The Iberians Drank Beer (From Bowls of Gold and Silver)

Iberian village of Ullastret © solopilar (Flicker Creative Commons)

24 Nov The Iberians Drank Beer (From Bowls of Gold and Silver)

In the 4th and 3rd centuries BC, the most widely drunk beverage among the indigenous population of the Iberian Peninsual was beer. This was true for both the Celts, who occupied the Cantabrian coastline, and the Iberians, who populated the entire Levantine region, stretching from the Pyrenees to today’s Andalusia.

We know this thanks to a text by the Greek historian, Polybius, who described with a touch of irony how beer was served in gold and silver “craters” (a type of mixing bowl) in the house of an Iberian king. In the eyes of the author, the social faux pas in the Iberian culture was that such valuable receptacles were used to serve such a poor quality product. Indeed, the assimilation of customs imported by the Greeks and the Romans meant that beer was gradually replaced by wine. Beer drinking came to be seen as an antiquated if not barbaric habit.

From the Neolthic Period until the 3rd century BC, the most widely consumed and highly appreciated alcoholic drink in the region had been beer. Aside from Polybius’ text, we know this because remains of malted and fermented barley have been found on Neolithic sites and in the silos of Iberian settlements in Puig de Castellet (Lloret de Mar), Punta de Castell (Palamós) and Ullastret. The oldest remains of beer in Europe were found in the Can Sadurní Cave in Begues).

Little is known about the composition of Iberian beer. It didn’t have hops (which was added to the recipe much later on), but it could have included different herbs for aromatic purposes. Perhaps it contained honey, like Celtic beer.

In summary, even though the Mediterranean coastline is now famous for being a winemaking region (and rightly so!), in the eastern part of the Iberian Peninsula we were originally great beer drinkers.

(Translation by Sarah Marshall)