereby affecting the regulation of alcohol consumption.

America experienced the dramatic effects of alcohol consumption. Conservatives viewed alcohol as an evil, behavior-altering drug. By the late 19th century, the Anti-Saloon League attempted to limit alcohol consumption on a moral and industrial basis. Not only was drunkenness unacceptable, any and all consumption of alcohol was considered immoral and counterproductive. Charles L. Bane, an officer of the Anti-Saloon League, placed religious significance on not drinking alcohol: "Temperance and Evangelism [are the] marching orders of our God-fearing, liberty-loving republic." American capitalists saw Prohibition as the key to a stable working class. Robert A. Woods emphasized the social benefits of Prohibition: "The liquor business has been in many ways like a kind of sabotage to ... the bearings that have to do with making organized labor strong, resourceful and responsible. National Prohibition is going to reinforce all that is good in it as a force for a more equitable social order." From 1920 to 1933, Prohibition was instituted and enforced by the U. S. government.

History of Alcohol: Selected full-text books and articles

Alcohol: A History By Rod Phillips University of North Carolina Press, 2014
The Origins and Ancient History of Wine By Patrick E. McGovern; Stuart J. Fleming; Solomon H. Katz Gordon and Breach, 1996
Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey: An American Heritage By Michael R. Veach University Press of Kentucky, 2013
Women and Public Drinking, 1890-1920 By Powers, Madelon History Today, Vol. 45, No. 2, February 1995
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