Branded wine in history, did the Mesopotamians invent personalised wine?

It seems that putting your brand on a bottle of wine is not a new idea. Naturally it wasn’t full colour labelling back then, because paper hadn’t been invented yet.

Clay bottle stoppers used over five thousand years ago in ancient Mesopotamia (broadly today’s Iraq), the birthplace of cities and writing, carried symbols that marked them out as the earliest evidence of branded goods. Designs have been found on Mesopotamian commodities dating from 3200 BC!

Dr. David Wengrow ,an archaeologist at University College London, believes that they were promotional logos, along the lines of those used by BP and Gucci.

Some, possibly from wines, show warriors involved in violent acts, perhaps appealing to the more macho or laddish individuals, in a way the Portman Group would frown on. “You get some designs that show people in the act of drinking or eating,” says Dr Wengrow. “They show people, gods, animals, even monsters doing all kinds of things together, including drinking beer through a straw, making textiles, but also killing each other too.” Quite a few ideas for new sections in our wine label gallery.

The first origins of branding date back to around 8000 years ago, when Mesopotamian villagers began making personalised stone seals, which they pressed into the clay caps and stoppers they used to seal food and drink. These marked commodities would have been traded directly with neighbours and travellers.

But they turned into brands when urbanisation began in Mesopotamia – a little over 5000 years ago – when traders encountered more strangers and city residents increasingly had to deal with products of uncertain origin. This was the time when beer, wine, textiles and dairy products began to be mass produced.

Wengrow says the symbols in caps and stoppers came to play an important role in telling people about the quality and origins of products such as oils and wine. He has described how the seals might have been used to ensure quality control, to give provenance for goods or to show that they conformed to a standardised system. By looking at the symbol on a wine stopper, says Wengrow, consumers came to know whether or not to trust that bottle (Current Anthropology, vol 49, p 7).

When a traveller saw a familiar logo, that provided him with reassurance about the provenance and the quality of what he was buying.

Many stoppers have been found in the ancient city of Uruk, now in southern Iraq, where some 20,000 people lived 5000 years ago. The symbols stamped on their surfaces are the first images in human history to be mechanically produced, says Dr Wengrow, referring to how the logo was carved on a piece of stone and pressed into wet clay in “urban temple-factories.”

Nowadays getting branded champagne and branded wine is quite simple. For corporate wines just visit www.euromarquewines.co.uk and personalised messages on the wine label go to www.personalised wine labels.co.uk

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