Cheers: Pharaoh's slaves beat Britain to the bar.

BY Daniel Rogov The Jerusalem Post, Jerusalem

Considering that pubs now are opening in the Jerusalem area at the rate of one per week, it may be time to reflect on the kinship of this humble institution to the region.

One hates to disillusion the English, most of whom think they invented the pub, but the truth is that the first pubs were opened by former Jewish slaves in Egypt during the reign of Pharaoh Ramses III.

By the time Ramses had ascended the throne, quite a few slaves had bought or earned their freedom. Some of them convinced local governors that public drinking places could be a valuable source of income. The pharaoh agreed, ruling that 30 per cent of their profits went to the owner and 70 per cent went to taxes.

Modern devotees of the pub would not be displeased by the offerings of those ancient watering holes. The most expensive drinks were wines made from watermelons and pomegranates. Another favourite was a potent whisky called xithum, which was made from barley. Several types of beer also were available and, although these were far more intoxicating than those we drink today, some were quite tasty.

Ramses established several other rules for the pubs in his domain. In order to prevent public drunkenness, he declared that in addition to seeing alcoholic beverages, every public house also must serve food. As to other rules, pubs could not stay open more than three hours after sundown and had to close on Ramses' birthday and those of his sons.

Many of the rules Ramses established have lasted to the current day. Throughout Europe and America, pubs are required to serve some kind of food; nearly every nation has legal hours of operation for its pubs; and there are laws almost everywhere requiring pubs to close on certain holidays.

The English were actually late-comers to the pub scene, opening their first pub in 1492. By the middle of the 1400s, pubs had already opened in France, Italy, Spain and Portugal. Even the pub that the English celebrate as their first, The Bloody Bull, was not even English. The pub, which took its name from the symbols on the flag of the Duke of Clare, actually opened in Clare County, Ireland.

- from The Ottawa Citizen, March 15, 1997

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