It is a well-known fact that the Ancient Greeks liked a drink or two. The symposium was basically the ancient version of a “pub crawl” and even involved games of kottabos, which is essentially beer pong with more slaves and less ale. Then there was the god, Dionysus, devoted to the art of winemaking, wine, and ritual madness – a code word for drunkenness if ever we’ve heard one.
And while there is no doubt wine was their drink of choice, new research published in the journal Vegetation History and Archaeobotany suggests it wasn’t the only alcoholic beverage on the market. Archaeologists have unearthed two breweries – one in Archondiko, northern Greece, and one at Agrissa, eastern Greece – dating back to the third millennium BCE. This is the oldest evidence of beer production in Greece to date.
“It is an unexpected find for Greece, because until now all evidence pointed to wine," Tania Valamoti, associate professor of archaeology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece and study researcher, told Live Science.
"I'm 95 percent sure that they were making some form of beer," she added. "Not the beer we know today, but some form of beer."
The team found thousands of preserved sprouted cereal grains dating to 2100-2000 BCE in Archondiko (Early Bronze Age) and 2100-1700 BCE in Agrissa (early to middle Bronze Age). This is a telling find because to make beer, you need cereal grains, which are sprouted during the malting process to turn the grain’s starch into sugars.
But that’s not all. The archaeologists came across 75 special cups in Archondiko and Argissa that may have been used to serve beer and a two-chambered structure at Archondiko. It appears to have been built specifically to maintain cooler temperatures in the rear chamber. Valamoti has said that it could be low enough to prepare mash and wort during the beer-making process.
While this is the earliest evidence for beer production in Greece, it is not the earliest evidence for beer production per se. The oldest written record of brewing is in the Sumerian text, The Epic of Gilgamesh (c. 2500 BCE - 3500 BCE), and we know the Ancient Egyptians were already indulging in ale by the fourth millennium BCE. But it does undermine the commonly-held theory that prehistoric communities could be neatly categorized into “wine cultures” and “beer cultures”.
“Prehistoric Greece was wine country, no doubt, this is confirmed by archaeobotany, textual evidence, and artifacts,” the study authors explained. “But we have presented equally convincing evidence that beer was also brewed.”
More research is needed to work out exactly when, why, and by who this beer was being consumed.