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I see lots of questions and speculation on the 'proper' drinking and storage vessels for mead by those interested in being historically correct. So, I'm digging up pictures and references for those people, in the hopes that they'll find what they are looking for! It goes without saying that if you have a reference I haven't found yet, *please* send it to me, so I can put it here for others to find.

Historical evidence of 'proper' drinking cups for mead is somewhat sketchy, but there are many digs that have turned up some fascinating drinking vessels. If you'd like to read some more about drinking period drinks, in period drinking vessels, here are some articles to peruse:

  • "Power Drinking in Iron Age Europe", British Archeology, February 2001 – Excerpt:  Iron Age leaders bolstered their claim to rule by giving feasts awash with prodigious quantities of booze, writes Bettina Arnold. At some time around 550 BC, a great leader was buried under a mound in what is now south-west Germany. The walls of his log cabin-style burial chamber were draped in fabric, and he was laid out on a decorated bronze couch covered with furs and other material. About him lay the trappings of wealth and power. The couch was held up by cast bronze human figures riding unicycles. Around the chieftain's neck lay a gold torc, and on his right wrist was a gold bracelet. His bronze belt plate and iron dagger were both decorated with sheet gold, as were his shoes. On his head he wore a conical hat made of birchbark. A quiver of arrows hung on the wall.  Yet most impressive of all was the array of feasting and drinking equipment buried with him. Against one wall of the chamber stood a four-wheeled wagon laden with nine bronze plates and three bronze serving platters, as well as equipment for carving and serving large cuts of meat. Eight large drinking horns, probably from the now-extinct aurochs, were decorated with gold and hung from hooks in the wall, while a ninth horn – a tremendous thing capable of holding 10 pints (5.5 litres) – hung over the chieftain's head. 
  • "Finding Magic in Stone Age Real Ale", British Archeology, November 1996. Excerpt:  My research suggests that brewing could well have been an important part of British Neolithic domestic and ritual life. We know that the Sumerians were making ale in the 3rd millennium BC and that the Egyptians were fermenting date wine and ale at a similar time. The Sumerians had a goddess of brewing, Ninkasi, and a tablet inscribed with a verse singing her praises has been found at Nippur, dated to c 1800BC. It seems to describe Sumerian brewing methods; and this `recipe' was followed by Solomon Katz and Fritz Maytag of the Anchor Breweries of California in 1991, producing a drinkable and effective brew that was aptly called `Ninkasi'. More recently, Scottish and Newcastle Breweries, in association with researchers from Cambridge University, made Tutankhamun Ale, again a drinkable and sweet brew.
  • "Beer Brewing Formed Part of Neolithic Ceremonies", British Archeology, September 1997. Excerpt: Getafix, the fictional druid in the Asterix cartoon series – whose main task was to brew a magic potion for his fellow Iron Age villagers – may have been following a centuries-old ceremonial tradition of ‘ritual brewing’ dating from as far back as the Neolithic, according to new research. Ritual brewing, it has been claimed, may have been one of the main activities that took place at sacred Neolithic ceremonies in the 3rd millennium BC.
  •  "Cider and Beer", British Archeology, April 2001. Excerpt: The subject of my MPhil research was Anglo-Saxon food and drink (now published by Anglo-Saxon Books) and I have to point out that when it comes to the discussion of drinks, two errors are repeated. 'Beer' does not derive from bère, the Old English for 'barley'. The Anglo-Saxon word beor referred to a sweet, strong drink, not made from cereals, and probably a fruit wine/cider/perry. Similarly, Norman-French bere refers to cider, and Old Norse bjorr is considered to have been a strongly-fermented cider. (Beor, bère and bjorr may all have derived from Latin bibere, 'to drink'.) Arguably beor was stronger than wine since yeast in cider can work at concentrations of up to 18 per cent alcohol. Ealu (ale) was used to translate Latin cervisia, a cereal-derived drink, which we now call beer.

Below you will find information from various archeological digs around the world which have included drinking. Included are photos of various drinking vessels from those digs.

    • Dürrnberg (Hallein), Austria; Reinheim – A series of bronze flagons for pouring mead, wine or beerDurrnberg Flagons enables us to trace the development of La Tène style both in vessel shape and in decoration. The shape is usually attributed to the influence of Etruscan trefoil Schnabelkannen, several of which have in fact been found in Celtic tombs
    • King Midas' Tomb – When the tomb was opened, it contained three large vats (or cauldrons), with a capacity of about 150 liters each and mounted on iron tripod stands, very likely held the combination of mead, beer and wine that was served at the feast. A lion-headed situla or bucket from the Midas Tomb is nearly an exact duplicate to the ones shown on the Sargon relief. This situla, another ram-headed situla, 2 jugs with long, sieved spouts, and 19 juglets would have enabled the beverage to be transferred to 5-liter round-bottomed buckets which were inset into unique serving tables. From there, it was ladled into 100 finely wrought bronze omphalos drinking bowls and, for those with greater thirsts, 19 large two-handled bowls.The Hochdorf cauldron - courtesy of UPenn
    • Hochdorf – this large site had many interesting finds, including a large caldron in which were found traces of mead. Badly worn, and repaired several times, the cauldron had clearly enjoyed hearty use over a number of years. And inside, to accompany our chieftain to the Otherworld, it contained over 600 pints (350 litres) of mead. By the time the grave at Hochdorf near Stuttgart was excavated by Jörg Biel in 1978-79, the mead had become a dark, shrunken, cake-like deposit in the bottom of the cauldron. The residue was analyzed, and was shown to definitely be that of a honey-based drink. This dates mead back to 550-500 BCE.
    • The Vix Cup - showing Celtic influenceVixthis tomb was that of a the Lady of Vix, a princess who was buried with great ceremony and with enormous wealth. The tomb contained quite a few bowls, flagons, and one *enormous* krater. The treasure also contained also a Greek cup in ceramic with black decoration, a silver cup and an Etruscan drinking cup of bronze.  The presence of these objects of Etruscan or Greek style confirms a Celtic association and barter with the Mediterreanean World. Notice the resembalance to the traditional 'mazer' cup of Celtic origins.  
    • Romano-Celtic champlevé cups – Romano-Celtic champleve cup and flagonThe technology of enameling is Roman. In the West, the enamel is placed on the surface of the bronze, and hence the term "champlevé." These cups would have been used to serve wine.
    • The Jelling Cup – It is said that this cup was used by the Viking King Gormr. This 10th Century silver chalice was found at Jelling, in Jylland, Denmark – the site of the Great Stone.
Vicky Rowe
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Vicky Rowe

Vicky Rowe has been active as a promoter and supporter of the mead industry since the mid-90's with Gotmead.com, and is totally serious about seeing the mead industry take its rightful place as a popular craft beverage on the world recreational drinking stage.

She is also an experienced marketing coach and consultant who has recently decided to focus her marketing expertise exclusively on the craft beverage market to help meaderies, cideries, breweries and distilleries expand their business and get more customers while doing what they love.
Vicky Rowe
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