6000 Years Ago Salaries were Cashed in The Form of Beer

by Sushree Mohanty

6000 Years Ago Salaries were Cashed in The Form of Beer

June 19, 2021

It's 2021, and today we receive our salary or paycheck in cash. However, back in time, the salary cashed was in the form of beer. It's true, the world's oldest paycheck has been discovered in a picture-written language known as cuneiform. Archaeologists claim that it is associated with booze, as ancient workers were only concerned with work and alcohol.


Cuneiform is the first of its kind, the ancient system of writing developed by the Sumerians of Mesopotamia circa 3500-3000 BCE. It is one of the most significant cultural contributions of the Sumerians. It is considered the most significant contribution made by the Sumerian city of Uruk, which advanced cuneiform writing around 3200 BCE. 

The name Cuneiform is derived from the Latin word ‘cuneus’ meaning ‘wedge’, owing to the wedge-shaped style of writing. Most of the cuneiforms had a very significant style or a cut style writing known as a stylus. It is carefully pressed into soft clay to produce impressions that depict pictographic signs. Later, these pictographs or word-signs were replaced by phonograms or word concepts. 

Soon after its discovery, Cuneiform was popular in the Mesopotamian civilization. The civilization included the Sumerians, Babylonians, Akkadians, Hatti, Hittites, Hurrians, Assyrians, Elamites, and other small groups. Cuneiform has been in use until the discovery and ease of the alphabetic script, which abandoned its use.

The name Cuneiform is derived from the Latin word 'cuneus' meaning ‘wedge’, owing to the wedge-shaped style of writing.

What does It Mean?

In 2050 BCE, Sumerian tablets were created during the regime of Shulgi, the King of Ur. Back then, a record keeper or scribe called Ur-Amma used to date and sign receipts for beer delivery by Alulu, a beer brewer. The inscription translates that Ur-Amma acknowledges the pay stub received from Alulu for five sila (that’s about 4 1/2 liters) of the then ‘best-selling’ beer.”

One tablet of cuneiform, excavated from Uruk, Iraq, includes the symbols for ration and beer. The stylus cuttings or scratches also depict the amount of beer for a particular ancient worker. It’s the world’s oldest known paycheck ever discovered. 

Beer, known to be one of the world’s oldest beverages, was popular in the early Neolithic age or around 9500 BC. This was the time as recorded in the written history of ancient Iraq and ancient Egypt when cereal was first farmed. 

Imagine if we ever traveled back in time, we would be getting paid in the form of beer. However, this system of payment shows how five millennia ago, the workers and employers considered each other as a family, and the slavery system hasn’t been in existence.

Dispute over the Invention of Beer

The invention of beer can’t be attributed or credited to a particular time frame or, culture or civilization. However, it is the world’s first fermented beverage. Some 12,000 years ago, Its popularity emerged alongside the development of cereal agriculture. 

About 9000-years ago, the earliest known alcoholic beverage is a Chinese concoction made from rice, honey, and fruit. However, the first barley beer has its origin in the Middle East. The first-ever documented brewing on papyrus scrolls was around 5000 BCE by the ancient Egyptians. 

Ancient beers were brewed with dates, pomegranates, and some indigenous herbs. The taste of ancient beer would have been way different from today’s standards. But before Egyptians, Mesopotamian civilization is first believed to have been the beer brewers. This was discovered from ancient malted barley scraps and bowls with alcoholic residue.

The invention of bread and beer has been incredible. It has been brought humanity to argue and be responsible for developing a different picture of what we see today. Technology and human civilization have shown incredible growth and improvement over the years.

However, the Stone Age farmers were domesticating cereals to receive beer as payment. No matter how cool and curious was this payment method, over time, it may have cultivated some responsibility among the workers.


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