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Linguistic Anthropology | Near Eastern Languages and Societies | Other International and Area Studies | Other Languages, Societies, and Cultures


The history of alcoholic beverages in various cultures, including our own, has often been written. These investigations have looked at viticulture, brewing, distillation, and the economic and religious uses and effects of alcoholic beverages. Syriac literature, being somewhat of an arcane area of interest, has rarely—if ever!—entered into any of the discussions. It is, nevertheless, a corpus with a breadth wide both in size and subject matter, and there is no dearth of references to alcoholic beverages, their preparation, and use. This paper, based on both secular and religious texts in Syriac, most of them composed in a Muslim-majority culture, will touch on questions of what kinds of alcohol were drunk, how these drinks were made, who did the drinking and what was thought of their drinks (including acknowledgement of its detriments), and finally we will ask what Syriac literature contributes to the history of drinking.