Some of us love it. Some of us hate it. Some of us depend on it.
It has the power to delight and confuse, to disorient and destroy. Whatever our relationship with it may be, alcohol has managed to become an integral part of our everyday lives in one way or another.
There isn’t one of us who hasn’t been affected or influenced—directly or indirectly—by alcohol. And it has been this way for centuries.
Journey with us as we travel back in time to get a taste of the history of alcohol and its place in society through the ages.
Did I mention alcohol has been a huge part of our lives for a very long time? People were drinking alcohol before they knew how to write!
The first examples of the written word appeared around 3500 BCE. By that time, alcohol was already a fundamental part of ancient culture and tradition.
Residue in pottery jars found in China is some of the earliest evidence that humans were making and drinking alcohol. These jars date all the way back to 7000 BCE.
Researchers found clay tablets containing recipes for beer written by the Sumerians in Mesopotamia which date back to as early as 3000 BCE.
Alcohol wasn’t used back then in all the same ways, we use it today, however. Egyptians drank beer because it was believed to have certain nutritional benefits and the ancient Greeks used it as a medicine for various ailments.
In fact, the wine was often used to treat lethargy and diarrhea. Little did they know they were only making matters worse!
For the ancient Greeks, alcohol was used as an offering to the gods. It became so important in their culture and religion that they had their very own god of wine, Dionysus.
The Romans then adopted wine production from the Greeks, eventually using it as a currency for slave labor and a standard ration for their military personnel.
In Ancient China, alcohol became an important part of traditional festivities, such as family meals or wedding ceremonies.
All throughout the ancient world, alcohol was used in religious rituals, social and intellectual gatherings, and as a means of remuneration.
Fortunately, alcohol as a form of payment is not standard practice anymore, but in ancient times it was a welcome compensation for endless, grueling work.
A More Recent History of Alcohol:
Flash forward a few thousand years to colonial times. There seems to be general consensus now that the poor Puritans were responsible for “ruining the fun” and hating alcohol back in those days.
Well, you know what?
When they came over to North America on the Mayflower, they brought more beer with them than water!
At that time, water was considered unsafe to drink (and it was), so alcohol seemed to be the obvious choice in the beverage department.
However, as time went on, alcohol and the drunkenness that accompanied it became a growing problem.
The governments in both England and the United States introduced taxes on alcohol in an attempt to limit the violence and debauchery that resulted from overindulgence, but this simply sparked outrage and rebellion.
The moonshine trade began to grow as a result, and in 1791, the US introduced a tax on whiskey which immediately caused an uproar.
This whiskey tax leads to the Whiskey Rebellion of Pennsylvania, in which employees at the distillery refused to pay the tax in protest.
In the early 1800s, the Temperance Movement began and quickly gained momentum. This eventually led to the Prohibition Era in 1920, in which the government banned the manufacture and sale of alcohol.
It did not, however, make the actual consumption of alcohol illegal. And thus, with the help of organized crime syndicates, the speakeasy was born.
Not long afterward (13 years to be exact), the nation overwhelmingly decided that the ban on alcohol was a bad idea, and the prohibition law was repealed in 1933.
Alcohol in Modern Times:
These days, we have a much better understanding of alcohol and its effects on our bodies. As a result, our relationship with it has become slightly more complicated.
Alcoholism is now recognized as a legitimate disease, and we can no longer claim not to know the damage drinking too much can cause to our internal organs.
We know that it isn’t a cure for lethargy or diarrhea (it’s a depressant and it dehydrates you). We know that it lowers inhibitions to the point where people do things they wouldn’t otherwise do.
We still use alcohol in almost all of the same ways that it was used thousands of years ago.
We still use it in religious ceremonies. Family gatherings. Festivals. Alcohol today has come to play an even bigger part of our general entertainment.
From beer pong in college dorms to challenge coins in the military (which is a fascinating tradition you can read all about in this post), the list of drinking games and traditions all over the world is endless.
It’s a part of our modern society and culture, just like it was in 3000 BCE. We may have had our ups and downs with it along the way, but like it or not, alcohol is here to stay.
It’s a component of a culture that’s thousands of years in the making, and that’s a habit that’s hard to break.
The history of alcohol is tightly linked to our history as human beings.
It has played a leading role in various important social gatherings over the years, influenced the lives and works of many artists and writers, and been considered worthy of the gods.
It inspires us. Amuses us. Scares us. Ruins us.
It has been used in many weird and wonderful ways and it has shaped the history of us. It has helped to define who we are and will continue to define who we will be as members of a society that is equal parts beautiful and dangerous.
For more articles like this and to keep your finger on the pulse of society, subscribe to our RSS feed or follow us on Facebook!