Sic redacto in disciplinam milite commissa acies, quodque nemo visurum se umquam speraverat factum, ut fugientes Numantinos quisquam videret. Dedere etiam se volebant, si toleranda viris imperarentur. Sed cum Scipio veram vellet et sine exceptione victoriam, eo necessitatum conpulsi primum ut destinata morte in proelium ruerent, cum se prius epulis quasi inferiis implevissent carnis semicrudae et caeliae; sic vocant indigenam ex frumento potionem.
Thus, with the army having been brought back into discipline, it undertook a battle; that which no one had ever expected to see had been done – the Numantines fled! They [Numanitines] wished surrender, if the conditions could be tolerated by men. But, when Scipio wanted an utter victory, necessity compelled the Numantines to rush into battle with a certain death, but only after they filled themselves with a funeral banquet of half-raw meat and beer – which they say is a local drink made from grain.
This describes Publius Cornelis Scipio Aemilianus’s subjugation of the Numantians in 133 BCE. Numantia is a region of Spain that was inhabited by Celtic (Celtiberian) people.
BCS has described on numerous occasions the Celts’ enjoyment of beer – especially in Spain (Aged beer, Grain harvests, beer makes you sick, beer drinking parties, beer “glassware”, more Gallic grains). This passage does not tell us much about the specific form or production of the ancient beverage, but it does contribute to our understanding beer within the broader Spanish diet. We already learned from Strabo that the Iberians drank beer alongside foods made from butter and acorn flour (1). In this passage, however, we get a glimpse at a specific type of meal: the funerary feast. Florus relates that the Numantines ate a steak tartar of sorts and drank beer at the funeral feast. According to Nelson, this description served as an inversion of the typical funerary meal: cooked meat and wine (Nelson 2001, 185). Such a feast, therefore, casts the Numantines as barbaric and uncivilized people. It is unclear if the “normal diet” that Nelson describes as a comparison refers to the typical diet of the Romans or the Numantines. In his later account, Nelson speaks about this “normal diet” more generally without assigning it to a particular group, implying that the Iberian food is abnormal for general taste (Nelson 2005, 53). It certainly is well-attested that the Iberians drank beer. In several accounts, beer takes pride of place in the Iberian dining experience. This is likely due to beer’s psychotropic effects, but it was also perhaps a drink of status. In an account that is a near contemporary to the events that are described in this passage, it is noted that at least one Iberian king filled his gold and silver mixing bowls with beer (2). For Polybius, this is an apparent contradiction for such a lowly (by Greek standards) beverage. Because these descriptions of beer in Iberian/Numantine society certainly served as literary devices, it is difficult to discern the elements of truth concerning the place of beer in the diet.
Lucius Annaeus Florus (74-130 CE)
A Roman historian who wrote epitomes (summaries) of historical events that were often drawn from the writings of Livy
E.S. Forster (Loeb Classic Library Edition), Lacus Curtius
Nelson, M.S. 2001. “Beer in Greco-Roman Antiquity.” Ph.D. diss., U. British Columbia.
Nelson, M.S. 2005. The Barbarian’s Beverage. A History of Beer in Ancient Europe. New York: Routledge.
WikimediaCommons. Augustin Jimenez, Vista de las excavaciones arqueológicas de Numancia (Soria, España). This is a photo of an archaeological zone indexed in the Spanish heritage register of Bienes de Interés Cultural under the reference RI-55-0000001