Food and Drinks in Ancient Egypt
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Food and Drinks in Ancient Egypt


The Egyptians ate many different things. They also ate well. Even the poorest people ate a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables. The rich ate meat of many kinds, mostly cows and sheep. Some priests related pigs with Set, an evil god, and made it so most people did not want to eat pigs. Egyptians ate calves, oxen, and poultry like duck, goose, stork, and pigeon. Meat was expensive because there were very few grazing pastures for the cows and sheep and other animals to eat. Some people salted down fish and duck to try to preserve it. When you salt down meat, the salt sucks up all of the moisture and the meat.


I’m guessing that most people today would take our bread over Egyptian bread. It had a hard, rough feel to it. This was because when the Egyptians were grinding the grain, sand would mix in with the flour that came from the grain. They couldn’t take it out before they baked it so the bread tasted kind of rough, like you’re eating dirt. Eating this gritty bread caused an Ancient Egyptian’s teeth to wear down to the roots.


Drinks were an important part of a meal. The rich drank wine and almost everybody else drank beer. When somebody held a party, it was called a "House of Beer." To make their beer, the Ancient Egyptians would half bake loaves of barley, then crumble it into barley and water. They sealed this mixture and let it settle. They didn’t want to drink all those lumps so they strained the beer before they drank it.

To make wine they picked a bunch of grapes and squeezed all of the juice out by stepping on them in a trough big enough to hold at least six men. This mixture was sealed in a clay pot with the date and vineyard almost exactly like today.


The rich ate off of plates of gold, silver, faience, and bronze at a low table. People with less money ate off of earthenware plates.


Sit up straight! Don’t chew with your mouth open! Sound familiar? Parents have been telling kids how to act at the dinner table for thousands of years. Ancient Egypt was no different, but the manners (and food) were quite different back then…

Most people sat around a reed mat on the floor to eat – although some of the more wealthy people had tables.

The ancient Egyptians had their own rules about how to behave while eating.

Wash your hands!

Ancient Egyptians washed their hands before they ate – they did this by dipping them in a bowl of water.

Use your fingers!

While utensils such as knives were used to cut up meat, most ancient Egyptians used their fingers.

Don’t stare at your food!

It was considered rude to stare at your food – even if it was something icky like pigeon.

Don’t waste your food!

Got leftovers? Well don’t throw them out – the goat will have them! Everything was recycled where possible in ancient Egypt.


Meat Poultry Fish Vegetables Fruits Dairy, Spice &  Others Bread, Dairy  & Cakes Oil & Others
Cow Beef Geese the Nile Perch Beans
Honey Chufa Goose fat
Lamb Ducks Faseekh
Chick peas
Watermelons cheese Bread beef fat
Goat Quails Bouri Green peas Pomegranates butter bread ben-nuts oil
Gazelles Cranes Fish Eggs pickled in brine Lentils Raisins Gee bread linseed oil
Oryx pigeons elephant-snout fish Onions Grapes
bread sesame oil
sheep pelicans tiger fish Garlic Figs Sesame sweet bread caster oil.
antelopes Eggs moon fish Lettuce Plums Coriander leavened bread yeast
ibex Goose Tilapia Leeks peaches Cumin Marsh mellows vinegar
oxen-flesh ostrich fish eggs Barley, melon Fennel Pancakes walnuts
pig quadrupeds mullets spelt coconut  juniper halvah candy carob pods oil 
Deer Doves carps emmer apple aniseed Cream flax seed oil
Dried Beef Waterfowl catfish wheat carob mustard yogurt radish seed oil
Salted Beef Geese Eggs turtles Lupins colocynth celery Date Candy horseradish oil
Dried Lamb Duck Eggs bichirpolypterus bichir tomato Mulberry trees faba beans lotos safflower oil
    mormyrus caschive cucumbers sycamore figs thyme Cow Milk colocynth oil
    mormyrops anguilloides olives apricots seeds fenugreek Goat Cheese safflower
    johnius hololepidotus raphanus almonds poppy seed Goat Milk nut oil
    hydrocyon forskali cabbages apricots  marjoram berries linseed (flax)
    synodontis membranaceus endive  Lemon cinnamon Dates seemga
    nile Catfish Radishes Mloukhia (Corchorus olitorius), parsley   Tiger nuts
    alestes dentex dill Okra / Bamia tubercular Arum colocasia   ziziphus
    auchenoglanis occidentalis gourds Papyrus mimusops Persea Ben Oil
    labeo niloticus shrub like jujube pumpkins Turnips Mushrooms Dellach palm tree
    tetrodon fahaka          

Famous Ancient Egyptian food used and eaten till today

Many people are surprised to find that a few of the foods ancient Egyptians consumed are being eaten still today! For example,

ful medammes Hummus

Lentil Soup

Eggs Spleen Beef Ribs Rump Liver
Lamb Leg of Lamb Bamia / Okra Bread Goose Duck pigeons Quails
Bread griddle cakes Tiger Fish Fish Dishes Mutton Lamb Chops Fillet Beef Back
Doves Baba Beans Quark Cheese Pulse Legume Fish St3w Labna Cheese sweet bread Bread 3000 years
Mombar Bread 3000 years Bread and Duck   pomegranate Figs Figs pomegranate
pomegranate Dates     Nuts      
Related Image
Oven Bakery Strainer Ancient Straw Wine  Tasting Sealed Wine Milking a cow  
Wine Making Pluking Bakery Dried Cat fish Fish Bean Sprouts Aarish Cheese  

Food was baked, boiled, stewed, fried, grilled, or roasted

The value of eating a certain food to maintain health was recognized long before vitamins were identified. The ancient Egyptians knew that feeding liver to a patient would help cure night blindness, an illness now known to be caused by a vitamin A deficiency

The delicious flavour of mushrooms has intrigued the pharaoh of Egypt so much that he has decreed that they are food for royalty and that no commoner can ever touch them. This assures for himself the entire supply of mushrooms. The earliest form of leavening is a type of yeast, or breadmash, discovered accidentally by an Egyptian when a piece of dough had become sour. With dough made by mixing a type of flour made from ground nuts, salt, water, and leaven the Egyptians are now

An Ancient Egyptian "Date Candy" Recipe


1. 1cup of fresh dates
2. 1t of cinnamon
3. 1/2t of kardemam seed
4. 1/2cup of fresh ground walnuts
5. small amount of warm honey
6. dish full of fine ground almonds


1. mix the dates with some water to paste
2. mix in cinnamon and kardemon seeds
3. kneed in the walnuts
4. form balls, spread with honey and cover in the ground almonds.
5. It is actually pretty good tasting.
This recipe was from 1600BC and was found on an ostraca.

Fruit and vegetables

Stela of Ahmose, the coppersmith     Many Egyptians had a garden adjacent to their house, where they grew vegetables and fruit. Vegetables - the "crop of the year" - were grown all year round, irrigated by hand and formed an important part of their diet.
    May the king give an offering (to) Osiris, the great god, that he may grant an invocation offering of bread, beer, cattle, fowl, and every good and pure thing, every kind of vegetable...
Stela of Ahmose, the coppersmith

Stela of Ahmose, the coppersmith
(Source: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)


    How basic vegetables were on the ordinary Egyptian's menu can be seen in this complaint of striking workers during the reign of Ramses III
    We are starving hungry. Our tongue wasted away in thirst. No cloth is left. We are lacking oil. We have no fish, not even vegetables.
    Onions, which celibate priests were forbidden to eat because of their aphrodisiacal effects, were a staple food.
    On the pyramid (of Cheops) it is declared in Egyptian writing how much was spent on radishes and onions and leeks for the workmen, and if I rightly remember that which the interpreter said in reading to me this inscription, a sum of one thousand six hundred talents of silver was spent;
Herodotus, Histories II, Project Gutenberg
    Garlic was highly valued. According to Pliny Garlic and onions are invoked by the Egyptians , when taking an oath, in the number of their deities. Ramses III ordered garlic to be distributed in large quantities in the temples. The Israelites who had become accustomed to the Egyptian diet of bread, fish and vegetables, complained when they were wandering in the desert [3]
    5   We remember the fish , which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlick.
Numbers 11

    Leeks [6] are also mentioned in the Ebers papyrus and in the Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor the narrator found all kinds of food on his deserted island:
    When I grew hungry and looked about for food, I found all ready for me within easy reach: figs and grapes, all manner of good herbs, berries and grain, melons of all kinds, fishes and birds for the taking.
Melon Egyptian melon, faience
Middle Kingdom
Source: Keimer, op.cit
    Radishes, choriander, cabbages, endive [7], cucumbers, watermelons, melons [13] and raphanus, a wild radish tasting like turnip, were grown widely. According to Athenaeus the Egyptians ate boiled cabbage before all the rest of the food considering it one of the most delicate vegetables. The tubercular Arum colocasia, one of the plants loosely referred to as lotus, was also relished [5]. Mallow was added to soups [12].
    The poor ate the roots of papyrus and other plants gathered in the marshes. The lotos mentioned by Herodotus is an import from India, Nelumbo speciosum, and not the traditionally depicted lotus.
    When the river has become full and the plains have been flooded, there grow in the water great numbers of lilies, which the Egyptians call lotos; these they cut with a sickle and dry in the sun, and then they pound that which grows in the middle of the lotos and which is like the head of a poppy, and they make of it loaves baked with fire. The root also of this lotos is edible and has a rather sweet taste: it is round in shape and about the size of an apple.
    There are other lilies too, in flower resembling roses, which also grow in the river, and from them the fruit is produced in a separate vessel springing from the root by the side of the plant itself, and very nearly resembles a wasp's comb: in this there grow edible seeds in great numbers of the size of an olive-stone, and they are eaten either fresh or dried. Besides this they pull up from the fens the papyrus which grows every year, and the upper parts of it they cut off and turn to other uses, but that which is left below for about a cubit in length they eat or sell: and those who desire to have the papyrus at its very best bake it in an oven heated red-hot, and then eat it.
Herodotus, Histories II, 2.92
Project Gutenberg
    Beans moreover the Egyptians do not at all sow in their land, and those which they grow they neither eat raw nor boil for food; nay the priests do not endure even to look upon them, thinking this to be an unclean kind of pulse.
Herodotus, Histories II
Project Gutenberg
Blackeyed beans Egyptian melon, faience
Middle Kingdom
Source: Keimer, op.cit
    Diodorus thought that the Egyptians were forbidden to eat beans and chick peas in order to teach them the value of abstention. But these foods were found as offerings in tombs. During the times of Ramses III the priests of Thebes and Memphis received donations of beans. Lupins, lentils and peas were also consumed.

    The lettuce was dedicated to the god Min, and was often protected by a little statue of the god. Its leaves were eaten whole, dipped in oil and salt, and were frequently part of votive offerings, having a reputation for being an aphrodisiac and enhancing fertility.


[Image: Date palms]     Since the middle of the third millennium BCE dates were grown, though they were not of high quality. The palmtree, imposing when fully grown, was also planted for shade
    there is a large city named Chemmis in the Theban district near Neapolis, and in this city there is a temple of Perseus the son of Danae which is of a square shape, and round it grow date-palms.
Herodotus, Histories II, Project Gutenberg
    and its form influenced architecture
    for the tomb of Amasis also, though it is further from the sanctuary than that of Apries and his forefathers, yet this too is within the court of the temple, and it consists of a colonnade of stone of great size, with pillars carved to imitate date-palms, and otherwise sumptuously adorned
Herodotus, Histories II, Project Gutenberg
[Image: Sycamores]     Apple (tpH–tepeh), olive (Dt–djet), and pomegranate (nhm–nehem) [11], trees were brought to Egypt during the reign of the Hyksos or later. Mulberry trees reached Egypt from Armenia or Persia before or during the New Kingdom. Pears, peaches, almonds and cherries were not introduced until the Roman period, but figs, grapes and the not always very tasty sycamore figs [4] which could be harvested from April to December, were known from early times [2]. Coconuts were an imported luxury fruit affordable only to the rich.
    May I walk every day unceasingly on the banks of my water, may my soul rest on the branches of the trees which I have planted, may I refresh myself in the shadow of my sycamore.
Egyptian tomb inscription, ca. 1400 BCE
    Other fruit trees grown were the Dellach palm tree, mimusops, the shrublike jujube (Chinese date, Ziziphus jujuba ) and the drought resistant balanites which has datelike fruit and succulent leaves that are excellent feed for goats.
    Ramses III allotted the Amen-Re temple figs, grapes, dom-palm fruit, pomegranates. Other items are not as well specified: there are two instances of all (kinds of) fine fruit and of fruit and a number of fruit have not been identified:
Mehiwet: cakes 3100
Khitana-fruit: heket 310
Khitana-fruit: bundles 6200
James Henry Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Four, § 240

    Some of these fruit were only eaten fresh, but many were dried in order to preserve them. Jars of raisins were allotted by the thousands to the Nile god temple by Ramses III, as were dried dates.

[Image: Olive tree]     The Egyptian climate was not favourable to growing olives; and olive oil, known by the Semitic zayit meaning olive continued to be imported.

    The Arsinoite Nome (i.e. the Fayum) is the most remarkable of all, both on account of its scenery and its fertility and cultivation. For it alone is planted with large, perfect, and richly productive olive-trees, and the oil is good when carefully prepared; those who are neglectful may, indeed, obtain oil in abundance, but it has a bad smell. In the rest of Egypt the olive-tree is never seen, except in the gardens of Alexandria, where under favourable circumstances they yield olives, but no oil.
Strabo, Geography, Book XVII, § 35


    Olive oil [1][8] was used for lighting, but one may surmise it was used in the preparation of food as well. Olive oil jars were labelled
[.... olive oil from the great] olive tree plantation(?) of the House of the Million [Years belonging to the king of Upper and Lower Egypt ...... in the temple of Amen lying on the banks(?) of   Ka : [...] jars.
Inscription on an olive oil jar fragment
Ostracon Qurna 619/5
    Other trees were grown for oil before the introduction of the olive, among them the Moringa. From the little that we know, it appears that Egyptian ointments were made with nut oil, but it is probable that animal as well as vegetable grease was employed for this purpose too. The common people, both men and women anointed themselves with the oil of the kikki (castor-berry, Ricinus communis[9].
    And for anointing those of the Egyptians who dwell in the fens use oil from the castor-berry, which oil the Egyptians call kiki, and thus they do:--they sow along the banks of the rivers and pools these plants, which in a wild form grow of themselves in the land of the Hellenes; these are sown in Egypt and produce berries in great quantity but of an evil smell; and when they have gathered these some cut them up and press the oil from them, others again roast them first and then boil them down and collect that which runs away from them. The oil is fat and not less suitable for burning than olive-oil, but it gives forth a disagreeable smell.
Herodotus, Histories II, Project Gutenberg
    Oils were also pressed from almonds, sesame (since Ptolemaic times), linseed (flax), raphanus, selgam (cole-seed), and seemga.


    A small number of fruit and vegetables like garlic, onions, carobs, dates, or nuts, kept for quite a while, some could be preserved by drying, a technique known to the ancient Egyptians, although the frequency of its implementation with perishable food stuffs is unknown. But most had to be consumed when they were ripe or processed into a product that would keep. Surplus produce could also be marketed locally, but few vegetables could be sent far afield without spoiling. Therefore, people mostly had to make do with what they themselves or their neighbours grew in their gardens, which resulted in their choice being much more limited than a list of fruit and vegetables known to have been grown in Egypt [10] might suggest.
Summer Autumn Winter Spring
sycamore figs
water melons
tiger nuts
sycamore figs
tiger nuts
black cumin
sycamore figs
black cumin
faba beans
chick pea

Joan Pilsbury Alcock Food in the Ancient World, 2006 Greenwood Press
Hames H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Chicago 1906, 5 volumes
Herodotus, Euterpe
Ludwig Keimer, Sur quelques petits fruits en faïence émaillée datant du Moyen Empire, BIFAO 28 (1929)
M. Lichtheim Ancient Egyptian Literature, Volume One
Pliny, Natural History, (eds. John Bostock, H.T. Riley)
Strabo, Geography

Picture sources:
[  ] Stela of Ahmose, the coppersmith: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
[  ] Photos of date palm, olive tree and sycamore: André Dollinger
[3] This reference from the bible should not be considered a contemporary historical source, but rather a reflection of the traditional view the Hebrews had of their sojourns in Egypt. Even if there is no direct historical evidence for this, the assumption that the semi-nomadic Israelites reached the Nile occasionally in their wanderings seems reasonable.
[4] Sycamore figs do not ripen properly unless a little fly enters them. In the absence of these flies, notching the fruit a few days before picking will cause it to ripen, a fact known since the Middle Kingdom at least:

I found figs and grapes there, all sorts of fine vegetables, sycamore figs, unnotched and notched
The Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor
M. Lichtheim, p. 212
Pliny described the sycamore in his Natural History not always quite accurately (the fruit does contain seeds of course, it is sweet during spring, but not very much so in summer and autumn, etc.):
It bears fruit, not upon branches, but upon the trunk itself: the fig is remarkable for its extreme sweetness, and has no seeds in it. This tree is also remarkable for its fruitfulness, which, however, can only be ensured by making incisions in the fruit with hooks of iron, for otherwise it will not come to maturity. But when this has been done, it may he gathered within four days, immediately upon which another shoots up in its place. Hence it is that in the year it produces seven abundant crops, and throughout all the summer there is an abundance of milky juice in the fruit. Even if the incisions are not made, the fruit will shoot afresh four times during the summer, the new fruit supplanting the old, and forcing it off before it has ripened.
Pliny, Natural History, Book XIII, chapter 14
Faience sycamore fruit
Faience sycamore fruit, Middle Kingdom
The fruit itself is reddish-brown, the excised part black, a truthful rendering of what happened to real fruit where the originally white sap coloured the cut (and the hand cutting it) black.
Source: Keimer, op.cit , plate I
Nowadays the incision is generally made near the ostiolum, on some Middle Kingdom faience sycamore fruit, on the other hand, the cut is indicated on the side of the fruit (Ludwig Keimer, op.cit , p.52)
Among the varieties of the bulb, too, there is the plant known in Egypt by the name of "aron." In size it is very nearly as large as the squill, with a leaf like that of lapathum, and a straight stalk a couple of cubits in length, and the thickness of a walking-stick: the root of it is of a milder nature, so much so, indeed, as to admit of being eaten raw.
Pliny, Book XIX
[6] The Egyptian soil, enriched by the annual Nile flood, seems to have rewarded the efforts of the leek growers with outstanding results:
It is a remarkable fact, that, though the leek stands in need of manure and a rich soil, it has a particular aversion to water; and yet its nature depends very much upon the natural properties of the soil. The most esteemed leeks are those grown in Egypt, and next to them those of Ostia and Aricia
Pliny, Book XIX, 33
[7] Pliny gives a list of Egyptian edible plants, not all of which have been identified:
the wild endive is known as "cichorium," the cultivated kind being called "seris." This last is smaller than the other, and the leaves of it more full of veins.
Pliny, Book XX, 29
In Egypt, next to the colocasia, it is the cichorium that is held in the highest esteem, a plant which we have already spoken of under the name of wild endive. It springs up after the rising of the Vergiliae, and the various portions of it blossom in succession: the root is supple, and hence is used for making withes even. The anthalium grows at a greater distance from the river; the fruit of it is round, and about the size of a medlar, but without either kernel or rind; the leaves of the plant are similar to those of the cyperus. The people there eat the fruit of it cooked upon the fire, as also of the oetum (the earth pistachio), a plant which has a few leaves only, and those extremely diminutive, though the root is large in proportion. The arachidna (possibly a kind of vetch), again, and the aracos have numerous branchy roots, but neither leaves nor any herbaceous parts, nor, indeed, anything that makes its appearance above ground.
The other plants that are commonly eaten in Egypt are the chondrylla, the hypochoeris, the caucalis, the anthriscum, the scandix, the come, by some persons known as the tragopogon, with leaves very similar to those of saffron, the parthenium, the trychnum, and the corchorus (Corchorus olitorius L.); with the aphace and acynopos, which make their appearance at the equinox. There is a plant also, called the epipetron, which never blossoms; while the aphace, on the other hand, as its flowers die, from time to time puts forth fresh ones, and remains in blossom throughout the winter and the spring, until the following summer.
Pliny,Book XXI, 52
[8] Pliny considered Syrian olives superior to the Egyptian variety
In Egypt, too, the berries, which are remarkably meaty, are found to produce but very little oil
Pliny, Book XV, 4
A third oil is that made of the fruit of the cicus, a tree which grows in Egypt in great abundance; by some it is known as croton, by others as sili, and by others, again, as wild sesamon...Our people are in the habit of calling it "ricinus," from the resemblance of the seed to that insect. It is boiled in water, and the oil that swims on the surface is then skimmed off: but in Egypt, where it grows in a greater abundance, the oil is extracted without employing either fire or water for the purpose, the seed being first sprinkled with salt, and then subjected to pressure: eaten with food this oil is repulsive, but it is very useful for burning in lamps.
Pliny, Book XV, 7
[11] tpH (19th dynasty) , Dt , nhm (Middle Kingdom) are semitic loanwords.
[12] Alcock 2006, p.58
[13] Seeds of melons and watermelons were (and still are) eaten as snacks in the whole Near East.



    Meat, while daily fare on the tables of the rich, was eaten by the poor on festive occasions only if at all. Apart from game hunted in the Delta or desert, people kept various kinds of domesticated animals, some exclusively as sources of meat, such as geese, some breeds of cattle and, until the New Kingdom, Oryx antelopes for temple offerings.

    Every kind of meat was prepared in its own way, some boiled as stew, or roasted. One specific cut of beef for instance was called "roast".
Quails, ducks and smaller birds are salted and eaten uncooked; all other kinds of birds, as well as fish, excepting those that are sacred to the Egyptians, are eaten roasted or boiled.
Herodotus, Histories 2,77
    Whatever couldn't be eaten fresh had to be preserved quickly, either by salting and brining, drying or smoking and at times kept in earthen vessels.[4] A kind of pemmican (pounded dry meat mixed with melted fat) was sometimes made; fish roe, beer or honey were also used as preservatives.

    In the Great Harris Papyrus the donation of more than a hundred thousands birds and fowl are mentioned. 57,810 pigeons, 25,020 water fowl mostly various kinds of geese and ducks, 160 cranes belonging to three different species and 21,700 quails . As opposed to this only 3,029 quadrupeds, cattle, sheep and goats were donated.

    In Upper Egypt the attitude towards pigs was negative during the pre-dynastic, while they were raised and eaten in the Delta. With the unification of the country under rulers of the south, pork consumption seems to have become rare throughout Egypt for a few centuries. But during most of the dynastic period pigs were grown and consumed by the populace, even if they were generally not acceptable to the gods.
    The pig is accounted by the Egyptians an abominable animal; and first, if any of them in passing by touch a pig, he goes into the river and dips himself forthwith in the water together with his garments
Herodotus, Histories II
Project Gutenberg
    But even if (according to Herodotus writing in the Late Period) anything and anybody connected with pigs was shunned - for instance swineherds had to intermarry - pork was frequently eaten in Egypt, about at the same rate as goat meat and mutton and probably more often than beef.
    But to the Moon and to Dionysus alone at the same time and on the same full-moon they sacrifice swine, and then eat their flesh
Herodotus, Histories II
Project Gutenberg

Poultry and eggs

    The Egyptians distinguished 15 kinds of teal and other ducks and apparently attemped to domesticate many of them during the Old Kingdom, by Ramesside times only a few select ones were still bred in captivity.
    The domesticated chicken with its prodigious laying power was unknown until the times of Thutmose III, who seems to have kept some in his zoo. Egg production was a thing of the future. While one can cause many fowl to lay a second clutch of eggs by removing the first, the Egyptians may have preferred to let the eggs hatch and slaughter the grown birds later.
    Eggs are very rarely mentioned in the context of food but had important symbolic meanings [2]. They were gathered and eaten by the fowlers in the marshes of the Delta:
I live on eggs and honey. [After a successful hunt I eat] fish from my harpoon and birds [from] my net.
Offering of fish, tomb of Petosiris



    Fish, mostly dried, were part of most Egyptians' daily diet, despite the fact, that they were considered unclean by a few of the better-off Egyptians.
    But it is not permitted to them [i.e. the priests] to taste of fish.
Herodotus, Histories II
Project Gutenberg
Woman carrying an offering of fish
Drawing after decorations in the tomb of Petosiris
Source: Gustave Lefebvre Le tombeau de Petosiris

    The Ethiopian pharaoh Piye (716-711 BCE) wouldn't break bread with the fish eating noblemen of Lower Egypt. Offerings for the dead rarely included fish and during various periods the eating of certain kinds of fish was outlawed. A few species of fish were considered sacred
    and of fish also they esteem that which is called the lepidotos to be sacred, and also the eel; and these they say are sacred to the Nile:
Herodotus, Histories II
Project Gutenberg
Name of Fish Quality of meat fish bones found at Elephantine, cemetery fish bones found at Elephantine, temple of Satet
bichir/polypterus bichir very good    
mormyrus caschive and mormyrus kannume moderately, fat meat 3 4
mormyrops anguilloides moderately, fat meat 88  
gnathonemus cyprinoides moderately    
hyperopisus bebe moderately, fat meat   2
hydrocyon forskali (= hydrocinus forskali) very good, but with many bones 25 95
alestes dentex and alestes baremose many bones   43
disticodus niloticus good, but many bones 3 4
citharinus citharus and citharinus latus moderately good, but with many bones    
barbus bynni popular feeding fish    
labeo niloticus, labeo horie, labeo coubie labeo forskalii moderately good 23 213
clarias lazera (=clarias gairepinus) clarias anguillaris heterobranchus longifilis and heterobranchus bidorsalis enjoyable, often rotten and wet taste 4 40
eutropius niloticus edible    
schilbe mystus edible    
nile Catfish or hog catfish/bagrus docmac and bagrus bayad good 158 4483
auchenoglanis occidentalis moderately good 20 558
chrysichthys auratus and chrysichthys rueppelli moderately good    
synodontis schall moderately good, dry meat    
synodontis batensoda moderately good    
synodontis membranaceus moderately good 44 112
synodontis serratus moderately good 1 16
synodontis frontosus moderately good 1  
synodontis sorex moderately good   6
malapterurus electricus enjoyable    
mugil capito (=liza ramada) and mugil cephalus popular feeding fish, strong meat    
Nile perch/lates niloticus perfect 203 1923
tilapia nilotica (=oreochromis niloticus) and tilapia galilaea (=sarotherodon) very good   9
tetrodon fahaka good, but needs special preparation because his gonads contains poison   3
sparus aurata perfect    
morone punctatus (=dicentrarchus punctatus) very good    
johnius hololepidotus (=argyrosomus regius = sciaena aquila) perfect    




    Some fish, like the bu (bw.t) and the shep, were shunned by the Egyptians because of their taste, but otherwise there were few restrictions as to their consumption. Perch, catfish (even the electric variety), carps, mullets and eels were especially important. Tilapia, elephant-snout fish, tiger fish, moon fish and many others were also eaten. [1]
Preparing the catch, 4th dynasty - Source: Lepsius
Giza, 4th dynasty
After Lepsius, Denkmäler aus Aegypten und Aethiopien

    Fish were cleaned, cut up, the fish eggs set apart for further treatment, and eaten boiled, roasted, pickled in brine or dried. For the inhabitants of the fens they were a major source of nourishment
    Some too of these people live on fish alone, which they dry in the sun after having caught them and taken out the entrails, and then when they are dry, they use them for food.
Herodotus, Histories II
Project Gutenberg

    The Harris papyrus records the Amen temple being allotted 441,000 whole fish, mostly medium sized fish like mullet and catfish.

Grey Catfish Grey Catfish (Synodontis schall)
Inscription on a fish weight used at Deir el Medina for measuring fish rations
Source: Jaroslav Cerny: Deux noms de poissons du Nouvel Empire, BIFAO 37 (1937-1938), p.35

    At Deir el Medina there was a team of fishermen supplying fish for each of the two teams of craftsmen, those of the right and those of the left. Fresh fish were delivered every few days to the doorkeeper and doled out by the scribe of each team. The size of the ration was according to rank, though amounts seem to have been variable. According to ostracon MC25592 the leader of the right team received four parts, ten of the workmen got two and a half parts, the scribe himself took two parts and a further eight men had to be satisfied with one part and a half [3].


[2] Pharaohs often referred to their early days as having been in the egg. Thus Ramses II relates his appointment as co-regent: He gave to me the land while I was in the egg. (J. H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Three, § 267)
The Dream book in the Chester Beatty III papyrus interprets the eating of an egg as a portent for losing something through theft.
[3] Louis-A. Christophe:Le ravitaillement en poissons des artisans de la nécropole thébaine à la fin du règne de Ramsès III, BIFAO 65 (1967), pp.177-199
[4] At Amarna pottery sherds were found with inscriptions such as
Year 10, preserved meat of the festival of the Aten...Ankhaten of the akhit of Pharaoh
W. H. F. Petrie, Tell el Amarna, Methuen and Co. 1894, p.33
It is not quite clear what the exact meaning of the term used, jwf dr, is. Pickled meat has been proposed, Petrie thought it might refer to pounded meat. The akhit ( may have been a storeroom or the like, Petrie suggested kitchen.
A letter by the superintendent of the treasury Sethi to Ramses II mentions dried meat:
50 bags of pickled meat, pressed; 60 dried meat from the flank; 18 dried meat of the loins
After a transliteration and German translation by I. Hafemann on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website, Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften => Briefe => Briefe des Neuen Reiches => Briefe vom/an den König => oBerlin 12337 => Brief an den König vom Schatzhausvorsteher Sethi



The mouth of a perfectly contented man is filled with beer.
Inscription dating to 2200 BCE
    Beer, henqet (Hnq.t) [8], was the preferred drink of humans and gods, of rich and poor, of grown-ups and children. In the Instructions of Ani the mother
sent you to school when you were ready to be taught writing, and she waited for you daily at home with bread and beer.
Papyrus Chester Beatty IV
    Bread and beer were the basic foodstuffs, and while most people had some difficulty making ends meet, there was—among the better-off at least—the danger of overindulging, and educators were aware of it. In the Instructions of Kheti the student is warned:
When you have eaten three loaves of bread and swallowed two jugs of beer, and the body has not yet had enough, fight against it.

    Beer, together with bread, oil and vegetables, was an important part of the wages workers received from their employers. The standard daily ration during pharaonic times was two jars containing somewhat more than two litres each. It was a healthier drink than water drawn from the river or some canal, which was often polluted.
    The Egyptians liked their beer cool as can be learned from a complaint against some robbers who had stolen some food and drink:
They drew a bottle of beer which was [cooling] in water, while I was staying in my father's room.
New Kingdom
Egyptian publications of Mariette
G. Maspero, Etudes de mythologie et d'archéologie égyptiennes vol. 3, 1898

Beer production

    According to Strabo, a geographer living in the first century CE, only the Egyptians brewed beer from barley. Unfortunately his remarks are very general and do not give us any pointers as to the methods used:
Barley beer is a preparation peculiar to the Egyptians. It is common among many tribes, but the mode of preparing it differs in each.
Strabo, Geography
Text scanned and modernized by J. S. Arkenberg, Dept. of History, Cal. State Fullerton
    The ancient Egyptian method of producing it was probably similar to the one still in use in the Sudan today: Wheat, barley or millet [12] was coarsely ground. One quarter of the grain was soaked and left in the sun for a while, the rest was formed into loaves of bread and lightly baked in order Brewery, Source: Vom Ackerbau zum Zahnrad, Rowohlt not to destroy the enzymes. The loaves were crumbled and mixed with the soaked grain, which had fermented. Then water and some beer were added and the mixture was left to ferment. The fermentation complete, the liquid was strained. As a flavouring agent they may have used dates instead of the medieval gruit herbs or modern hops, but the Newcastle Brown Ale company, after running experiments, concluded that what is translated as "date" is really a word for any sweet and that there was no residue of what we call "date" in their samples. They also concluded there was no need to prepare bread before brewing because sprouted barley or wheat grains work just as well. Vessels, Source: The Glory of Egypt by M.Audrain
    This process has been depicted since 2500 BCE, when the loaves were baked in little moulds, as ovens came into use only after 2000 BCE. Eight brands of beer were known, but the use of barley became common in Hellenistic times.
    The bitter Nubian beer, brewed in similar fashion, couldn't be kept for very long. Egyptian beer, with pasteurizing unknown, often turned bad in the hot climate, and dead pharaohs were promised bread which doesn't crumble and beer which doesn't turn sour.

    Recently, some of these traditional views have been challenged by new microscopic evidence. In 1996 Delwen Samuel from the University of Cambridge found that the Egyptians seem to have used barley to make malt and a type of wheat, emmer, instead of hops. They heated the mixture then added yeast and uncooked malt to the cooked malt. After adding the second batch of malt the mixture was allowed to ferment. No traces of flavourings were found.
    The yeast used was a naturally occurring variety to begin with, replete with moulds, bacteria and other impurities, which can't have improved the desired results. By the New Kingdom yeast cells were much more uniform in size resembling modern strains, and with fewer impurities, which has led scientists to believe that the Egyptians had mastered the making of pure yeast cultures.

    Large scale beer production seems to have been a royal monopoly. Temples had their own breweries, while brewing in towns and villages was farmed out. One of the earliest breweries found operated at Hierakonpolis during the middle of the 4th millennium BCE and produced possibly more than 1000 litres of beer per day.


Fetching water from a canal

Man fetching water from a canal. Below is his three room home. Two vessels are standing in the enclosed courtyard.
New Kingdom
After Pierre Anus, "Un domaine thébain d'époque 'amarnienne'. Sur quelques blocs de remploi trouvés à Karnak", BIFAO 69 (1971), pp.69-88

    Water along the Nile was rarely in short supply, though its quality was often poor. While the river was not used as a sewer, human excrement did enter it and with it pathogenic agents. This, of course, was unknown to the ancient Egyptians, who thought of disease as the result of daemonic activity; but people, seemingly aware of unseen dangers possibly lurking in water—in the hereafter at least—prayed to the gods
... who remove the pestilence of the streams so that you may drink water from them.
Coffin Texts Spell #12
Faulkner p.12
The scribe Ani and his wife drinking river water; from the Book of Ani

The scribe Ani and his wife drinking river water; vignette from the Book of Ani

    Drinking hallowed water was necessary for the continued existence of the deceased:
May they let me eat of the fields and drink from the pools within the Field of Offerings.
Pyramid Texts: Utterance 518
Faulkner p. 191, Line 1200-1201
Hormini, nomarch of Hierakonpolis, described the boons he expected to receive in the life to come:
... all the good and pure things on which a god lives, which the heavens provide, which the earth brings forth, which the Nile carries from his source, breathing the sweet air of the north wind, drinking water from the banks of the river...
Tombstone inscription of Hormini, 18th dynasty
After K. Sethe, Urkunden der 18. Dynastie, Band I, p.40
    Slow flowing canals and stagnant pools were even more likely than the Nile to harbour dangers: the snail which is host to the bilharzia blood fluke grows best in such an environment. Infested water can be rendered harmless by letting it stand in water jugs for two days, and, of course, boiling kills all pathogens. Just how widespread such practices were, is not known.
Well in the residential area of Akhetaten; Source: Borchardt, Ludwig; Ricke, Herbert : Die Wohnhaeuser In Tell El-Amarna     In many places, both in the floodplain and in mountain valleys, wells were dug, from which water could be drawn. At Pi Ramses water was raised from the public wells by means of shadoofs and collected in stone troughs, where the water-bearers could fill their containers. Even when and where water was abundant, it was used sparingly, because of the amount of work involved in raising and transporting it.
    In Wadi Hammamat the quality of the well water supplied to travellers and miners was often low, and distances between wells and villages considerable.
    In most mountainous regions where rain was extremely rare and ran off in flash floods without being absorbed into the ground, water had to be transported on donkey back from the river valley. At Deir el Medine it was then stored in large cisterns; and one may suppose that the water rations were minimal.

Milking a cow
Milking a cow, the calf is tethered to the cows front leg


    The Egyptians kept cattle, goats and sheep. Their milk was kept in egg-shaped earthen jars, plugged with grass as protection against insect and was drunk shortly after milking. It is often assumed that - because of the hot climate in which milk spoils in a few hours - milk not destined for immediate consumption was processed into something similar to quark or yoghurt-like labaneh.

... at the proper time he should bring them she-goats, and when he had satisfied them with milk he should do for them whatever else was needed.
Herodotus, Histories II
Gutenberg Project
    Milk was considered a delicacy by many. Senefer, a mayor of Thebes during the New Kingdom, wrote to the peasant Baki
... Order the herdsmen to get milk ready in jars before my arrival. ...
Papyrus Berlin 10463 [17]
ramesses ii offering milk to amen     The gods and the dead who joined them did not spurn milk either. According to Diodorus (1.22) there were 365 tables around the tomb of Osiris on the island of Bigge in Nubia, where daily libations of milk were placed.

Ramses II offering milk to Amen
Harold Hayden Nelson, The Great Hypostyle Hall at Karnak, vol. I, part I, Oriental Institute Chicago 1981, pl.59

... That they may give a mortuary offering, giving oil, incense, libation, wine, milk, oxen and geese to the spirit of Osiris Pediupwawt, deceased, son of Pekhi, deceased born of ... deceased.
From the stela of Pediupwawet. Akhmim? Ptolemaic Period?
(Thomas George Allen: Egyptian Stelae in Field Museum of Natural History, 1936)
    Thutmose III endowed the temple at Thebes with riches unheard of previously. Among them were
3 loan-cows of the cattle of Zahi [3]; 1 loan-cow of the cattle of Kush [4]; total 4 loan-cows; in order to draw milk thereof into jars of electrum each day, and to cause (it) to be offered [to] my father [Amun].
James Henry Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Two § 556
    The Egyptian names for milk products, such as cream and cheeses, have only been tentatively translated. Not much is known about the way they produced butter, but it seems it was clarified, resembling oil.




... May he (Osiris) give water, a cool breeze and wine to the spirit of the inundation Thutmose...
From the stela of Thutmose the doorkeeper, 18th Dynasty
(Thomas George Allen: Egyptian Stelae in Field Museum of Natural History, 1936)
    Wine was known to the Egyptians before 3000 BCE, and the Egyptian word for it, jrp (irep) [8], predates any known word for vine, which suggests, that wine may have been imported before it was produced locally [1]. A third dynasty official received presents from Pharaoh which included plantations:
Very plentiful trees and vines were set out, a great quantity of wine was made therein. A vineyard was made for him: 2000 stat of land within the wall; trees were set out ......
Biography of Metjen
J.H.Breasted Ancient Records of Egypt Part I, § 173
    Both red and white wines were known by the 18th dynasty at least.[10] Wine became an important consumer good. In Ramesside times, the official responsible for furnishing commodities, came to Piramesse with three ships and carried back 1500 sealed [13] wine jars, 50 jars of a beverage called SdH (shedeh) [8], which is often mentioned in conjunction with wine [9], 50 jars of p'oor, baskets of grapes, pomegranates and more. It has been suggested that one of these beverages was a kind of liqueur made from pomegranate wine, but there is no evidence that the principle of distillation was known to the ancient Egyptians.
    A number of Delta vintages are mentioned in the records: the meh from north of Pakus, the wines of the nome of Pelusium and others. Some were shipped in special jars protected by woven cushioning.
    According to Pliny one Egyptian wine caused abortions. A number of Roman writers were familiar with these wines and their qualities and described them:
  • the white Mareotic from the Alexandrine region, pleasant, fragrant, diuretic
  • the pale and somewhat oily Taeniotic, aromatic, superior to the Mareotic, mildly astringent
  • the Thebaid, easily digested and suitable for fever patients
  • the Sebennys, blended from various kinds of grape, among them the sweet Thasian which was known as a laxative

Wine consumption

    On festive occasions, such as the yearly Hathor Celebrations at Bubastis, Hathor being the goddess of love, joy and drunkenness, wine was drunk by everyone:
... when they come to Bubastis they hold festival celebrating great sacrifices, and more wine of grapes is consumed upon that festival than during the whole of the rest of the year.
Herodotus, Histories II
Project Gutenberg
    Many temples had vineyards to supply the wine necessary for the rituals and for the every day use of the priesthood. Herodotus wrote about them:
They enjoy also good things not a few, for they do not consume or spend anything of their own substance, but there is sacred bread baked for them and they have each great quantity of flesh of oxen and geese coming in to them each day, and also wine of grapes is given to them; but it is not permitted to them to taste of fish
Herodotus, Histories II
Project Gutenberg

    For much of ancient Egypt's history wine was mostly consumed at the court of the pharaohs, where an official was appointed as winetaster, and by the rich and powerful. Their children learned from their elders, and scribes complained of their pupils' habit to get drunk on wine.
    It was drunk from shallow bowls or vessels with a short stem. Sometimes a small amount of sea water was added to enhance the flavour.
    In the first millennium BCE its use spread to the less affluent
These [Calasirians and Hermotybians] had besides their yokes of land an allowance given them for each day of five pounds weight of bread to each man, and two pounds of beef, and four half-pints of wine. This was the allowance given to those who were serving as the king's body-guard for the time being.
Herodotus, Histories II
Project Gutenberg
    By Roman times consumption of wine was such that Athenaeus in his Deipnosophitsts I, 34B, described the Egyptians, or at least the nobility, as winebibbers.

picking grapes
Picking grapes
Tomb of Nakht
British Museum
Courtesy Jon Bodsworth


treading grapes
Treading grapes
Tomb of Nakht
British Museum
Courtesy Jon Bodsworth


Wine production

    The main centres of wine production were in the Delta and the Fayum. During the Late Period at least, wine was also produced in the Western Desert oasis of Bahariya and exported to the main population centres along the Nile. Wine making. Source: Lepsius
    The grapes were handpicked and carried in baskets to a low and wide vat probably made of stone. Above the vat there there were either ropes or a bar which the vintners held on to while treading the grapes. The grape juice drained through a hole.

Wine press
Source: C.R.Lepsius, Denkmäler aus Aegypten und Aethiopien; 1897

The grape skins were filled into sacks and pressed in a winepress. After pressing out as much juice as possible, the mash was poured into a sack. Poles were tied to the sack's four corners and by turning them the rest of the grape juice was squeezed out.
    The fermentation [5] probably didn't occur in the vat but rather in open jars. The fermentation process over the jars were sealed with a plug made of vine leaves and a mixture of straw and clay. If the jars were plugged before the end of the fermentation, a small opening was made which was sealed later. The jars were marked with the date, the name of the vineyard and of the "Chief Gardener" responsible for the wine [15]. They monitored the maturing of the wine. One of their tools of the trade, the syphon for tasting the wine without completely removing the plug, came into use around 1500 BCE under the influence of the Syrian customs. The jars were not covered with an exterior coating, the sealing with resin was adopted under Greek influence.
    Wooden barrels (a Celtic invention) were unknown in ancient times in the Mediterranean region and earthen jars were used for ageing the wine. In order to prevent it from going bad, it was boiled or poured into new jars, as marks on broken jars seem to indicate: fine wine from the eighth time (of decanting, possibly), wine from the third time or light wine which hasn't fermented yet.
    They knew of course that wine, once opened, stops improving and turns into vinegar after a while, but the maxim in the Instruction of Ankhsheshonq: "Wine matures as long as one does not open it" can be interpreted in more than one way.

Other beverages

    In the Flower Song the lover describes the effect his love's voice has on him
To hear your voice is pomegranate wine to me: I draw life from hearing it.
pHarris 500, Translated by M.V. Fox
    Just as householders today brew alcoholic beverages from anything containing sugar or starch (to the distress of visiting friends who have to drink them), so did the ancient Egyptians. The fruit of the carob tree yielded nedjem. The pekha fruit, often used to fatten animals, was made into a drink of the same name [16]. Other beverages some of them made with unidentified ingredients were w'as, djeseret, and shepenet (Spn.t) which may have been brewed with poppy seeds (Spnn) [7].
    The fruit was left to ferment, the juice squeezed out and strained through a sieve. Dates were steeped in water and pressed. The earliest mention of such fermented date wine was written down during the second dynasty.
    One doesn't know how palm wine was produced in ancient times. It is thought that it was obtained by making incisions in the stems of date palms, collecting the sap and letting it ferment, similarly to how it is still being done today. Apart from being drunk, palm wine was also used during mummification:
... take out the whole contents of the belly, and when they have cleared out the cavity and cleansed it with palm-wine they cleanse it again with spices pounded up.
Herodotus, Histories II
Project Gutenberg

Picture sources:
[  ] Brewery: Vom Ackerbau zum Zahnrad, Rowohlt Verlag
[  ] Vessels: M.Audrain, The Glory of Egypt
[  ] Well: Borchardt, Ludwig; Ricke, Herbert Die Wohnhäuser in Tell El-Amarna
Duccio Cavalieri, Patrick E. McGovern, Daniel L. Hartl, Robert Mortimer and Mario Polsinelli: "Evidence for S. cervisiae Fermentation in Ancient Wine" in Journal of Molecular Evolution, Volume 57, Supplement 1 / August, 2003, Springer New York
Maria Rosa Guasch-Jané, Cristina Andrés-Lacueva, Olga Jáuregui, Rosa M. Lamuela-Raventés,: "The origin of the ancient Egyptian drink Shedeh revealed using LC/MS/MS" in Journal of Archaeological Science 33 (2006) pp.98-101
Ian Spencer Hornsey, A History of Beer and Brewing, Royal Society of Chemistry 2003, ISBN 0854046305
G. Maspero, Etudes de mythologie et d'archéologie égyptiennes, vol. 3, 1898
K. Sethe, Urkunden der 18. Dynastie, Band I
R. O. Faulkner, Pyramid Texts
Thomas George Allen, Egyptian Stelae in Field Museum of Natural History, 1936
James Henry Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Chicago 1906
Herodotus, Histories II
C.R.Lepsius, Denkmäler aus Aegypten und Aethiopien; 1897
Maria Rosa Guasch-Jané et al.: "The origin of the ancient Egyptian drink Shedeh revealed using LC/MS/MS", in Journal of Archaeological Science 33 (2006)
J. Cerny, Hieratic Inscriptions from the Tomb of Tutankhamun, University Press, Oxford 1965
Duccio Cavalieri, Patrick E. McGovern, Daniel L. Hartl, Robert Mortimer, Mario Polsinelli; "Evidence for S. cerevisiae Fermentation in Ancient Wine" in Journal of Molecular Evolution, Springer 2003
Strabo, Geography
Adolf Erman, The Literature of the Ancient Egyptians; poems, narratives, and manuals of instruction, from the third and second millennia B. C., London, Methuen & Co. ltd., 1927

[1] In a pre-dynastic royal tomb at Abydos wine jars were found which had been made in Canaan [2].
[3] Zahi: Djahi, region in today's Israel. During the New Kingdom Zebu cattle were imported into Egypt from Syria.
[4] Kush: Today's Sudan
[5] D. Cavalieri et al. 2003 have found evidence that the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae still used today for making bread, beer, and wine and which occurs naturally on grapes, has been responsible for wine fermentation since the late 4th millennium. They also suggest it may have been used as an inoculum in beer brewing and to get the bread dough to rise.
[7] The identification of Spn with poppy (e.g. Beinlich) is disputed by some scholars.
[8] On the transliteration and pronunciation of Ancient Egyptian
[9] According to Guasch-Jané et al., 2006, who analyzed the residue from a New Kingdom amphora which had contained Shedeh of very good quality of the House-of-Aton, this beverage was made from red grapes. The pSalt 825 describes its preparation as follows:

It is [/////] repeat the filtration; heating again. This is the way to prepare the Shedeh
and according to an inscription at Denderah it is
the beautiful work of Horus in the lab through the cooked extracts of Shesmou, the god of the press
[10] A study of Rosa Lamuela-Raventos and Maria Rosa Guasch-Jané of the university of Barcelona who analyzed residue in six wine jars found in the tomb of Tutankhamen found that five of them did not contain syringic acid which is found in red wines only.[11]
[12] Cf. this footnote on millet
[13] These seals are often important historical records, at times even unique ones, for establishing the length of royal reigns and the like [14].
[15] For example, a jar from the tomb of Tutankhamen bears the inscription:
Year 5, sweet wine of the House-of-Aten [from] Tharu. Chief vintner Penamun.
J. Cerny, Hieratic Inscriptions from the Tomb of Tutankhamun, University Press, Oxford 1965
[16] The pekha (pxA) drink features in many offering lists in Old Kingdom mastabas, among many other beverages, variety being the spice of both life and death:
2 portions of djesert-jar beverage, 2 portions of djeseret-yatet beverage, 2 portions of henqet beer, 2 portions of sekhepet (sxp.t) beverage, 2 portions of pekha (pxA) juice, 2 (portions) of sesher (sSr) beverage in djuyu (Dwj.w) jars, 2 portions of figs, 2 portions of wine, 2 (portions) of abes (abs) jar wine, 2 portions of Buto wine, 2 portions of Pelusium wine, 2 portions of Hamu (HAm.w) wine
Mastaba of Kaiemankh (G 4561), Gizeh
The sSr beverage may have been a dairy product, sSr having the meaning of stroking, milking.
[17] After a transliteration and German translation on the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae website => Altägyptisches Wörterbuch, Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften => Briefe => Briefe des Neuen Reiches und der Dritten Zwischenzeit => Verwaltung/Alltag => Briefe aus Theben => pBerlin 10463 => Brief des Bürgermeisters von Theben Sennefer an Baki



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Types of beers in Ancient Egypt



c common erveza

c erveza of?perecer?

sweet beer

beer thickens 1

beer thickens 2

offering beer type 1

offering beer type 2

offering beer type 3

beer type 1

beer type 2

beer type 3


beer type 4

strong beer



"In water you see your own face, but in wine the heart of its garden"

ancient Egyptian proverb

Grapevines and making of wine in Egypt goes back to ancient antiquity. In predynastic and early dynastic periods (3200 bce and before) vineyards existed for the use of Egypt's rulers and nobles.

There is still considerable speculation about where "vitis vinifera" or the wine grape first originated. Some think it started south of the Caucasus and south of the Caspian sea; others believe in Egypt and traveled into the Middle East. According to William Younger in his book, 'Gods, Men and Wine' "It is in Egypt where we must go for our fullest knowledge of man's early and deliberate growing of wine." Plutarch said that he was told that Osiris was the first to drink wine and to teach men how to plant the vine.

First dynastic tombs of Abydos record the existence of vineyards including the earliest record of wine cellars and by the time of King Zoser, whose step pyramid was the first pyramid built there existed a partial list of vineyards including the famous vineyard "Horus on the Height of Heaven" which produced wine down into the Greek period.


There were several types of early Egyptian vineyards. The first grapevines incorporated into a formal garden for creating beauty as well as for utility. The second was a work of agriculture and existed in an orchard garden along with fruit trees and vegetables. The third was a formal vineyard as we know them today. The 3rd dynastic administrator of northern Egypt, Methen, had a garden-vine at his estate and a regular vineyard by itself in another area. In addition to nobles owning vineyards, temples had their own on their temples estates, and the pharaohs had theirs as well; Rameses III lists 513 vineyards belonging to the temple of Amon-Ra.


In orchards grape vines were object of special attention and was one of the gardeners most important jobs. The hieroglyphic sign for vines is used in the writing of the words "orchard" and "gardener." There were also specific jobs with titles like "Master of the Vineyard," and "Master of the Vine-Dresser."


The best vineyards were in the Delta, followed by the Fayyum, Memphis, and then southern Egypt and the oasises. The major sources of information on the production of wine are the wall paintings and reliefs from tombs of the Old Kingdom (Saqqara) and the New Kingdom (at Thebes). The comments and recommendations of classical authors give us insight into the qualities and types of the various wines, vineyards and types.


Many scenes from tombs gives us a fairly accurate picture of the Egyptian vineyards and the techniques of wine production. The best site to locate a vineyard was on a hill, but if there wasn't one than the Egyptians made an artificially raised plot of land and planted the vines there. A wall generally enclosed the area and vegetables and fruit were planted with the grapes. They were watered by hand generally from a water basin.

There were four ways to grow grape vines. One was to erect two wood pillars with the upper ends forked, and a wooden pole laid over the top where the vines were laid. This type of support also forms a hieroglyph which is used in the words meaning ‘garden,’ ‘wine,’ and ‘vine’.

A second way is to train the grape vines to grow on trellis’s supported on transverse rafters that rested on columns. Occasionally the columns were carved and painted. A third way was to make vine arbors consisting of branches with the ends placed in the ground to form an arch. And lastly, some vines were grown and pruned to make low bushes and needed no support.

Production of Wine

When the grapes ripened they were picked by hand and put into large rush baskets. These were carried on the shoulders, on the head, or slung on a yoke.

The baskets of grapes were emptied into vats for crushing. These large vats were large enough to contain up to six men who crushed the grapes with their feet. The grape juice flowed through a hole in the side of the vat into a smaller vat, and then poured into pottery jars where it was fermented.

Secondary pressing was used to separate the rest of the juice form the stems, seeds and skin. The residue was put into a sack and was stretched, either on a frame with a pole at one end or between two poles. The pole was twisted to extract the juice that was then collected into a large vessel.

Fermentation took place in open vessels then the wine was racked and transferred to other jars, being sealed with rush bung-stoppers and covered with mud capsules. Small holes were left near the tops of the caps to allow carbon dioxide that was produced in the secondary fermentation to escape. When fermentation finally stopped the holes were sealed.

Although there is no evidence of the widespread use of this technique, wine was sometimes clarified by being racked from jar to jar. Sometimes it was strained (a form of decanting) before drunk, and occasionally the Egyptians would use a siphon (see illustration) to keep the wine dregs from mixing with the wine to be poured.









Famous Wines

It appeared that ancient Egypt had the equivalent of the French ‘Appellation Controlee’ laws. There was a “Royal Sealer of Wine” who overlooked the honest labeling laws, and much of what you find on wine labels today were on the wine labels of ancient Egypt. These included:

  • Name of the Estate
  • Location
  • Type of wine
  • Date of vintage
  • Vintners Name
  • Assessment of Quality

An example of such a wine label is Star of Horus on the Height of Heaven (this vineyard estate started around 2600 bce or the time of Zoser and lasted to 300 ce); Northern Xois District, Chassut Red (Chassut Red was reputed to be not ready to drink until it had aged 100 years!), Sekem-Ka, vintner; very, very fine grade.

Keeping a wine for years to mature was not all that uncommon. In the annex of Tutankhamon’s tomb 36 wine jars were found and each bore a docket in heiratic giving the date, place, and vintage of the wine and showing the Aten Domain Vineyard wines to be maintained for at least 21 years.


Something we don’t do today is to label the wine with the name of the vintner. It was important in ancient Egypt since if the vintner was famous for producing fine wines and moved to another vineyard, it would be a way that the Egyptian wine buyer could continue buying fine wine. Today we keep track to the movement of vintners through wine magazines and newsletters. We know that many nobles tombs have paintings of specially constructed storehouses in which the wine amphorae were stacked in rows on shelves, giving us a glimpse of the first true wine cellars.

Other famous vineyards include Phoenix Estate on the Horizon of Kemet in the Sile district; the Vineyard Ways of Horus (Lake Menzalah district); Preserver of Kemet (royal estate in the Piramese/Tanis district); Estates on the Western River (on the Canopic branch of the Nile and highly thought of, this wine was found in cellars on the palace of Amenophis II at Tebes and Armana. It seems that it is possible that the ancient Egyptians also cut up Egypt into wine growing districts, much like France does today.


Egyptian wines were graded as good (nfr), twice good (nfr,nfr), three times good (nfr,nfr,nfr)as being the finest. There was also another type of grading; genuine, sweet, merrymaking (not so good), and blended.

Variations of wine from grapes or other products were “enhanced” occasionally by blending other wines with it, or the additions of herbs and other flavorings. There is also the possibility of adding honey to wine, and some wine labels indicated “sweet” wine which could indicate either a specific type of grape that makes sweet wine, such as a Muscat, or the addition of flavorings. And that brings us to one other matter.

Wines from things other than grapes

There are five basic groups of Egyptian wines; those from grapes, dates, palm, pomegranates, and other fruits.

Palm wine was produced by tapping the trunk near its branches and collecting the juice and then fermenting the liquid. Date wine is produced by mashing dates and fermenting the resulting juice.

Pomegranate wine was also produced. I have tasted a bottle of pomegranate wine (of recent vintage), and find that it has a fruity, sweet taste no unlike many ‘blush’ wines made today. Meads from honey were also made.

Just how good was the wine of Ancient Egypt?

The ancient Romans, who had quite a lot of vineyards of their own, also imported wines from Egypt. They considered the vineyards along the Canopic branch of the Nile to have some the best wines. Two writers during the Roman empire record the wine at Mareotis is white, fragrant, thin, but of good quality. They also record that the wine of Sebennytus in the central delta, ranked high in excellence. The Romans also were very impressed with wines grown around the lake Menzalah district, the Tanis district, northern Xois area and in the region of Sile.

Gods and Goddesses of wine

Wine was considered a particularly special offering to any of the ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses. But it was Renentet (also called Ernutet or Renen-utet) the goddess of plenty and harvests who invariably had a small shrine near the wine press and vat, as well as on the spout where the juices flows from the vat to the receiving tank. Osiris was also a god of wine as head honoree at the Ouag festival. the hieroglyphics making up the festival name include three wine jars on a table, and a fourth jar being offered by an outstretched hand. The goddess Hathor (Het-hor) was, among other things, the goddess of wine and intoxication.

So while we constantly read of beer being the drink of the people and one of the chief staples of life of the ancient Egyptian, it is wine and the vineyard that holds a special place of honor as a Food of the Gods

Grapes were crushed by trampling, and the juice was drained off and stored in pottery jars, to ferment into wine.

Related Image

The Ancient Egyptians enjoyed a fabulous reputation throughout the ancient world for their fine wines. In spite of the very dry climate, Egypt produced some of the finest wines for export in the world. In the First Century BC, Diodorus Siculus praised the quality of the beer of the Egyptians, describing it as being 'barely inferior to wine'. The ancient Egyptians made and consumed red and white wine (irep) Throughout Egypt there are many tomb paintings illustrating the gathering and pressing of grapes and making them into wine. The most notable among them is that of of Nakht in the Luxor (Thebes) area.

Vineyards consisted of vines which were planted and trained on wooden trusses or rafters. These were supported by rows of columns, which divided the vineyards into avenues. These served the purpose of making the harvest of the grapes quite convenient and making them aesthetically pleasing to the Egyptians who were themselves avid gardeners and connoisseurs of natural beauty. The columns were often painted, (the Ancient Egyptian use of color often bordered on the ostentatious!) however, sometimes these supports may have been simple unpainted wooden pillars. They would be the support along the aforementioned poles that would hold the vines that lay over them. Some vines were allowed to grow as standing bushes. These, they tended to keep low and would not have required such an elaborate system of support. Sometimes, too, the vines were made to be formed into a series of bowers. There is no extant evidence that the Ancient Egyptians attached their grape vines to other trees such as the poplar or the elm as the Ancient Romans did. Even today the vintners of Italy will attach their vines on occasion to these trees or sometimes to the white mulberry.

Often vineyards would be located near a water source as well as the building which contained the winepress. Great care was taken to preserve the clusters of grapes from birds. Young boys were employed to scare the birds away using either a sling and rocks or the sound of their voices to drive them off.

When the grapes were gathered, the bunches were carefully placed into baskets which were carried, either on the worker's heads or shoulders or slung upon the backs of servants or on a yoke. These would then would be carried to the winepress. Sometimes monkeys were also trained to assist in harvest of the grapes or other fruit. Paintings in tombs depict monkeys or baboons handing down figs from the sycamore trees to the gardener standing below. When grapes were intended for eating, they were put, like other fruits, into a flat open basket and then covered with palm leaves. Similar baskets can still be found today in Cairo and other Egyptian cities and towns in the bazaars and marketplaces for purchase. In Egypt, grapes were in season in the month of Piphi, which is near the end of June or the beginning of July.

There were many different forms of wine presses. The most simple consisted mainly of a bag, in which the grapes were put and squeezed. This was done by the means of two poles that turned in opposite directions, a vat was then placed beneath it to collect the juices. There were also other types of wine presses. One example of a larger type of wine press was the foot press, such as one that had been found in Lower Egypt. Some of wine presses that have been discovered were highly ornamented and consisted of at least two distinct and separate parts. This was the lower portion or vat and the trough. This is where the workers, usually men with bare feet would crush and stomp the fruit. They would support themselves in this part of the press by means of ropes suspended from the roof. From their great height, some of these may have had an intermediate reservoir which would have probably received the juice on its way to a pipe that was connected to a strainer or column. This devisement is similar to that which was used by the Romans. It is also possible that footpress may also have been used as a first process in the making of the wine and then re-pressed via the twisted bag pressing as has been illustrated in various tomb paintings.

The juice would then be collected and stored for fermentation. Once it was partially fermented, it was then placed into amphorae and left to age. Sometimes the liquid would be heated by fire and sometimes the aging process would have taken several years to be complete. This is not unlike modern wine making practices today. The wine might then be filtered once again or have spices or honey added before finally being transported in amphorae for storage and eventual use.

Previous to pouring in the wine, the Egyptians generally put a specific quantity and type of resin into the amphorae. This would serve to coat and protect the inside of these porous jars. This was believed not only to seal the jar and preserve the wine, but it was thought that this coating with resin would also to improve the flavour of the wine itself.

Ancient Egyptians were buried with the most precious food and drink as sustenance for their afterlife. One of these was Shedeh, the most valued and appreciated beverage in ancient Egypt. The botanic origin of Shedeh remains unclear as no mention of its raw material has survived. Some scholars have proposed that Shedeh was a pomegranate wine, while others, a grape wine. Presented here is the first ever analytical evidence of Shedeh's origin through the analysis of a sample of a residue from an extraordinarily well preserved Shedeh amphora from King Tutankhamun's collection. The previously developed LC/MS/MS wine markers method for archaeological samples was used and our results reveal Shedeh had a red grape origin.

Harvest in late summer (August), without tools, mainly by men.  
Grapes were placed into baskets.  
The baskets were emptied into a treading vat.  
Treading the grapes underfoot.  
The remainder was pressed (wrung out) in a cloth or a sack to gather all liquid.  
Fermentation (i.e. grape juice turns into wine - sugar turns into alcohol); the wine has to be sealed, otherwise it turns into vinegar.
  • one or two days of fermentation - light wine
  • several weeks - heavy wine
  • longer period - wine turns into vinegar
From the scant evidence it seems that red wine was very common in ancient Egypt; white wine is first securely attested in the third century AD.  
In the tomb of Tutankhamun wine jars were found with the inscription: irp nDm 'Sweet wine'. Partly dried grapes, (because they contain concentrated sugar) were used for producing sweet wine. Sweet wines have a high alcohol content and are therefore longer resistant
'Blended wine' (irp smA), appears on labels found at Malqata. It is not certain whether wine of different years, vineyards or types were mixed.  
Other wines mentioned in Egyptian texts were made from sweet fruits, such as dates and fig.  

Wine Lables

(click on the images to see a larger picture)

year one, very good wine of 10, day one wineyard of the vintner Amenmes
year ? , wine ..., the vintner ...
year 52 , wine... vintner ...
year 17 wine (...) wine ...
year 17, wine of the house of Aten
wine of the greatest of seers
year 10 wine of the domain sHtp head of vintner Sethy
Year 11, wine of the estate of ... West River



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