Times Beer Changed History

There are so many ways beer changed history, you have to wonder what kind of world we would live in if the vital, hoppy nectar had never been invented. From the earliest civilizations to modern society, beer has had a major impact on the trajectory of history. Read on for a deeper understanding of how and why the carbonated delight changed the world. 

If you're ever asked how beer shaped the world, mention the Egyptians, the Pilgrims, or the Founding Fathers. Or look all the way back, to the dawn of civilization, to see just how much impact the amber nectar has had on human history.

Beer's been around for a long, long time, and has helped countless people make decisions with impact levels ranging from personal to international. The power of a beer (or seven) should be of no shock to anyone, but the sheer amount of history beer has shaped is stunning. Check out this list to see exactly how beer changed the world, and learn new trivia to impress your friends. 

  • Beer Is The Foundation Of Civilization
    Photo: United States Department of Agriculture / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Beer Is The Foundation Of Civilization

    It was originally theorized that migratory humans settled to harvest grain, from which bread was made. In 2013, a paper appeared in the Journal of Archeological Method and Theory suggesting that harvesting barley for beer predated harvesting wheat for bread by more than 3,000 years. The paper cited archaeological evidence from the Mediterranean and was corroborated by evidence found in Mexico. This means that critical developments in human civilization, from the plow to irrigation to the wheel, were driven by a love of beer. This argument suggests beer is the reason civilization began.

  • Beer Built The Pyramids

    Without beer, we wouldn't have the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still standing. As it turns out, the Egyptians used beer as medicine and currency for those who built the pyramids. Writing in Smithsonian Magazine, Dr. Patrick McGovern explains that beer was of utmost importance:

    It was a source of nutrition, refreshment, and reward for all the hard work. It was beer for pay. You would have had a rebellion on your hands if they’d run out. The pyramids might not have been built if there hadn’t been enough beer.

  • In 2300 BCE Beer Became Currency

    The Code of Urukagina is often cited as the first legal code in history. It dates to 2300 BCE, and in it, beer is prescribed as a central unit of payment and penance for civilization. And so, in the very first instance of written law and order in civilization, beer was currency.

  • Drinking Beer Saved Humanity In The Middle Ages
    Photo: Eduard von Grützner / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Drinking Beer Saved Humanity In The Middle Ages

    There was a time when drinking beer kept you alive. In the middle ages, water sources were full of disease, and drinking contaminated water was sure to bring on giardia, if not something worse. As the brewing process for beer involved boiling water, then fermentation, the final product was free of bacteria. That is probably why, in the 16th century, annual beer consumption in Britain was 530 pints for every man, woman, and child, or three times the amount consumed in the 21st century.

  • Midwives Used Beer For Labor Pains In Medieval Europe

    Medieval Europe wasn't a particularly fun place. It was dirty, stank, and was full of disease. Childbirth, especially labor pains, were brutal, exacerbated by the squalid conditions and ignorance in which many women lived. Midwives administered beer, instead of water, to their patients,  because many water sources were contaminated. These midwives had their own brew, known as groaning ale, which was given to pregnant women when contractions began. Sometimes, the baby was washed in seven-or-eight-month old ale immediately after birth. This process saved countless lives.

  • Poland Had A Beer War In 1380
    Photo: Anonymous plate / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Poland Had A Beer War In 1380

    The Vretslav Beer War was a cold war waged in the Polish city of Vretslav, now Wroclaw, beginning in 1380. The war started because both the city council and the Church sought to profit from beer sales. The stand-off between the mayor and the bishop became so intense that when King Vaclav IV visited the city in 1381, he found the bishop had shut down all religious services. The King's troops proceeded to sack every religious site in the city. Intervention from the Pope was required to get Vretslav back under control.

    In the wake of the Beer War, the city council, worried about future threats to its dominion, created a restrictive oligarchy. This led, in 1418, to open revolt, during which six members of the council, including the mayor, were executed by an angry mob. The Emperor returned the favor by decapitating 30 leaders of the revolt, and boiling, tarring, and impaling their heads on spikes on the city walls.