It has been known that beer has been cherished for thousands of years. The oldest written recipe appears on a Sumerian cuneiform tablet from 1800 B.C. It appears that many types of beer were already being brewed at that time, ranging from a hearty dark beer to a refreshing pale ale, depending on the grain used. In fact, drinking beer was so much a part of ancient societies that codes of conduct existed for its distribution -- including a death sentence for those foolish enough to overcharge customers.
Citizens of ancient Mesopotamia were given daily rations of beer. Beer taverns were common and brewers and tavern-keepers were generally women. The Code of Hammurabi, a set of laws from ancient Mesopotamia dating from 1754 B.C., set fair prices for beer and specified harsh penalties for brewers who diluted their beer or overcharged customers. Offenders could be drowned in their own beer vats.
The code specified additional rules about beer and beer taverns. For example, if customers at a tavern conspired against the ruler and the tavern-keeper did not report them, she could be put to death. In addition, nuns or "sisters of a god" were not permitted to drink at taverns or open taverns.
More about beer in ancient Mesopotamia:
- The Code of Hammurabi is one of the world's oldest deciphered writings of significant length.
- Under Babylonian rule, Mesopotamian beer production increased dramatically and became more commercialized. Back then, customers bartered for their beer, rather than paying with cash.
- The daily ration of beer provided for all Mesopotamian citizens depended upon the individual's social status.