Hellanicus Foundations, in Athenaeus 10.67

Ἐλλάνικος δ’ἐν Κτίσεσι και ἐκ ῥιζῶν, φησι κατασκευάζεται τό Βρῦτον γράφων ὧδε: “πίνουσι δέ βρῦτον ἔκ τινων ῥιζῶν, καθάπερ οι Θρᾷκες ἐκ τῶν κριθῶν.”

Hellanicus, in the Foundations, says that beer is made from roots, writing that “they drink beer from a certain type of root, just as the Thracians make it from barley.”

This is another quotation taken from Athenaeus’s Deipnosophists. There is relatively little informative context for this quote – it is simply found in a list of quotations about beer.

This passage gives a whole new meaning to the term: root-beer! Or, at least, a return to the original meaning.

Unfortunately, the identity of the “people” that Hellanicus describes drinking the root(?)-beer is not included in the manuscript. We only know that their beer was different from that of the Thracians’ barley beer. In fact, the interpretation of the word ῥιζῶν has left some unsatisfied in the context of this passage. If accurately transcribed, this word means a “root.” It is unclear from any other contemporary sources what type of root was used to make beer, or if it is even the sole ingredient used in this unnamed group of people’s beer. Wilamowitz suggests that there is a missing “β” at the beginning, i.e. emend to “βῥιζῶν” – “rye.” Nelson points out that this word for “rye” is not attested until the second c. CE. (Nelson 2001, 113-115), but he accepts “rye” as the translation, admitting that any certain identification is impossible at the moment. He also suggests that the unnamed people are possibly the Phrygians, because they are already coupled with the Thracians in earlier  brutos-related matters (Archilochus). Still, he admits in a footnote that Hellanicus may have just used brutos as a generic term for beer, rather than a type-specific descriptor (Nelson 2001, 41).

All debates aside, we at BCS can take the following from this passage: the Thracians are still making beer from barley in the fifth c. BCE.

Author’s note
Hellanicus (ca. 5th c. BCE)
An early historian whose works are largely lost.


Nelson, M. 2001. “Beer in Greco-Roman Antiquity.” Ph.D. dissertation, U. of British Columbia.

Image Source
Wikimedia Commons: Hellanicus Atlantis


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