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Book: Critical Approaches to Cypriot and Wider Mediterranean Archaeology

Chapter: 12. All the King’s Wine? Late Bronze Age Vineyards in Texts from Emar and Ugarit

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.42488


This paper presents, reviews and contextualizes cuneiform evidence pertaining to wine production and vineyards at two Syrian Late Bronze Age cities (ca. 1350-1175 BCE). Ugarit was well suited to viticulture, its whole material and textual culture well-steeped in wine that was seemingly as common as beer. Examining both the Ugaritic and Akkadian evidence from Ugarit shows that the long-held Assyriological view of strict royal control of its wine industry is untenably based more on theory than evidence, especially given the ample representation of non- royal ownership in the fully vocalized and less ambiguous Akkadian tablets. Fresh studies of Emar’s real estate transactions and archaeology reveal a wine culture based on irrigation methods in an alluvial setting perhaps comparable to Egypt’s highly developed wine industry.
The conventional wisdom of wine as royally controlled thus collides with private ownership of production documented at both Syrian sites and in Egyptian dockets and iconography from the same era. Paired with the low prices for wine documented in Hittite, Syrian, and Egyptian sources, the construct of wine as an enclaved luxury good gives way to the plausibility that wine was already a widely affordable commodity by ca. 1300 BCE, a change that correlates with increasingly developed exchange networks and maritime shipping innovations. The importance of wine—in its various economic, ritual and political purposes revealed by decades of research on commensality—is thus re-framed as a process with an older history in the Eastern Mediterranean than hitherto recognized.

Chapter Contributors

  • Chris M. Monroe ( - cmmonroe) 'Cornell University'