How did Egyptian techniques of wine production (harvesting, treading, pressing, fermentation and storage) change during the course of the pharaonic period?
“Il est vrai néanmoins, que ce vin [the Egyptian wine] n’est pas beaucoup estimé des Francs, à cause qu’il reste toujours un tiers de lie, qui le rend trouble aussitôt qu’on en veut verser. Mais si on avoit trouvé l’invention de la bien faire purifier, ce suroit assurément un vien très délicieux (,..).”
Although wine could not be indicated to be a typical element of the fauna of Egypt, skilled wine-makers of the Seventeenth Century proofed to produce a well-tasting juice, according to French traveller Vansleb. As archaeologists and historians - representing modern scholarship - have pointed out, that the wine-making process and its techniques have not been changed dramatically regarding the wine production utilized in Nineteenth and Twentieth Century, it is widely interesting to get to know more about Egyptian winemanufacturing. Which tools were used to fulfil the difficult wine-making? How did a typical vineyard look like? Were there various types of wine and was it possible to get its taste throughout the whole society of ancient Egypt? Which role was played either by the reigning king or rather the gods - especially the goddess of harvest Renenutet?
By investigating and trying to answer these questions, it is certainly necessary to indicate possible sources stressing illustrations as well as textual evidence and archaeological basis. Obviously a huge amount of sources are available regarding the Middle and the New Kingdom, while, concerning the Early Dynasty and the Old Kingdom, useful information are rare. However several scenes taken from tombs dated from both periods give little evidence of techniques being utilized to success the wine-manufacturing. These artistic, textual, and archaeological evidence are highly important to observe, if ancient Egyptian wine could actually be described as “(...) excellent, white, pleasant, fragrant, easily assimilated, thin, not likely to go to the head (...)”, as it was signified by Greek Stoic and Philosopher Athenaeus in the Second Century A.D.
There are incontrovertible evidence of the manufacturing of wine available since the beginning of the Early Dynasty c. 3000 B.C., although most of the found information depend on later images or the production process in general. Wine jars being found at Abydos and Saqqara seem to be the most useful items as they are dated from specific reigning periods. However vessels of later periods show much more data including the vintage/date, the name of the wine-maker to indicate the wine’s distinction to the Royal palace and therefore its quality, and its geographical origin. The wine jars are built out of reddish-brown coloured mud signified as typical sun-dried Nile mud. There is no evidence obtainable, whether the vessels are coated with any kind of liquid substances to increase their surfaces resistant. Therefore, ancient Egyptian wine does not seem to have a long-lasting durability. Thus the jars are mostly shown being shaped in a conical form. By inserting a hollow reed in a small vent, which might be left open, the carbon dioxide of the fermentation could escape. But only few jars actually elucidate such holes, as Lerstrup stresses. Hence James’ observation, that emphasizes Carter’s earlier hypothesis, may not be the full reason of the existing holes. As a result stressing less data being available, the intention of the gap has to be maintained as uncertain.
The filling of the jars is seen to be judged hardly. Consequently it is usually done by a skilled wine-maker, who was specifically trained and often significantly experienced. The bottling of the vessels is finished by signing the jars. As mentioned before, the given information are usually limited to the name of the reigning king, as well as an illustration of the Royal palace, and - in some cases - an elucidation of the god Horus being the personification of the king. The jar’s registration is done by utilizing at least one cylinder seal that runs over the mud-cone stopper, while it is still soft. Thus the process of carving is as important as the filling of the vessels. The number of inscriptions increases during the Second Dynasty as the royal name is taken next to the manufacturing place of the wine (probably to point out its quality, again). Both the cylinder seal dedication of King Khasekhemwy (Memphis), dated from the Second Dynasty c. 2650 B.C., and the seal impression of Buto - reflecting the same period, and reigning king - are evident for this argument.
Although the number of studies stressing the wine-making process during the course of the pharaonic period has been significantly enlarged, it is still uncertain, whether the wine was introduced by external influences. Various suggestions point out, that it could be set up from Western Asia during the Pre-Dynastic Time. While James only carefully names the possibility of such external influences, Lesko hardly disagrees with that theory, although indicating Egyptian wine production to be a “(...) social melting pot (...)” during the New Kingdom (at the latest). Nevertheless, due to less evidence, it is currently impossible to argue for or against the theory of an external origin of Egyptian wine.
As the utilization of hieroglyphs is improved during the Early Dynasty, more information are available regarding the process of wine-making. Otherwise the interpreter of such sources has to be highly critical because of the antagonism of artistic impression and reality, and the widely usage of various items during the course of the pharaonic period. Nonetheless the development of the hieroglyphs is very important due to the recognition of Egyptian wine as part of ancient daily life - especially regarding the upper social classes. James, i.e., names the archaeological evidence found at the tomb at Saqqara dated from the reign of Djet (third king of the Fifth Dynasty) ; Lesko also gives examples for the medical use of wine during the New Kingdom, as he reflects on textual dedications. These are, however, information of the later pharaonic periods.
Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, New Kingdom, and Late Period
Far more studies and archaeological evidence are available regarding the pharaonic periods of the Old Kingdom, the Middle Kingdom as well as the New Kingdom, and the Late Period. In general it can be investigated, that the wine-making process, which was common during the pharaonic times, does not differ significantly from modern types of wine- manufacturing. The first step of the ancient Egyptian wine-production takes place in the vineyard. Five major kinds of the training of the wine being used either over all pharaonic periods or in a specific term are shown by various tomb scenes. Concerning the tomb of Neferherenptah, i.e., the illustrations suggest two of the most common types of training the wine during the Old Kingdom. The difference between the several forms indicated by Lerstrup is due to the variation of the settlement of the wine meaning either vintage outside the orchard (defined as wilderness-wine) or inside the vineyard (generating the so-called cultivated or orchard vine). While the non-cultivated wine does not seem to include both pruning and training, and is shown by being picked from several trees, the orchard-wine - like the one illustrated in the tomb of Neferherenptah - is likely surrounded by papyrus and other vegetables. In addition, the training of the wine and its pruning is also represented. Apart from the various kinds of the training, the tomb scenes of Niankhkhnum and Khnumhotep emphasize different ways of supporting the growth of the wine. The first type is held by forked poles of various heights ; otherwise the second type, which therefore seems to be the cultivated wine, is supported by equal-high poles including a crossbar. As the vineyard is a likewise part of the gardening, it is maintained that the orchard wine is the most common sort being part of the ancient Egyptian wine-making process. Consequently the watering of the wine is carried out by hand. The vineyards are possibly surrounded by mud-brick walls to concentrate the water flushing onto the plant. Several tomb scenes illustrate such supporting walls, which sometimes may have been connected with wooden crossbars.
The wine-making process during pharaonic Egypt consists of twelve elements of producing the final product. Although several tomb scenes illustrate the progressing production en detail, there are several noteworthy problems.
a) None of the survived images give specific details concerning the time being necessary to fulfil the represented working process.
b) Only few scenes reflect the important step of filling the jars.
c) The even more significant stage of the first and the second fermentation of the wine can only be observed in the tomb of Nebamun. Thus, Lesko indicates a possible image of the fermentation from the tombs of Theban, but it is uncertain, whether the scenes actually emphasize the process itself.
A huge amount of tomb scenes dated from both the Old and the New Kingdom show the picking of the grapes followed by the transportation to the pressing-vat. The large number of illustrations may be evident due to the time needed to fulfil this process. Thus, several images, i.e. the most detailed and commentated scene taken from the tomb of Theban dated from the early Eighteenth Dynasty, New Kingdom or comparable paintings of the same period, suggest, that the grapes are depicted by hand, as no tools like scissors are available. The transportation of the grapes is done immediately after the bunch of the wine’s grapes had been finished. Obviously the workers - being most commonly men - usually utilize the same baskets to transport the material as they had operated with before. Although a variation of baskets is used for transportation, their designs have not changed during the several periods of ancient Egyptian wine-production. These tools are mostly constructed in a conical form surrounded by a concave linen wall.
It is uncertain, how long it takes to transport the harvest to the pressing-vat, as there is no detailed information regarding specific interval times available. The following treading of the harvest in a trough is shown to be done by at least three up to six men during the Old Kingdom. It is, again, uncertain, whether both the number of the workers and their working area in general are elucidated realistically. Due to the artistic restrictions regarding especially the limited painting fields inside the tombs, it may be proper, that even more men have been employed in the pressing-vat. However, there is no appreciable evidence accessible. Besides, some important changes of the construction of the pressing-vat can be emphasized. These differences illustrated by the various tomb scenes also allow facing the variation of the wine-making process over the pharaonic times.
a) The architecture of the vat seems to be shallow during the Old Kingdom. But it is unclear, if it is round, quadrangle, or oblong. James points out, that a rounded construction of the vat is probably the most effective one concerning the carried out volume of the must. Regarding the utilized material to build up the pressing-vat, archaeologists are still discussing whether it is made out of acacia wood, mud brick walls consisting of sun-dried, caulked and smoothed Nile mud or general earthenware products arranged by plaster with gypsum. The arguments of several scholars are mainly based on either archaeological evidence or the illustrations taken from the tombs. Although there seems to be a consensus in the archaeological research preferring the mud-brick construction of the pressing-vat since the early 1920s, especially Lesko underlines the significance and objective necessity to observe any archaeological evidence highly critical. Thus Lerstrup leans towards Montet to stress the influence of chemical processes, which are likely to harm the low acid grapes of the wine in the climatic environment of Egypt. Consequently faience could decrease the wine’s quality by giving it an unattractive after-taste. Several constructions of the pressing-vat and its partly significant enlargement during the pharaonic periods support the arguments of Lerstrup, Klebs and Bietak.
b) Very similar types of the pressing-vat - due to constructions utilized during the Old Kingdom - are illustrated in scenes taken from tombs dated from the Middle Kingdom. Therefore the only significant change of the wine-making process - reflecting on the vat itself - may be the symmetrical arrangement of the men pressing the harvest.
c) The most obvious developments stressing the vat’s architecture can be recognized during the New Kingdom. The tomb scenes are more detailed, as the illustrations taken from the tombs of Theban even offer commentaries to entertain the observer. Three different kinds of pressing-vats are shown by the surviving images. While type a (Figure 20) seems to be architecturally distinctive to the Old Kingdom’s press - to guarantee further stability, ropes hanging from the crossbar are held by the employed men, type b (Figure 21) is constructed in a rounded form. Additionally, the press looks like being larger than type a to increase the final volume of the must. Hence the enlargement may have become necessary due to the expansion of the use of wine in ancient Egypt or even because of the development of Mediterranean wine trade systems. But, again, especially the second reflection cannot be reliable as there is only little evidence available. However, type b also includes a spout-hole at least at one site of the vat. It perceptibly ensures the filling of the vessels being more effective. The third illustrated press (Figure 22) is much larger than the other mentioned types. It is also more sophisticated. The shown scene images, furthermore, clusters of grapes and lotus flowers as well as papyrus plants being probably utilized as decoration to improve the working atmosphere. The existence of such ornamentation may also substantiate the enlargement of the use or rather the social status of the wine during the New Kingdom.
d) There is only little evidence available illustrating the architecture of the wine-press during the Late Period. The archaeological sources are limited to the tomb of Pabasa, the tomb of Ankhhor, and the latest tomb of Petosiris dated from fourth century B.C. They elucidate the types of pressing-vats being almost similar to the styles of the Old Kingdom. These circumstances may have artistic reasons, again, as Lerstrup maintains. The art of the Late Period is distinctively connected to the painting issues of the earlier Old Kingdom. Therefore it is uncertain, whether the illustrated vats actually offer a realistic point of view. However, the scenes taken from the tomb of Petosiris also emphasize few details of New Kingdom’s wine-presses being very large and including a lion-head-formed spout-hole.
It is, additionally, not reliable, whether the working process during the pressing of the grapes has been stimulated by singers or beaten rhythms, as James declares. Only little evidence, i.e. the tomb scenes of Mereruka and Neferherenptah at Saqqara or the illustrations of Senedjemib-Inti at Giza, are currently available.
 Vansleb, P.: Nouvelle Relation en Forme de Journal d'un voyage fait en Égypte en 1672-1673. Paris, pp. 255256.
 Meeks, D.: La production de l'huile et du vin dans l'Égypte Pharaonique. In: Amouretti, M. C.; Brun, J.P. (eds.): La production du vin et de l'huile en Méditerranée. Bulletin de Correspondance Hellénique. Supplément XXVI. Athens 1993, pp. 3-38.
 See Bietak, M.: Ein altägyptischer Weingarten in einem Tempelbezirk. Tell el-Dab'a - 1. März - 10. Juni 1985. In: Anzeiger der Phil.-Hist. Klasse der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften Jg. 122, Sonderabdruck 12 (1986), pp. 268-278. In the following cit. as Bietak 1986. See Carter, H.: Tutankhamen's Treasure. London 1972 (Abridged Edition of 'The Tomb of Tut-Ankh-Amen; Originally Published in 3 Volumes; London 1923-1933). See Montet, P. : Les scènes de la vie privée dans les tombeaux égyptiens de l'Ancien Empire. Strasbourg 1925.
 See Lerstrup, A.: The making of wine in Egypt. Göttinger Miszellen 129 (1992), pp. 61-82. See Lesko, L. H.: King Tut's Wine Cellar. Berkeley 1977. In the following cit. as Lesko 1977. See Murray, M. A.; Boulton, N.: Viticulture and wine production. In: Nicholson, P. T.; Shaw, I. (eds.): Ancient Egyptian Materials and Technology. Cambridge 2000, pp. 577-608. See Tallet, P.: Le shedeh. Étude d'un procédé de vinification en Égypte ancienne. Bulletin de l'institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale 95 (1995), pp. 459-492. See McGovern, P. E.: Ancient Wine. The Search for the Origins of Viniculture. Oxford/Princeton 20072. In the following cit. as McGovern 2007.
 See esp. Table 1: "The Process of Wine-Making concerning Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, New Kingdom and Late Period". Lesko, L. H.: Egyptian Wine Production During the New Kingdom. In: McGovern, P.; Fleming, S.; Katz, S. (eds.): The Origins and Ancient History of Wine. Luxembourg 2004, pp. 215-230, pp. 215 and 220-221. In the following cit. as Lesko 2004. Lerstrup, p. 61.
 See James, T. G.H.: The earliest history of wine and its importance in ancient Egypt. In: McGovern, P.; Fleming, S.; Katz, S. (eds.): The Origins and Ancient History of Wine. Luxembourg 2004, pp. 197-213, pp. 198 and 203. Meeks, pp. 3 and 24.
 See esp. Table 2: "Tombs being regarded to give evidence concerning the wine-making process during the course of the pharaonic period".
 Athenaeus: The Deipnosophistae 7, I.33e-I.34a.
 Murray; Boulton, p. 577.
 James, p. 198.
 Lesko 1977, p. 11.
 See esp. Figure 6: "Hieroglyphs from the Early Dynasty showing various types of vine-making related items". Here Hieroglyph B.
 Lerstrup, p. 73.
 Carter, p. 148.
James, p. 198.
 See esp. Figure 5: "Cylinder seal impression during the Early Dynasty showing the name of King Den and the image of god Horus, illustrated as a Falcon. Dated on First Dynasty, about 2350 B.C."
 James, p. 199.
 See esp. Figure 4: "Cylinder seal inscriptions of the Early Dynasty. Hieroglyphs giving evidence for the origin (Memphis) and the reigning King Khasekhemwy dated on Second Dynasty, c. 2650 B.C."
 Murray; Boulton, p. 596.
 For a general geographic overview see esp. Figure 0: The origins and the geographical development of viticulture in south-west Asia and the eastern Mediterranean.
 See en detail Unwin, P. T. H.: Wine and the vine. An historical geography of viticulture and the wine trade. London/New York 19962.
 Lesko 2004, p. 223.
 See esp. Figure 6: "Hieroglyphs from the Early Dynasty showing various types of vine-making related items".
 See esp. Figure 6: Hieroglyphs from the Early Dynasty showing various types of vine-making related items". Here Hieroglyph D, which might illustrate a vessel used to transport wine. On the other hand, such vessels are also known to carry out other liquids like oil. As a result of hard controversies between several scholars, especially the chemical research has been enlarged due to liquids and their utilization in ancient Egypt since the last decades.
 Murray; Boulton, pp. 577-578.
 James, pp. 201-202. Lesko 1977, p 11.
 Lesko 2004, pp. 229-230.
 See i.e. Bietak, M.; Reiser-Haslauer, E. (Hrsg.): Das Grab des 'Anch-Hor. Obersthofmeister der Gottesgemahlin Nitokris. 3 Bde. Wien 1978-1982. In the following cit. as Bietak; Reiser-Haslauer. See also Lerstrup, Lesko 1977 and 2004, Carter, and partly James.
 Lesko 2004, p. 229. Lerstrup, pp. 61 and 76. Meeks, pp. 27-28.
 See esp. Figure 1: "The types of depicting the wine and its usage during the several periods of pharaonic Egypt". 1
Lerstrup, p. 62. Murray; Boulton, p. 581. The scenes of the tomb of Neferherenptah show the images of types one and three, which are represented by Figure 1.
 See esp. Figure 2: "The wine of the wilderness" and Figure 3: "The so-called orchard-wine".
 Lutz, H. F.: Viticulture and Brewing in the ancient Orient. Leipzig 1922, p. 50. In the following cit. as Lutz 1922. Lerstrup, p. 62.
 James, p. 205.
 See esp. Figure 2: "The wine of the wilderness".
 See esp. Figure 3: "The so-called orchard-wine".
 Unwin, pp. 34 and 42-43.
 James, p. 205. Murray; Boulton, p. 583.
 See esp. Figure 18: "The watering of the wine during New Kingdom".
 Lerstrup, p. 64. Lesko 1977, p. 28. Lesko 2004, p. 224. Tallet, pp. 471-472. Such examples are, i.e., Tell el- Amarna, dated from Eighteenth Dynasty, New Kingdom; Tell el-Dab'a, dated from Nineteenth Dynasty, New Kingdom; K3 n Kmt as an example representing a multi-vegetable vineyard, named in Pap. Harris I 8.5, dated from Nineteenth Dynasty, New Kingdom. While the scene from Tell el-Amarna shows type 5 of the most common wines, the illustrated sorts taken from the tomb of Tell el-Dab'a ought to be either type 1 or 2. Regarding the various kinds of the wine see esp. Figure 1: "The types of depicting the wine and its usage during the several periods of pharaonic Egypt".
 See Table 1: "The Process of Wine-Making concerning Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, New Kingdom and Late Period".
 James, p. 205.
 Lerstrup, p. 75.
 Lesko 2004, p. 217. See esp. Figure 23: "Scene from the tombs of Theban showing the sack-pressing and probably the stages of fermentation of the wine in sealed and partially closed bottles. Dated on early Eighteenth Dynasty, New Kingdom".
 See Table 1: "The Process of Wine-Making concerning Old Kingdom, Middle Kingdom, New Kingdom and Late Period".
See Figure 19: "Scene from the tombs of Theban illustrating the vineyard and the treading of the grapes, and characterizing Renenutet as the goddess of the harvest. Dated on early Eighteenth Dynasty, New Kingdom".
 See esp. Figure 2: "The wine of the wilderness".
 James, p. 206. Lutz 1922, p. 51.
 Lerstrup, p. 67.
 Murray; Boulton, pp. 585-586. See esp. Figure 8: "Harvesting the wine. Various types of baskets".
 See Figure 9: "Pressing the grapes during the Old Kingdom. Evidence of symmetric working process". See also Figure 10: "Pressing the grapes during the Old Kingdom. Working-men facing each other".
 Montet, pp. 269-270.
 Lerstrup, p. 67. Again, artistic problems may have caused the restricted offer according to the construction of the pressing-vat.
 James, p. 206.
 Lutz 1922, p. 53. Woenig, F. : Die Pflanzen im alten Ägypten. Ihre Heimat, Geschichte, Kultur und ihre mannigfache Verwendung im sozialen Leben in Kultus, Sitten, Gebräuchen, Medizin, Kunst. Nach den eigenen bildlichen Darstellungen der alten Ägypter, Pflanzenresten aus Gräbern, den alter Schriftsteller und den Ergebnissen der neuen Forschungen. Leipzig 18972, p. 268.
 Lerstrup, p. 69. James, p. 206.
Lesko 1977, p. 17.
 Montet, p. 108. Klebs, L.: Die Reliefs und Malereien des neuen Reiches (XVIII-XX Dynastie, ca. 1580-1100 v. Chr.). Material zur ägyptischen Kulturgeschichte von Luise Klebs. Heidelberg 1934. In: Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften. Philosophisch-historische Klasse. Abhandlung 9 (1934), pp. 53-54. Lerstrup, p. 69.
 Lesko 2004, pp. 228-229.
 Lerstrup, p. 69.
 Montet, p. 108.
 Compare, i.e. Figure 9: "Pressing the grapes during the Old Kingdom. Evidence of symmetric working process" and Figure 22: "The more sophisticated wine-press used in the New Kingdom".
 Bietak 1986, pp. 270-275.
 Compare, i.e. Figure 13: "Pressing-vat during the Middle Kingdom" and Figure 10: "Pressing the grapes during the Old Kingdom. Working-men facing each other".
 Lerstrup, p. 68.
 Lesko 2004, pp. 216-217.
 See Figure 19: "Scene from the tombs of Theban illustrating the vineyard and the treading of the grapes, and characterizing Renenutet as the goddess of the harvest. Dated on early Eighteenth Dynasty, New Kingdom", Figure 23: "Scene from the tombs of Theban showing the sack-pressing and probably the stages of fermentation of the wine in sealed and partially closed bottles. Dated on early Eighteenth Dynasty, New Kingdom", and Figure 24: "The storage of the bottled wine in a cellar and the status of the working-men. Illustration from the tombs of Theban, dated on early Eighteenth Dynasty, New Kingdom".
 See esp. Figure 20: "The wine-press used in the New Kingdom giving stability by the installation of ropes hanging from the crossbar", Figure 21: "The larger wine-press used in the New Kingdom including a spout- hole", and Figure 22: "The more sophisticated wine-press used in the New Kingdom".
69 Lerstrup, p. 68.
70 Lesko 2004, pp. 229-230.
71 Bietak 1986, pp. 276-278.
72 Lerstrup, p. 68.
73 Lesko 2004, pp. 221-224.
74 See esp. Bietak/Haslauer.
75 Lerstrup, p. 69.
76 James, p. 206. Murray; Boulton, p. 577.
77 Meeks, p. 21. See Figure 25: "Illustration elucidating the beating of rhythms to stimulate the pressing process".
- Quote paper
- Holger Skorupa (Author), 2008, How did Egyptian techniques of wine production change during the course of the pharaonic period?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/121081