The exact date for the birth of alcohol is not known, but it is known to have existed from ancient times, and its utility and functions have not gone unnoticed. Since the discovery of the “beer jugs” in the Stone Ages, it is believed that alcohol has remained an important part of human life and has had multipurpose uses for people in the past. It is indicated that the presence of alcohol can be dated from the Neolithic period, which is almost 10,000 years and perhaps even earlier. Wine samples and their products have remained existent from around 4,000 years ago, found in the Egyptian pictographs as well as Greek artifacts and discoveries. However, there is also a common conception that the use of alcohol was not the same in the past as it is today, in fact, there are bound to be drastic differences in the way people consumed and used alcohol back in the day as compared to the way they use it presently. While much of the use of alcohol today is found in recreational consumption of the substance, the former civilizations of the Greeks and the Europeans of the Middle Ages used alcohol for medicinal purposes, such as healing and treating, relieving stress and allowing the society to improve its condition with the help of alcohol.
The purpose of alcohol, as seen today, is mostly as a substance needed to relax the mind and body and make an individual under the influence of alcohol so they can be numbed from their senses. However, in the past, the purpose of alcohol was to help relieve the individual from pain, injury and as a medicine to cure illnesses. Alcohol is known for getting an individual under the influence and causing relaxation, but it is also an antiseptic, and in higher doses of the substance, it has the ability to make a person anesthetized. In the past, people have been creating medicine by mixing alcohol with different substances and creating an antidote for various illnesses and conditions.
Alcohol use as a medicine is found to be as old as 5,000 years ago when a jar of alcohol was found in one of the tombs of the Egyptian pharaohs. When chemists studied the components in the jar, they found out that it was a mixture of different substances, including herbs and other residues, which had been combined in alcohol. This mixture was deduced to be a medicine made with wine. The uses of wine were, thus, found not only within the drinking purposes but also for the purpose of curing and treating the ill and wounded.
Significance of the research
Alcohol is normally consumed as a beverage in the present day, and its purpose is limited to recreation and relaxation. This research signifies that alcohol was used in the Stone Age and the Middle Ages for a number of reasons, which did not necessarily relate with its intoxication purposes; rather, alcohol was consumed to facilitate people in their everyday lives. It helped develop medication which allowed the people to treat various illnesses, bodily conditions, and help them recover from diseases that were common and difficult to cure. Alcohol was used in different forms, such as beer, wine, and ale, and the use of these in the purpose of making medicine was different across the people of different regions and ages. It was nonetheless, considered a very important part of life, in terms of its healing and curative purposes. Research had shown that even in the past when medical science and technology had not progressed to the extent to which it has today, humans of the time kept on trying to discover ways with which they could utilize something like alcohol to the best of its abilities and help others with it. Therefore, it is safe to assume that alcohol and its constituents were used widely by the people of the Middle Ages, extending from the Egyptians to the Greeks and the Europeans, where alcohol and wine were frequently used, but simultaneously infused with different substances to improve people’s quality of life and help them recover from disease and illness.
Alcohol and its uses in Greece
The Romans and Greeks were quite inventive when it came to the use of alcohol and its different types within the realm of medicine. The healing and treating purposes of alcohol were not undermined by them. In Classical Greece, alcohol was considered “therapeutic” and healing for the mind and body. For both men and women, the wine was one of the substances that were considered helpful in dealing with medical illness and issues such as bad breath, cancer, gas, or “wind” and even cured wounds and injuries. Hippocrates was an important philosopher at the time when discoveries were being made in the field of medicine. He believed that wine was a very important medicine that could be useful for curing and treating the heaviness that individuals experienced in the brain. This meant that wine was actually a powerful substance that could be consumed by the people for curing depression and overcoming the stress they normally felt in life. This was the time when the therapeutic effects of alcohol were being discovered, and its benefits were explored by the people of Greece.
The wine was also used for internal as well as external purposes, which meant that it was used for internal problems and also for the external issues that people faced because of different conditions. It had a very prominent role in human pathology and was readily adhered to when people faced any kind of medical problem. The Greeks looked into all the appropriate ways in which wine could be used by the people and how its medicinal benefits could be probed into as well. Vineyards were cultivated and kept in the best shape, and severe penalties were in place for individuals who did not respect and take care of the vineyards in the country.
Around the 5th century B.C, Plato delineated the rules for alcohol consumption, in which excess drinking was considered as abuse. He also rendered the appropriate drinking age to be 18. Wine and olive oil were considered as very important and potentially beneficial products for human health, and during this era in Greece, both were cultivated religiously. Moderate drinking was actually thought to benefit people’s health, and so many Greeks drank to their health because the wine was sustaining their health and wellbeing.
At the time of Hippocrates and Galen as two powerful philosophers of their age, their contribution to the knowledge of wine ranged from writing about its uses in the field of medicine, the positive impacts of wine on the mind and body, as well as the negatives of consuming alcohol upon the individual. The therapies that were devised by these two were based on the color and age of the wine, as well as the smell, taste, and consistency of the alcohol, which greatly affected the way it would treat or work upon a certain condition or physical problem. The target of the medicinal problem would be gauged for their age and gender and treated accordingly. This meant that people who were treated with wine and alcohol also received the medicinal help according to the desired need. The lifestyle of the patient, their overall wellbeing and age, and gender were important characteristics because the Greeks understood that alcohol had aftereffects, and it would impact each individual differently. This meant that they were completely aware of the properties and effects of alcohol and were going to treat people as per their symptoms and need. Not every individual received the same dosage or medicine because the implications were believed to be different. Galen also held the belief that using alcohol to treat and cure children’s health issues was inappropriate and rather unnecessary. On the contrary, he strongly urged that the elderly should be treated with wine and alcohol to cure and heal their issues and help them with different problems.
Herbs were constantly used to infuse with the alcohol so they could make a mixture that would benefit the people and help create a medicine that could either be taken orally or applied externally. The Middle Ages were the time period when distillation was discovered by the people, and before it, the wine was the only way through which the people of the age used alcohol in their medicine. The Greeks used to infuse herbs with wine, and this would allow them to make a strong mixture, which was altered with a degree with alcohol. The number of herbs that were added were adjusted accordingly and added with the alcohol as per need.
Hippocrates, who is rendered as the father of modern medicine, came up with the recipe which infused alcohol in a mixture that was used to treat intestinal worms. This is popularly called Hippocratum Vinum. This opened up a wide range of possibilities for the Greeks to work with, and they eventually came up with different medicines for such illnesses.
In the 11th century, the Greeks used alcohol or ethanol as a substance that would be helpful for curing and cleaning wounds. Usually, the alcohol was applied to the injury on the skin for the purpose of cleaning the wound and help it heal quicker. This was one of the correct and very accurate uses of alcohol because it does have antiseptic properties that allow it to be safe for external injuries. Wounds would heal quicker, and any corruption on the skin would be immediately cured.
Wine and alcohol in Europe
Drinking wine was a common practice in Europe as it allowed the individuals to feel relaxed and rather drank for leisure. While the patterns changed with the emergence of Christianity in the country, there was the condition of the monks barring the use of sacred wine. It was believed, before Christianity, that wine was used as a means of communing with the gods and connecting better with them spiritually. On the other hand, the monks were the one major sources of wine and alcohol use, who ensured that the purpose of taking alcohol was retained to help the individual connect with God and to heal the person internally. Once Christianity emerged in Europe, the times changed and so did the sacred and secular purpose of taking alcohol. Excessive drinking, in Christianity, was considered sinful and was believed to have a deteriorating impact on the health and wellbeing of the individuals. Since people often failed to control their drunkenness, the behavior that they adhered to later was considered as the aftermath of heavy drinking, which was forbidden by the church.
Sacred wine, in Christian Europe, was used for the purpose of atonement and forgiveness of sins in the churches. Therefore, the purpose of using wine or alcohol shifted to one that healed people spiritually and emotionally and also had a strong religious connection within. Sacred wine was also only consumed by the priest because he was considered to have a holy connection with Christ, and so, the permission to drink the sacred wine only lay with him, and his power could behold such intake of wine. The rest of the community around him was forbidden from such consumption of wine. Moreover, this was done when there was any religious service, as opposed to providing the wine to all in the congregation.
During the medieval ages in Europe, secular wine was abundantly drunk and consumed by the people, which only gathered more popularity with the coming of the Middle Ages. The most important function of secular wine during this time period came from the consumption of wine in the Middle Ages for the sake of quenching thirst and enabling the consumers of the wine to burn calories upon drinking it. The alcohol content of this particular wine was so high that it was also believed to be an excellent antiseptic and, thus, a great healing agent because it could kill all the bacteria. At that point in time, it also turned out to be one of the safest beverages that could be consumed by the people, which would allow them to safe keep their health and wellbeing simultaneously. During this age, the wine was actually believed to be safer than water.
In England, wine and beer had a very important role to play in human life and were consumed every day by the public. It was believed at the time that a single drop of gin was capable of wading off the effects of the plague. The Black Death, which hit Europe at the same time, was believed to be curable with the intake of alcohol by the people afflicted with the plague. The truth of this is not known, yet the power of alcohol and wine was not underestimated by the masses. Absinthe, which is alcohol derived from certain flowers and plants, was believed to be strong enough to alleviate the body of roundworms.
There are records preserved from the 13th century, which contain the works from Roger Bacon, who was a philosopher and writer. He suggested that wine had the power to preserve the health of the human stomach, insulate the body by preserving the naturally-present heat within, aid in digestion and assimilation of food in the body, and also defend and protect the body from illness and disease and was capable of digesting and absorbing the food in the body until it was turned into blood. These were beliefs of the Middle Ages that were based on the sensations and experiences of the people after they had consumed wine or alcohol of any sort.
However, there was also the realization of the dangers of excessive consumption. While there were benefits of consuming alcohol every day, there were harms in its excessive intake. Bacon wrote that consuming alcohol in excess had adverse effects on the human mind as it dulled the memory and brain, hampered thinking and understanding, and caused shaking and trembling of the limbs and caused blurry vision as well. Therefore, there as an understanding that the benefits of consuming alcohol did not necessarily mean that all the alcohol would have benefits if consumed at once; rather, a tap needed to be kept on its intake; otherwise the adverse circumstances would turn out to be dangerous for the consumers.
In Europe, colonization played a major role in determining how people would react to alcohol. In the 15th century, the apothecaries all around Europe had an abundant supply of exotic plants, herbs, spices, bark peels, and berries, all of which were readily added with wine to make medicine for different purposes. Almost all the medication that was being made at the time contained sufficient amounts of alcohol, which made it possible for them to add more strength to the substances that were being made.
At the time of the development of the country, many Europeans believed that beer was a healthy alternative to water. Not that people did not drink water or believed that it was not just as important; there was the common conception that it was rather more nutritious and was a healthier option when water was not available. Beer was considered to be the better drink for farmers, especially when they worked in the farms in the day and had to withstand the heat and labor all day long. It was better for quenching thirst, and also the higher calorie content was thought to give the energy they needed to work during the long hours.
The doctors in the Middle Ages were found to prescribe wine as the treatment for every single disease. From an increase in cholesterol to herpes or any such serious disease, the one cure that was considered for treatment was the intake of wine. Melancholia or depression, for example, was cured with the intake of white wine and this was a very popular form of treatment at the time. One of the things popular about the wine was the smell. If it smelled good, then the individual was advised to consume it because it would help them with their condition. If not, then they would feel worse, and for this, alternative prescriptions would be given.
Wines and owning wine-cellars was considered a very important part of the European culture in the Middle Ages. It is believed that most of the hospitals urged the patients and the general public to have wine cellars in their homes. The wine was considered a remedy for all kinds of illnesses during this time period, which is why hospitals in Europe in the Middle Ages were believed to take vineyards in lieu of the payments that were made by the patients for their treatment. Each patient could consume up to two liters a day for their wine therapy, which was given in many hospitals in Europe.
A significant number of hospitals in Europe possessed their own private wine cellars. Physicians at the time would offer their patients alcohol as a tonic for different issues to their patients. However, in most cases, alcohol was used for external injuries as an antiseptic that would help cure infections. In the clinics, the physicians and nurses would normally soak a cloth in alcohol and apply it directly to the wound so it could be cured. This was similar to the way the Greeks would cure infections externally and help patients recover from wounds and injuries. Infection was one of the direst and important issues in the Middle Ages as they were common and spread easily. Many patients would die of infections caused by different wounds and open sores, which would cause fatalities. Also, they would spread and cause diseases amongst other patients as well. Wine, in such cases, happened to be a great antiseptic, and the administration of it in the hospitals was a rather common affair.
While people believed that alcohol was the main component that allowed the patients to heal and recover from diseases, it was actually the polyphenols present in the grapes used for manufacturing the wine. These helped to cure the patient and allow them to feel better. On the other hand, red wine manufactured from red grapes were believed to be more effective as they had more of the constituents in them. The wine was also used by hospitals in the Middle Ages in order to clean the surgical instruments and equipment as it was good for sterilization. Water was believed to be contaminated at some times which is why alcohol was considered as the better equivalent. While the water was abundantly available, it was considered to be contaminated in some places, which is why patients were advised to drink alcohol or wine so they would not get any infections or incur any diseases.
In Europe, the wine was also used for cooking and was the main trait in consumption of food, along with olive oil and bread. England was one of the most dominant nations when it came to trading wine. This was done from a recreational and medicinal point of view, as wine was used for multiple purposes. In the Middle Ages, alcohol was perceived as a very important and integral part of life, where the people were believed to indulge in heavy drinking, and this especially went for the royals and nobles. The variety of alcohol varied, as per the kind of alcohol that was preferred and produced differentiated in various parts of Europe.
The consumption of alcohol in the Middle Ages, ranging from the 5th to 15th century was based on the basic properties of alcohol, which is the relaxant, antiseptic and curative benefits of the substance. The Greeks and Europeans considered it as a better alternative to a different medication and manufactured medicine and tonics, which were infused with alcohol in order to help people suffering from different illnesses. They also worked to quite a large extent because alcohol does have anti-depressive and relaxant properties that allow a person to heal quicker. On the other hand, there were certain disadvantages to the consumption of alcohol to such an extent, mainly on the grounds that it was only found out after the Middle Ages, that alcohol had an adverse impact on human health. The negative implications of alcohol consumption on the liver and upon the cardiac health of consumers went unnoticed until the large-scale use of alcohol for treating patients produced negative results.
However, the use of alcohol to help people recover from mental illness, melancholia, and depression was received as a positive impact of consuming alcohol. The Greeks believed that alcohol had many medicinal benefits and had huge benefits for internal and external bodily problems. Internally, alcohol was great for the digestive system, helped to increase the appetite, and allowed the food to be assimilated correctly and completely in the human body. They also used it to treat wounds and infections on the body because alcohol has healing properties for an antiseptic.
In Europe, the monks believed that alcohol had anti-corruptive properties, and was supposed to be differentiated into two kinds, the sacred and the secular. The sacred was consumed only by the priests, while the secular was limited to the congregation or the people. Common people used alcohol for curing their illness, depression and was also widely utilized in the hospitals of the country for the sake of curing illnesses. It had its sterilization purposes and was considered as the main source which would allow physicians to clean their equipment and also help patients fight infections and disease. The overall benefits of alcohol during this time period were helping people overcome health issues like the plague, which was allowing them to live longer. Gradually, with the passage of time, there was the realization of other potential treatments that did not involve alcohol consumption.
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