When we talk about the culinary of the earliest civilizations, we use biblical texts and archaeological excavations, and through it we set up a puzzle, a scene lived at that time, and history can be told again.
Food of Antiquity – Mesopotamia
On the basis of innumerable accounts made through these findings, it is possible to have a notion or dimension of the importance of banquets and celebrations exercised over that village, as an example: The Pharaohs.
Moreover we can understand the differentiation between the food of the nobility and that of the plebs and understand some habits that still remain present, to better understand the connection of man with his food.
in ancient times
It derives from the ancient Greek, which says “meso” = “medium” and “potammo” = “water or river”, in other words “land between two rivers”, known as Tiger and Euphrates. Today they comprise most of Iraq, Kuwait, eastern parts of Syria, Turkey-Syria and Iran-Iraq borders.
Considered one of the cradles of civilization, In the Bronze Age, it comprised Sumer, Acadians, Babylonians and Assyrians. They dominated the region from the beginning of written history (3100 BC) until the fall of the Babylonian empire in (539 BC).
Cuneiform tablets found on the Mari site in Syria near the border with present-day Iraq. He reports on the sovereign reign of two names: Yasmah-Addu between (1796 to 1776 BC), and Zimri-Lim between (1775 to 1761 BC).
Mari gives us a reference, since we do not have records of the palaces of Babylon, (they were all destroyed in the middle of the wars), that was considered like the main kingdom at this time.
In a mixture of the divine and the human, various examples and clues are drawn from mythological and religious literature, and these provide us with a better idea of how royal banquets were served at this time.
In the midst of these banquets were constituted: alliances, the making of great decisions, the inauguration of temples, the reception of foreign delegations, the narrowing in relations with its people and with the gods, and the celebration of victories obtained in the wars.
At such times, the King, as the principal leadership, ordered the tribute to the gods and deities of the time, and in this context a strict ceremony was followed.
The most important were grouped according to their profession or social position. The guests to be honored sat next to the king while the others sat on the floor.
Both were eating according to their hierarchical position, the king as the main figure, the first to be served, when he tried to honor someone, could yield his own plate as a gesture of honor and prestige.
Information that was collected in documents, dealt with the palace’s accounting, were examples of current “book-box”, when everyone sat in their proper places, servants passed jugs of water for everyone to wash their hands, in addition, distributed bottles With scented cedar oil and juniper for hygiene before and after meal.
On the menu of these real events are the grilled and stewed meat, accompanied by breads and vegetables. In the desserts are found the fruits and cakes sweetened with honey, in this archaeological site were found several types of forms, which we are told, is that the cakes were made in different formats.
Products that were rarer at the time were also found, such as freshwater fish, ostrich eggs, mushrooms and pistachios. The meals were watered with wine and beer, as the beer was fermented through barley and dates.
Beer Making by the Sumerians
Sumerians making beer
All this feast was appreciated together with the performance of artists of the time, in the form of small spectacles for entertainment. It has no records of the royal family attending these events and so few women, in other words, it was a typical business dinner.
At the end of the royal meals, all the guards and the servants of the king could use the leftovers of the guests. After the banquet, there was an exchange of gifts, such as luxury robes and tools made of metal. Other reports indicate that when the number of guests exceeded a certain amount, the event was held in the gardens of the palace.
An example observed in the Neo-Assyrian period, translates the power and majesty of a king. The occasion was the inauguration of a palace built in the period (883-859 BC) by Assurnasírpal II. The party lasted 10 days near the village, something around 69 thousand people.
On this occasion the list of the royal palace dealt with: a thousand cattle, 15 thousand sheep, 20 thousand birds, 10 thousand fish and thousands and thousands of jars of wine and beer. This tradition in banqueting extends to the decline of the Neo-Babylonian empire in (539 BC).
Together, parallel to the royal banquet, another was intended for the statues of the gods, which were arranged in the same way as the royal guests were, except that instead of the servants of the kings they served, this work was done by the priests of the temple.
Some categories of professionals were known, called “prebendados”, which were: brewers, bakers and confectioners. In addition, taverns had been part of Mesopotamian settlements since (2000 BC), managed by women, these establishments served as a place of interaction and integration, were frequented by travelers and residents of the region.
Individuals who were subjected to a kind of ritual of exorcism were to pass in the tavern before returning home as a rite of social reintegration, and after meals and drinks it was possible to withdraw in the company of women. In the food served by the tavern, it is believed that they were: grilled meats, breads, soups and beer.
As usual in some peoples of antiquity, these feasts served to strengthen the king’s image, to strengthen ties with the gods, and to manifest the wealth and hierarchy for the peoples, the rest, the local people, only surviving.