PELUSIUM, Beer Archaeology

Pelusium, modern Tell al-Farama, is an Egyptian town that is located in the Nile Delta. As the  easternmost location in Nile Delta, Pelusium served as an important port and trading center. It also served as an important production center of beer and garum, a fermented fish sauce that was a Roman delicacy. Perhaps the most significant historical event to occur within the vicinity was the Battle of Pelusium in 525 BCE that was detailed by the Greek historian, Herodotus. During this combat, royal forces from the Achaemenid Empire of Persia were pitted against the Egyptians with the Persian king, Cambyses II, subsequently gaining the pharaohship of Egypt.

Pelusium and Beer

The Egyptians were famous consumers of the fermented barley brew with production continuing during the Roman occupation. Diodorus Siculus [1st c. BCE] reports that the Egyptian god of the afterlife, Osiris, introduced beer to Egypt at the beginning of the second millennium BCE (1.20). For nearly two centuries, many scholars have claimed that Pelusium was the location of this introduction (Dodgson 1832, 36; Englehard 1882, 668; Smith 1902. for an overview: Nelson 2001, 145-146). Unfortunately, the passage that is cited as support does not mention Pelusium, at all. Perhaps, the importance of Pelusium was deduced because of its location as a northern port city and main  entry via the eastern Mediterranean. Thus, early scholars may have concluded that Pelusium was the natural point of entry for Osiris when traveling by boat or from the east.

 The Archaeology of Pelusium

fishtank Pelusium
Source: Archaeology Magazine

The first excavations at the site of Pelusium were undertaken by the French Egyptologist, Jean Cledat, in 1910. Since the 1980s and 1990s, the site has been excavated by different with archaeological teams from Egypt, Canada, Switzerland, and Britain, revealing a  large port city. The most common objects reported to have been found are slag, i.e. the remains from metal smelting and production, architecture, and the omnipresent potsherds. A large number of “tanks” have also been found, which the excavators think may have been used for the production of garum. Although unambiguous evidence for beer production has not been identified and published at the site, many installations and finds (pottery) could have held multiple or different functions.

Dodgson, T. 1832. A Practical Essay on Casual and Habitual Intoxication. Skipton: J. Tasker.
Englehard, 1882. “Report on Wines, Beers, etc.” Annual Report of the New York Board of Health (Vol. 2).
Grzymski, K.A. 1997. “Pelusium: Gateway to Egypt.” Archaeology.
Nelson, M. 2001. “Beer in Greco-Roman Antiquity.” Ph.D. Dissertation, The University of British Columbia.
Smith, W.S. 1902. “The Beers of Antiquity.” The Brewers’ Journal, March 15: 180.

Featured Images
Map of Lower Ancient Egypt. Source: adapted by adding circle and arrow from © user: MinisterForBadTimes/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA-3.0
Pelusium archaeological site. Source: © Krzysztof A.Grzymski/


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