Tag Archives: Assyriology

Date Beer: Brew It like the Ancient Babylonians

By Tero Alstola.

Barley beer and grape wine have a history of thousands of years in the ancient Near East. However, neither of these was the favourite alcoholic drink of the ancient Babylonians in the first millennium BCE. Instead, a beverage fermented from the fruit of the date palm was widely consumed, and ancient records from Babylonia constantly refer to its production and resale in pubs or taverns. This blog post introduces this ancient drink and describes an attempt to produce it using a 2,000-year-old recipe.

Although the research literature tends to call it “beer”, the beverage is actually closer to cider. It is produced from fruit and water and fermented using natural yeast in the dates. However, as the term “date beer” is widely used in Assyriology, it is employed in this blog post as well.

The ancient Babylonians themselves have not provided us with an actual recipe for brewing date beer. However, we do know that in addition to water and dates, a plant called kasû – perhaps dodder – was sometimes added to the beer. Despite the lack of recipes written in Babylonian, we have a date beer recipe from antiquity, recorded by the pharmacologist Dioscorides in the first century CE. According to Dioscorides, date beer was brewed using dates and water which were put into a cask and let ferment for ten days. On the eleventh day, the beverage was ready to be consumed.

Only unpasteurised dates and water was used for brewing the ancient drink.. Picture by Tero Alstola.

In order to taste the daily life of the Babylonians, we utilised Dioscorides’s recipe to produce date beer using ancient methods. We used only two ingredients, dates and tap water. Because fresh dates were not available, we decided to use dried ones instead. This may have been the case in Babylonia as well, because the date harvest took place in autumn but date beer was apparently consumed all year round. Because the fermentation process is caused by the natural yeasts in the date fruit, we used unpasteurised dates without preservatives.

Five decilitres of dried, seedless dates were mashed and put into a small plastic bucket. One litre of water was added, but the ingredients were not stirred. The bucket was covered with a tight lid and placed on the bathroom floor with underfloor heating. It is important to pay attention to the cleanness of the kitchen utensils used, as harmful microbes can ruin the beer.

Mashed dates and a liter of water. Picture by Tero Alstola.

 

The bucket was left intact for eleven days. Picture by Tero Alstola.

The bucket was left intact until the eleventh day. Then the lid was opened and the liquid was filtered in order to remove the date mash from the beer. We experienced some difficulties in the filtering process, which were caused by the thickness of the substance. We therefore recommend first removing the date mash from the bucket and letting the liquid settle so that solids sank to the bottom. Thereafter one can pour the uppermost, clear layer of date beer through a filter. This should result in an easy filtering process and more beautiful beverage.

The mash after fermentation. Picture by Tero Alstola.

We tasted the date beer immediately after filtering because it does not keep well. The beverage had a yellow, cloudy colour and fruity, acidic taste. The sweetness of the dates was gone, and the beverage tasted more like dry cider. Surprisingly, the brownish-greyish mixture of dried dates and water had turned into a beautiful, tasty drink.

Finally, a word of caution is in order: several ancient records refer to terrible headaches caused by date beer. The reader is advised to brew and drink responsibly.

The beautiful final product. Picture by Tero Alstola.

 

Further reading:

Magen Broshi, “Date Beer and Date Wine in Antiquity”, Palestine Exploration Quarterly 139 (2007), pp. 55–59.

Seth C. Rasmussen, The Quest for Aqua Vitae: The History and Chemistry of Alcohol from Antiquity to the Middle Ages (Cham: Springer, 2014).

Marten Stol, “Beer in Neo-Babylonian Times” in Lucio Milano (ed.), Drinking in Ancient Societies (Padova: Sargon, 1994), pp. 155–183.

“CSTT and Gender” e-booklet

From June to August 2017, we have hosted on our website a forum discussion on various aspects related to “gender”. The papers by Saana Svärd and Hanna Tervanotko, Rick Bonnie, Francis Borchardt, and Anneli Aejmelaeus that were posted on our website were originally presented during the last Annual Meeting in May 2018 in Tvärminne, Finland. Continue reading “CSTT and Gender” e-booklet

CSTT and Gender #5: Gender and Methodology in Assyriology

by Saana Svärd

Because of the format of a blog post, I have summarized passages and deleted citations and footnotes. For the full form of the text with appropriate references and bibliography the reader is invited to consult: Saana Svärd: “Studying Gender: A Case Study of Female Administrators in Neo-Assyrian Palaces” In: Brigitte Lion & Cécile Michel (eds.), The Role of Women in Work and Society in the Ancient Near East. Studies in Ancient Near Eastern Records (SANER) 13. Walter de Gruyter, Boston. 2016, pp. 447-458. Continue reading CSTT and Gender #5: Gender and Methodology in Assyriology

Sophia University: the First Catholic University in Japan

by Sanae Ito

With the research fellowship from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, I chose Sophia University (http://www.sophia.ac.jp/eng/e_top), the first catholic university in Japan, as my host institute. This blogpost aims to introduce you to the university and my host researcher, the distinguished Prof. Akio Tsukimoto. Continue reading Sophia University: the First Catholic University in Japan

Academy of Finland grants a 4-year project funding to the ‘Semantic domains in Akkadian texts’-project

The Academy of Finland has recently announced the funding decisions for research projects and has granted the ‘Semantic Domains in Akkadian texts‘ funding for four years! Our congratulations to all the researchers involved in this exciting project!

The project is given funding from Sept. 2016 to Aug. 2020 and is directed by Krister Lindén (language technology, Doc.) and its members are Heidi Jauhiainen (Egyptology, PhD; language technology, MA) and Tommi Jauhiainen (language technology, MA), as well as CSTT member Saana Svärd (Assyriology, Doc.).

The Semantic domains in Akkadian texts-project aims at generating contextual semantic domains for Akkadian lexemes using state-of-the-art methods from language technology. For Assyriology, the project will enable cultural understanding of concepts in ancient Mesopotamia in a totally new way. For language technology, dealing with difficult remains of cuneiform texts will provide an opportunity to develop methods that are useful for the analysis of other extinct languages as well as small and fragmented corpora. The main source of Akkadian texts for the project is the Open Richly Annotated Cuneiform Corpus (Oracc), but we will make use of all relevant corpora available to us. The diachronic perspective is important as the 2500 years of written Akkadian yield significant opportunities for modeling linguistic and cultural change.

CSTT’s input is valuable in that it provides insights regarding the methodologies used in connection with the semantic domains of the Hebrew Bible.

Tuore dosentti Saana Svärd: Assyriologian tulevaisuus huolestuttaa

Huippuyksikön jäsenelle, tutkijatohtori Saana Svärdille myönnettiin dosentin arvo 21. elokuuta 2015. Tuore assyriologian dosentti iloitsee, että hänen tutkimuksensa ja opetuksensa on puolueettomassa asiantuntija-arviossa todettu riittäväksi dosentin arvoa varten. ”Aivan erityisesti ilahduttaa opetustaidon arviointi erinomaiseksi. Humanistisessa tiedekunnassa on kiristetty opetustaitovaatimuksia viimeisten vuosien aikana, mikä onkin tärkeää. Dosentin ei tosiaan pitäisi olla vain pitkälle edistynyt tutkija vaan myös hyvä opettaja”, Svärd sanoo.  Continue reading Tuore dosentti Saana Svärd: Assyriologian tulevaisuus huolestuttaa

Research through Passion and Collaboration: An Interview with Martti Nissinen

(for a Finnish version of this interview, please click here)

Martti Nissinen, Professor in Old Testament Studies at the University of Helsinki, is a world-renowned researcher whose expertise includes the study of historical prophetism, assyriology, and gender studies. Nissinen is the director of the Centre of Excellence in Changes in Sacred Texts and Traditions at the Faculty of Theology in Helsinki, which hosts over 40 researchers from various countries. I had a morning coffee discussion with him and got to know his path as a researcher. 
Continue reading Research through Passion and Collaboration: An Interview with Martti Nissinen