→Alcohol for Leisure and Sustenance
Fortunately, well-preserved New Kingdom tomb reliefs in the Theban necropolis, such as that of an official named Nakht, have given modern scholars a glimpse into the settings in which wine was consumed by the royals and high officials in the government. The evidence shows that the ancient Egyptians were no prudes. Banquet goers were plied with copious amounts of food and wine while they listened to live music and watched beautiful women dance nude. Moderation was actually frowned upon as drunkenness was a sign of wealth and abundance. <ref> Lucas, A. and J.R. Harris. <i>Ancient Egyptian Materials and Industries.</i> (Mineola, New York: Dover, 1999), p. 16</ref> Binge drinking was an acceptable past-time not just for the upper classes of Egyptian society, workmen and peasants also liked to let loose on special occasions.
Religious festivals were important during all periods of pharaonic history, but by the New Kingdom they had become public spectacles. During these festivals, the priests would go to the local temple and take the statue of the temple’s primary god – which the Egyptians believed contained the spirit of the god and was therefore the god himself – and parade it around in public before bringing it back to the temple. Peasants and workers would be relieved from their work duties during the entirety of the festival in order to spectate and participate, which for them meant drinking heavy amounts of alcohol and socializing with their neighbors. An inscription on a pottery fragment from the New Kingdom workers’ village of Deir el-
Media relates how the community spent the festival that celebrated the deified status of King Amenhotep I (ca. 1525-1504 BC): “The gang rejoiced before him for four solid days of drinking together with their children and wives.” <ref> McDowell, A.G., ed. and trans. <i>Village Life in Ancient Egypt.</i> (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 96</ref> Clearly, inebriation was an accepted, if not encouraged part of ancient Egyptian culture; alcohol also played an important role in the Egyptian diet.
Modern scholars believe that beer played a much bigger role in the Egyptian diet than it does today in most countries. Because milk was scarce and the water from the Nile River was for the most part not potable, even in ancient times, beer was the primary drink of most ancient Egyptians. Besides the intoxicating effects it had when consumed in large amounts, studies show that it was also high in nutritional value. <ref> Shaw, Ian and Paul Nicholson. <i>The Dictionary of Ancient Egypt.</i> (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1995), p. 22</ref> Because of the role it played in the standard Egyptian diet, and because Egypt lacked coinage until the Persian Period, beer was often used as a form of payment to men who worked on the tombs and temples. <ref> Lehner, Mark. <i>The Complete Pyramids: Solving the Ancient Mysteries.</i> (London: Thames and Hudson, 2001), p. 202</ref> Alcohol surely played a role in the daily lives of all Egyptians, but perhaps even more important was the part it played in their religion.