Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Wines of Ancient Egypt

Ancient Egyptian WineExcerpted from "History of Egypt, From 330 B.C. to the Present Time", by S. RAPPOPORT, Doctor of Philosophy, Basel, 1906

Several kinds of wine were made in Egypt; some in the Arsinoïte nome on the banks of the lake Mceris; and a poor Libyan wine at Antiplme on the coast, a hundred miles from Alexandria. Wine had also been made in Upper Egypt in small quantities a very long time, as we learn from the monuments; but it was produced with difficulty and cost and was not good; it was not valued by the Greeks. It was poor and thin, and drunk only by those who were feverish and afraid of anything stronger. That of Anthylla, to the east of Alexandria, was very much better.

But better still were the thick luscious Tæniotic and the mild delicate Mareotic wines. This last was first grown at Plinthine, but afterwards on all the banks of the lake Mareotis. The Mareotic wine was white and sweet and thin, and very little heating or intoxicating. Horace had carelessly said of Cleopatra that she was drunk with Mareotic wine; but Lucan, who better knew its quality, says that the headstrong lady drank wine far stronger than the Mareotic.

Near Sebennytus three kinds of wine were made; one bitter named Peuce, a second sparkling named Æthalon, and the third Thasian, from a vine imported from Thasus. But none of these Egyptian wines was thought equal to those of Greece and Italy. Nor were they made in quantities large enough or cheap enough for the poor; and here, as in other countries, the common people for their intoxicating drink used beer or spirits made from barley.

The Egyptian sour wine, however, made very good vinegar, and it was then exported for sale in Rome. During this half-century that great national work, the lake of Moeris, by which thousands of acres had been flooded and made fertile, and the watering of the lower country regulated, was, through the neglect of the embankments, at once destroyed. The latest traveller who mentions it is Strabo, and the latest geographer Pomponius Mela. By its means the province of Arsinoë was made one of the most fruitful and beautiful spots in Egypt. Here only does the olive grow wild. Here the vine will grow. And by the help of this embanked lake the province was made yet more fruitful. But before Pliny wrote, the bank had given way, the pentup waters had made for themselves a channel into the lake now called Birket el Kurun, and the two small pyramids, which had hitherto been surrounded by water, then stood on dry ground.

Thus was the country slowly going to ruin by the faults of the government, and ignorance in the foreign rulers. But, on the other hand, the beautiful temple of Latopolis, which had been begun under the Ptolemies, was finished in this reign; and bears the name of Claudius with those of some later emperors on its portico and walls.

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