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The Daily Bread of the Ancient Greeks and Romans

Author(s): Naum Jasny
Source: Osiris, Vol. 9 (1950), pp. 227-253
Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of The History of Science Society
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The daily bread
of the ancient Greeksand Romans(I)

To many people it may seem surprising that a writer dealing

with an historical phenomenon in an historical journal should reject
the notions of change and progress, and history itself. Yet this
is the actual character of a publication occasioned by the excavation
in the Athenian Agora of the remnants of a very primitive water
mill-representing one of the first uncertain steps in a long chain
of improvements and fundamental changes which, in the end, led
to its ultimate abandonment in relatively advanced countries. The
mill was the occasion for the following philosophical meditation:
" The Agora mill is... a link in a two-thousand year tradition,
a comment on what is all too easily forgotten, the conservative,
the unchanging life of the mass of the population" (2).
All too many scholars have approached the subject of ancient
technology in the way that Parsons did in attempting to reconstruct
the Athenian Agora mill: they have tried to fill in the gaps in
our knowledge of the past with elements of the present (3). This
procedure necessarily ignores the great progress made since any
past era, but it also completely disregards the progress made during
the era under investigation itself.
Much remains unknown with regard to the daily food of the
classical era. In this field, too, the substitution of the present-day
phenomena for those of the past are met at every step, and little
is left for the achievements of the Middle Ages and New Era.

(i) Sincere thanks are due to Dr. A. E. R. BOAK, University of Michigan,

Dr. J. M. MACKENZIE, University of Minnesota and Dr. W. L. WESTERMANN
of Columbia University, for valuable comments.
(2) A. W. PARSONS, " A Roman water-mill in the Athenian Agora," Hesperia,
5, 89, I936.
(3) PARSONS filled in some of the parts missing in the excavations (and most
of them were missing) with parts of contemporary stone mills driven by water.
228 N. JASNY

The transfer of our own food habits to the past is especially

injurious to scholarship produced in the United States, because
we live in a country with particularly high living standards.


In Daily Life of Ancient Rome, CARCOPINO (4) described in detail

lo-course dinners with which a modern dietician would find
nothing wrong except the excessive quantities. But such meals
obviously were partaken of by only a few people in the topmost
layers of society, and even by them on not too frequent occasions.
In addition to those feasts, CARCOPINO mentions what PLINY the
younger served for dinner to his guests, what MARTIAL had for
breakfast, and the like.
One almost regrets that ATHENAEUS, APICIUS, and PETRONIUS
made it so easy to describe such luxurious eating. For, to be
perfectly frank, the present writer is more interested in what CATO
had to say on the diet of his slaves than in the IO-course dinners.
There was a large number of slaves in ancient Greece and Rome,
and the diet of the broad masses of the free could hardly have
been much superior to that of the slaves.
In addition to a grain allowance and salt, CATO's slaves received
windfall olives containing little oil or, when the supply of these
was exhausted, a little pickle and oil (CATO, LVIII), but never
meat or cheese. Their diet did not even include beans, the
standard source of protein in the poorest countries of the world
at the present time. A mixture of wine-must and vinegar highly
diluted with sweet and salt water had to serve as wine (CATO,LVII).
According to SENECA(Ep., 8o, 7), the allowance of the city slaves
consisted, obviously per month, of 5 modii of grain with a value
of perhaps 25 to 30 denarii, plus 5 denarii in cash. Little variety
could have been attained on the 5 denarii, even if spent entirely
on food other than grain.
The small farmer in VIRGIL'S Moretum, preparing for going
into the field, baked a barley cake and made a paste of cheese
flavored with garlic and other spices from his garden. VIRGIL

(4) New Haven, 1940, pp. 263-76.


goes out of his way to state that there was no meat in the house
(verses 56-57). The farmer's garden contained a great variety
of vegetables but, except for the spices, it was all (even such
cheap vegetables as cabbage and beets) for sale on the market,
partly for the dinners and diners described by CARCOPINO (5).
There hardly is any doubt that (except for areas unadapted to
crop production, such as mountains usable only as sheep and goat
pastures, or oak forests used as hog pastures) the diet of the broad
masses of the population in antiquity was almost exclusively
vegetarian. The farms of the Spartans produced only grain, wine,
and oil (PLUTARCH, Lycurgus, VIII). Cheese was the only animal
product among those contributed by the Spartans to their mess
(PLUTARCH, Lycurgus, XII). The Spartans themselves had meat
for dinner at the mess, although sometimes there was only 3 ounces
of it for each of them (ATHENAEUS, I4ib). But their families,
not to speak of the mass of the underprivileged, had meat only
on rare occasions. Sheep-milk cheese in small quantities was
probably partaken of more frequently. Among vegetable foods,
that from grain dominated and was indeed largely the only one
The intriguing topic of the diet as a whole has to be abandoned
at this place in order to leave space for the proper subject of this
paper. Before turning to the evidence, however, it may be useful
to present the description and analysis of contemporary peasant
bread from Yugoslavia by ADAM MAURIZIO. In this evidence there
is an implicit warning particularly significant for students in the
United States, where daily bread according to its ingredients is
better than the cake of many other countries. The several breads
analyzed by MAURIZIO (6) were made respectively from corn mixed
with barley, rye mixed with barley, Russian millet, Italian millet,
rye, corn, emmer, barley, and wheat. The poorly or entirely
uncleaned grain was ground-certainly in one passage-in querns
(hand mills) and not sifted or, in any case, not adequately sifted.
The breads were baked under a pot rather than in an oven. They

(5) The long list of edibles in the Edict of DIOCLETIAN, intended for the benefit
of lesser officials and soldiers, may indicate that variety of food in the 4th century
A. D. was not entirely restricted to the rich.
(6) Die Geschichte unserer Pflanzennahrung von den Urzeiten bis zur Gegenwart
(Bcrlin, 1927), pp. 386-89.
230 N. JASNY

were very inadequately leavened, very heavy, contained a

substantial excess of water and averaged, on a dry-matter basis,
1.75 percent of sand, coming partly from the grain itself and partly
from the millstones. The breads certainly were uneatable ac-
cording to our most unpretentious habits. Unfortunately we must
face the fact that such breads are also eaten outside of Yugoslavia.
In addition to sand and other dirt, the cakes of the Indian peasants
contain a great many worms, always found swarming in Indian
grain, and their residuals. The present writer personally observed
in the early twenties in Gori, Georgia, South Caucasus-in-
cidentally the birthplace of STALIN-that the bread grain commonly
contained a great quantity (frequently up to IO percent) of the
poisonous darnel (Lolium temulentum); it was ground without any
cleaning and the gums and teeth of each inhabitant showed the
The querns used by the Yugoslavian peasants were an innovation
of later classical time over even poorer milling implements used
earlier; most bread was entirely unleavened around the beginning
of the Christian era, in wide European areas also much later.
All in all, the daily bread and other cereal food eaten by most of
the population in classical antiquity has to be visualized much
like that described by MAURIZIOfor Yugoslavian peasants. Perhaps
it was even worse.


There is a general tendency in historical literature to overestimate

the role played by wheat in classical antiquity relative to the other
grains. A reader is easily misled into believing that wheat was
the most dominant grain all during the classical era. For example,
J. J. VAN NOSTRAND (7) took the evidence pertaining to grain
in general, and to barley specifically, and applied it to wheat with
the result that wheat was presented as being practically the only
grain grown and consumed in Spain. A. C. JOHNSON (8) assumed

(7) " Roman Spain," An economic survey of ancient Rome (Baltimore, 1937),
vol. III, pp. 175-76.
(8) " Roman Egypt in the reign of Diocletian," An economic survey of ancient
Rome (Baltimore, 1936), vol. II, pp. 301-02 and others.

that wheat was the only grain used for food in Egypt. The per
capita wheat allowance for Sicily is so large in V. M. SCRA-
MUZZA's (9) study that practically no room is left for the con-
sumption of barley. AUGUSTE JARDE'(io) computed for Attica the
requirements for barley as feed at a figure as high as the total
output of this grain, and thus was forced to the conclusion that,
except for imports, only the output of wheat was available for
human consumption (i i); this would clearly imply that the owners
of estates in which barley was the only grain grown purchased
imported wheat for their slaves.
If there is one topic on which no progress has been made in
the last two millennia, it is the persistence of PLINY'S idea that
the Greeks liked barley while the Romans preferred wheat, which
is repeated to the present day. But, even now, only a minority
of the earth's population can afford to use as food that kind of
grain which it prefers: wheat in the Occidental, and rice in the
Oriental world. The rest make use of that grain which can be
produced locally with the smallest amount of labor or on the
smallest area of land. In addition to wheat and rice, huge quan-
tities of rye, corn, grain-sorghum, millet, buckwheat, barley, and
oats are consumed for food in the world-for all practical purposes
because the people can not afford the grain preferred by them.
Moreover, the difference in the preferred grain between the
Occidental and Oriental world is likewise determined by natural
conditions. Rice is not only the preferred grain of the Orient,
but the one which permits the greatest output per acre of land-the
decisive limiting factor for the density of the population there.
This explains why the domination of rice is much more complete
in its sphere than that of wheat in its.
While the role of wheat in classical antiquity has been greatly
exaggerated, it certainly was large, but preference of the consumers
had little to do with this phenomenon. The reason was that in
the Mediterranean region, the only region analyzed here, wheat
encountered less competition from other grains than in almost

(p)" Roman Sicily," An economic survey of ancient Rome (Baltimore, 1937),

vol. III, pp. 26i-2.
(io) Les ciriales dans l'antiquiti grecque (Paris, I925), P. 127.
(II) JARDP assumed for a mule weighing 26o kilograms a yearly grain ration
of almost a metric ton. It almost certainly was less than a quarter of this.
232 N. JASNY

any other part of the world. Only barley and wheat are well
adapted to the climate and soil of the Mediterranean region.
Barley outyields wheat everywhere in the area, but the inferiority
of wheat in this respect declines as soil becomes better and moisture
more adequate. Improvements in cultural practices also favor the
more exacting wheat. Under conditions very favorable for wheat,
its inferiority in yield in relation to barley may be almost completely
compensated for by its superiority in caloric value.
In the beginning of the classical era Egypt possibly was the
only Mediterranean country where wheat dominated; even there
more barley was grown and eaten than is commonly assumed.
It is not known definitely what Italy grew in the beginning of
the classical era, but by the end of that era wheat was Italy's
principal food grain. The relatively good moisture conditions of
Italy and the relatively large proportion of good alluvial and
volcanic soils are the reasons. Considerable amounts of other
grains, namely barley and millet (and in the north also rye), were,
however, grown and consumed for food-along with wheat-in
that country.
Greece grew barley almost exclusively-probably until the end
of the classical era. Wheat was consumed in large quantities only
in the cities, chiefly Athens, which relied on imports for most
of their grain supplies. But much food made from barley was
consumed even in Athens as evidenced by ARISTOTLE, PLATO,
GALEN, and others. In Sparta barley was the standard, indeed
practically the sole grain-and by no means because of specific
moral considerations - as many believe. No other grain was pro-
duced in large quantities on the land of the Spartans; no other
grain was delivered to their mess. The Spartans, as everybody
else, preferred wheat, but with their dinner they ate only maza,
a barley product, and certainly a lot of it; they received wheat
bread only after dinner, and this only if a rich member donated
it. At home most of them and their families, not to speak of
the rest of the population, ate food made from barley.
Barley was the dominant crop in the Near East, except possibly
on the irrigated lands of Babylonia where this dominance may
have ceased before the classical era had started. The natural
conditions of Spain, Roman Africa, and Sicily make it certain
that a great deal of barley was grown there in classical antiquity,

with wheat gradually gaining on it during the era. The reason

that these countries have been treated as if they grew only, or
largely, wheat is that the evidence comes from the Romans, who
were interested only in the wheat which these countries had
available for export to Rome. Similar reasons have led to the
exaggeration of the role of wheat in Egypt and elsewhere. Even
if it is assumed that all the grain which Athens imported from
the Pontus was wheat, this does not indicate that wheat was the
dominant crop of the Pontus (South Russia). On the contrary,
it is reasonably certain that millet was the principal crop there,
with barley also important; on poor soils rye may have been
grown. The population of what is at present South Russia was
certainly not composed of wheat-eaters in that remote time.


In a modern mill the separate machines do not operate in-

dependently of one another but form a system, the product passing
through all the machines before becoming flour or groats, and
millfeed. When rye is ground it is thoroughly cleaned first and
even scoured and then gradually converted into flour by repeated
grindings, with sifting following each grinding. This method is
called the repeated-grinding process. In wheat processing, the
grinding is even more gradual; the siftings are into various sizes
and the intermediate products are purified in special machines
along the way. This system is called the high-grinding process.
The interpretation of a scene on a relief on the tomb of TI
(Old Dynasty, which came to its end around 25oo B.C.) by
MONTET (12) implies that the I7 or i8 saddle-stone mills shown
on the relief may have formed one system and that hence the
repeated-grinding method may be perhaps 5000 years old. LANS-
BURGER (13), after having copied from a lexicon a description of
a mill operating on the principles of high grinding, suggested
that the same process may have been practised in Babylonia before

(I2) PIERRE MONTEr, Les scenes de la vie privee dans les tombeaux igyptiens
de l'ancien empire (Strassbourg and Paris, 1925), P. 234.
(I 3) B. LANSBURGER, " Zur Mehlbereitung im Altertum," Orientalische Literatur-
zeitung, 25, p. 338, 1922.
234 N. JASNY

2000 B.C.-and, moreover, not in commercial establishments but

in private homes. Actually, however, the classical era, although
having made immense, indeed revolutionary, contributions to the
art of flour-making, turned over this art to the Middle Ages in
a state which was still very primitive from the modern point of view.

FIGURE i.-Wooden mortar of ancient Egypt. Reproduced from RICHARD

BENNET and JOHN ELTON, History of corn milling (London, I898), I, 89.

Saddle-stone mill. The fact can not be overemphasized that,

so far as preparations of the daily food is concerned, the glorious
Hellenic era was based on the mortar and saddle-stone mill
(FIGURES i and 2). The mortar was used for the hulling of the
hulled grains (barley, emmer, millet, and others) and for breaking
the grain kernels into more or less large bits, which were used
for cooking and frequently even in baking. The saddle-stone mill
was the implement for producing " fine " flour.
MAXIMILIEN RINGELMANN (14) is to be complimented for having

(14) Essai sur l'histoire du ge'nie rural (Paris, I910), vol. III, pp. 544-56.

arranged grinding experiments with stones, simulating the con-

ditions of a saddle-stone mill. The product obtained was very
coarse, only about 3 percent of it having been sufficiently fine
to be classed as flour in the modern sense. In spite of the coarse
grinding, only 54.4 to 84.5 grams (depending upon the process
followed) of wheat was ground per hour. R. BENNETT and JOHN
ELTON-(iD) quote a traveller who observed a slave-woman in the
Sudan grinding with a saddle-stone mill. She had to work from

FIGURE2.-A saddle stone of ancient Egypt. Reproduced from RicHARD

BENNYrand JOHNELTON, History of corn milling (London, i898), I, 42.

morning till evening to satisfy the needs of eight persons, i.e.,

she was grinding at a rate of possibly a pound of grain per hour,
and her " flour" was certainly very coarse, much coarser than
that obtained in RINGELMAMSNN-'sexperiments. Even if it were
possible for the saddle-stone people to devote all their time to
grinding,they would not have attained as fine a product as modern
flour. Inspection of the breads excavated in Egypt which were
preparedwith a saddle-stone mill or mortar readily disclosed the
very crude grinding. In a specimen inspected by the writer in

(xS) History of corn milling (Liverpool and London, i898), vol. I, p. 84.
2 36 N J,ASNY

the Museum of the Oriental Institute in Chicago. untouched whole

kernels of grain were discernible.
It does not make much difference that in Greece proper the
hopper-rubber (I6) may have partly replaced the saddle-stone mill
in the early centuries of the classical era. The implement (FIGURE3)

V.4 -

FIGURE 3. Hopper-rubber mill. Courtesy of

Dr. DAVID M. ROBINSON, niversity of Mississippi.

certainly was an improvement of the saddle-stone mill. Time

was saved by the presence of the hopper; and the man, more
conveniently placed, could also apply more power. But the

(i6) This implement was described for the first time in detail by K. KIJRUNioin
in 19I7. But the credit for collecting the scattered information on this implement
and showing its wide use in Greece goes to DAVID ROBINSON (Excavations at
Olvnthus, Baltimore, 1938, vol. VIII, pp. 327-32; Baltimore, 1946, vol. XII,
pp. 217 ff.).
superiority of the hopper-rubber over the saddle-stone was only
moderate and, so far as the development toward the rotating mill
is concerned, the hopper-rubber is more likely to have been a
blind alley than, as ROBINSONthinks, a stepping stone (I7).
The great inadequacy of the saddle-stone mill and its derivative,

FIGURE 3bis.-Diagram illustrating operation of hopper-rubber. Courtesy of

Dr. DAVID M. ROBINSON, University of Mississippi.

the hopper-rubber, was the reason that a large proportion of grain

was pounded in the mortar to groats or grits used for the preparation
of porridge, maza, and even bread. In preparation of starch, the
wheat was not ground at all (hence the name amulum for starch).

(I7) ROBINSON'S wording (op. cit., VIII, p. 329) seems to imply that he was
surprised by the fact that " the surface dimensions of the lower stone were
conspicuously not larger than those of the upper stone." The lower stone could
not, however, be substantially wider than it actually was, because, with the slow
movement of the hopper-rubber, the ground product would not have left the
instrument otherwise than by falling from the lower stone to the table on which
this stone was placed. The hopper-rubber could have become a stepping stone
toward the rotation mill if, by enlarging the lower stone, the hopper-rubber
would ultimately have been made to rotate. This might possibly have occurred
only if, simultaneously with the expanding of the lower stone, both stones had
been given the inclination present in the " Roman " mill. There seems no
justification for ROBINSON's assumption that that was the actual process. The
very imperfect rotating hand mills (almost all of them too small to be used for
grain grinding) excavated by R. A. MACALISTER at Gezer (The Excavations of
Gezer, London, 1912, VOl. II, pp. 36-37) and dated iooo B. C. are much more
likely to have been the direct predecessor of the Roman mill and the quern than
the hopper-rubber.
238 x. JASNY

The latter was prepared directly from wheat by soaking it in water

for many days. The mortar, incidentally, continued to be im-
portant even after the saddle-stone mill was superseded by the
rotating mill, which was very imperfect in the beginning. The
use of wheat rather than flour in the preparation of amulum also
outlived the saddle-stone mill.


FIGURE4.-Roman mill from a relief in Museum

Chiaramonti in Rome, reproduced from A. MIALRIZIO,
Die Geschichte unserer Pflanzennahrung von Urzeiten bis
zur Gegenwart, Berlin, 1927, p. 288.

Rotating mill.-In the 2nd century B.C., possibly even before,

the earlier groping led to one of the greatest discoveries of the
human race, the rotating mill (i8). The mill was available in

(i8) While the time when the rotating mill was first available in a reasonably
workable form is not known, it is unlikely that this occurred much earlier than
the 2nd Century B. C. The rotating mill probably did not exist in Greece at
the time of PLATO and ARISTOTLE. 'When MICHELL (The Economics of Ancier
Greece, Cambridge, England, 1940, PP. 193-94) says that quems were used at
the tine of Hoim, it is a repetition of an error refuted long ago.

two forms, the so-called " Roman" or donkey mill, i.e., a mill
rotated by a man (or men) or an animal movtingaround the mill
(FIGURE 4), and the quern, a hand mill, rotated by an unmoving
person or persons (FIGURE 5l). Athough in the literature the
emphasis is always placed on the ' Roman' mill, the quern was
probably the more important of the two types at that time.

_. : :- IE

FiGtrw;.-Quern from Hassocks Sussex. England. (2-nd century A.D.i from

E.CECIL C.RWEN, "More about quernms. _-tquity, XV March 1941. Plate III.

Sometime around the beginning of the Christian era, the rotating

mills operated by men and animals were joined by the mill turned
bywater, but the water mill, probably the most imperfect of them
all, spread very slowly and did not become important before the
Middle Ages (i9).
The rotating mill did not come into the world perfect. like
APHRODITEfrom out of the sea's foam. The development of the
quern in the Mediterranean region has never been fully in-

(09) MARCBLOCH,Av' nement et conquktes du moulin a eau," Annales

Ikistoi~e conomique et sociale, 7, p. 545, 1935.
240 N. JASNY

vestigated, but E. C. CURWEN(20) did a thorough job for Britain.

He found that a reasonable degree of perfection was not reached
by the quern until about the 4th century of the Christian era (21).
Such a relatively simple implement or machine as the quern thus
needed more than half a millennium, perhaps almost a whole
millennium, to pass from infancy to relative maturity.
AUGUST MAU (22) reported that one of the Roman mills excavated
in Pompeii had been reconstructed and " grinded very well." He
probably should have said that " it turned." The so-called Roman
mill could not work even fairly well. The absence of a gear,
as well as other defects in it, excluded anything like adequate
functioning. The animals or men had to move in a very small
circle, of a diameter of less than three yards. To prevent the
animal from becoming groggy it was blindfolded; but, even so,
it could not develop the power it would have developed under
more favorable working conditions. Furthermore, although the
animal was almost touching the mill, the mill was unlikely to
have rotated at more than 1.25 miles per hour at the periphery,
and this is 15 to 20 times less than the optimal speed (23). A
stone mill, properly grooved and rotated at the proper speed, is
supposed to cut rather than to rub. The slow-moving " Roman "
mill could only rub; the effect was a poor product and enhanced
power expenditure.
The grinding in the " Roman" mill inevitably had to be coarse
not only because of the large power outlay but also because, with
the clumsy form of the mill (24) and improper application of
power, it must have been very difficult, even impossible, to keep
the grinding surfaces of the stones in contact at all times. In
the spots, through which most of the ground product naturally
passed, the distance between the stones was certainly large. The

(20) " Querns," Antiquity, II, pp. 733-51, 1937; and " More about querns,"
Antiquity,15, pp. 15-32, 1941.
See especially " More about querns," op. cit., p. 29 and plates II and III.
Pompeii, its life and art (New York, I899), p. 382.
(23) On the speed of contemporary stone mills now used for flour production
only in backward countries, see B. W. DEDRICK, Practical Milling (Chicago, 1924),
pp. 26-27.
The highly competent BENNETT and ELTON (op. cit., I, pp. 179-80) explain
the form of the Roman mill by backwardness. But it may not have been as
simple as that in the judgment of the present writer.

degree of fineness attainable in the " Roman " mill was indeed
probably smaller than in the saddle-mill, although in practice the
product of the " Roman " mill might usually have been somewhat
finer, because of the diminished cost of power per unit of ground
So far as rotating mills are concerned, the gear was apparently
first applied to water mills, although the very first water mills
may have been made without one. The famous water mill
described by VITRUVIUS(25) (2nd half of the last century B.C.)
was in any case described as having been equipped with a gear.
Technology, however, was to such an extent in its infancy that
the availability of the gear was not taken advantage of for increasing
the speed of the mill. Indeed, VITRUVIUS' text implies that the
mill proper turned even more slowly than the main shaft, about
as slow as the " Roman" mill. The Agora mill, which was the
occasion for PARSON'Smeditations quoted at the beginning of this
article and which dated as late as the 5th century A.D., did not
differ in this respect from VITRUVIUS'mill (26). It made probably
less than 20 rotations per minute, while the optimum speed for
the size of the stones found at the site would have been over
200 r.p.m.
Grinding experiments with the " Roman" mill (the Vitruvius
or any other classical water mill was never reconstructed success-
fully) have apparently never been made. As to the quern, " it
employs two pairs of hands four hours to grind only a single
bushel of corn," reported Dr. JOHNSON from Scotland in the
18th century (27). An Indian woman is supposed to be able
to grind 4 pounds of grain per hour with a hand mill (28). Coarse
grinding was, or is, involved in both cases. CURWEN(29) arranged
experiments with querns that dated from the 2nd to the 4th century
of the Christian era, and fairly good and probably reasonably fine
flour was obtained by the repeated-grinding process. It took

(25)VITRUVIUs, De architectura, X, 5, 2.
(26)According to PARSONS (op. cit., pp. 88-89), the Agora mill was an exact
reproduction of the VITRUVIUS mill in all respects.
(27) London Magazine, 1774, 333, here quoted from BENNETT and ELTON, op.
cit., I, pp. i68-9.
(28) Report on the Marketing of W'heat in India (Delhi, 1937), p. 293.
(29) " More about querns," op. cit., 1941, p. 29.

242 N. JASNY

one-half to three-quarters of an hour to grind one pound of wheat.

Only a very coarse product can be obtained in one passage
of the grain through the mill. There are no indications that grain
was ever ground more than once in antiquity. A second passage
through the grinding mill is not indicated even for soleth, the
material from which the sacrifice bread of the Jews was prepared,
the best ground product of antiquity known to us (30). All
diverging interpretations, specifically of the Egyptian reliefs, are
merely a transference of to-day's practices to the past. Only
the removal of the hull by pounding in the mortar ever occurred
in a special operation; according to Greek sources, the pounding
was even repeated, if necessary.
Sieves.-Fine sieves like those used today for sifting flour would
be out of line with the grinding machines of antiquity. A thorough
study of the sieves used in flour production in classical antiquity
would imply inspection of the sieves now in the numerous museums
of the world, because detailed descriptions of them are apparently
not available. Classical sources, mainly PLINY (XVIII, 109-14),
indicate that the finest sieves of that time had meshes comparable
with those employed now in the production of farina (3I). It
is significant that soleth, the best ground product of antiquity,
probably was not a fine flour, but was comparable, in size of
the bits, with the present farina (32).
While repeated grinding is not indicated by the sources, more
than one sifting after the one grinding was practiced to a certain
extent: for example, in the three-grade grindings and in the
preparation of the best alica-both as described by PLINY. As
many as i i to 13 siftings of a product ground only once were
involved in the production of the soleth, the sacrificial flour of
the Jews (33).
All statements of classical authors pointing to fineness of a certain
flour, therefore, have to be taken only in a relative sense. The

(30) GUSTAVE DALMAN, Arbeit und Sitte in Palastina (Gutersloh, 1g33), vol. III,
P. 293.
(Pr) Dr. A. E. R. BOAK remarks on this score that the sieves found at Karanis,
Fayum, Egypt, in the University of Michigan excavations, and belonging to the
Roman period, had " fairly coarse holes."
(32) DALMAN, op. Cit., pp. 292-94.
(33) Mishnah, Menahoth, 6, 7.

use of the adjective " fine," where it is not found in the original,
is clearly wrong (34). Coarse grinding is not a very serious evil,
however, in itself. Clean grain, coarsely ground, with all the hull
(if the grain is a hulled one) and at least part of the skin removed
by sifting, yields, when properly baked, a bread that has a good
taste and is palatable, although necessarily coarse.
Cleaning.-In antiquity, most of the grain was apparently ground
together with all the foreign matter and dirt in and on it. PLINY,
who described the most refined grain-processing known in Europe
at his time, had nothing to say on the cleaning of the grain before
grinding. In the Near East some of the wheat, the choice grain,
was washed-a thorough method of cleaning. Hand picking of
foreign matter, probably mainly larger stones, also is indicated
by the sources only for the Near East (The Mishnah) but was
probably practised also in other areas. More frequent than those
operations was possibly the use of one or two sieves for removing
the foreign matter larger and smaller than the grain proper.
In Egypt the use of a sieve for this purpose is indicated by
the reliefs even for pre-classical times, but the practice is unlikely
to have been common. The worn state of the teeth of the
mummies is commonly explained by the presence of a great deal
of sand in their bread, and it seems unlikely that this sand came
solely from the grinding stones (35). Even for classical times the
practice of cleaning the grain with a sieve is mentioned by Egyptian
sources only, or mainly, in cases when repayment of a debt in
grain was involved, i.e., when there was reason to be afraid that
the grain would be purposely in poor condition (36).


Flour.-It is a rather widespread practice when discussing flour

in classical antiquity to consider only the few passages in PLINY

(34) For example, the translation of similago (Cato, LXXV) as " fine flour "
in Loeb Classical Library.
(35) These worn teeth incidentally testify also against the extensive use of a
sieve in the preparation of flour in old Egypt, commonly accepted by students
as the standard practice.
(36) MICHAEL SCHNEBEL, Die Landwirtschaft im Hellenistischen Aegypten,
(Munchen, 1925), pp. i8i-2.
244 N. JASNY

dealing with the three-grade grindings (37). Yet even PLINY con-
tains a great deal of evidence on other types of grinding. Whatever
PLINY said, however, the proportion of grain ground to three grades
or more of flour certainly did not exceed a few percent of the
total in antiquity, and may not have been much larger than one
The principal food, maza, made by the Greeks from grain (see
next section) was made of alphiton. When the present writer first
came across the interpretation that alphiton was common hulled
barley coarsely ground in its natural state, i.e., with all the hulls,
he refused to believe it; nevertheless, a search of an indication
that anything was ever removed before or after the grinding was
in vain. One has to reconcile oneself to the idea that the glorious
on " bread " which now, even in only moderately civilized
countries, would be considered good enough only for swine.
According to GALEN, the hull was removed from the barley
when the product was intended for bread production. Even this
may have been the standard practice only in Greece or only in
Greek cities, where the daily food was maza made from barley
with all the hull in, while bread, even from barley, was something
extra. However, the small farmer in VIRGIL'S Moretum (verses
39-41) also sifted the barley after grinding before using it for baking.
PLINY was not much interested in the bread eaten by the small
fry in Rome and in the provinces. Yet even from his writings
it is obvious that whole-grain meal was very important. In
stating the prices of flour, for example (XVIII, go), he put the
price of farina, whole-wheat meal, in the first place. PLINY's and
other evidence leave no doubt that the predominant portion of
grain ground to flour (flour in the wide sense) was converted by
one passage through the mill or mortar into meal, with the sieve
used only when unhulled barley was involved, which had to serve
as the material for bread preparation. Even this may have been
practiced primarily in cities and suburban areas.
So far as flour better than whole-grain meal was prepared in

(37) See for example TENNEY FRANK, An economic survey of ancient Rome
(Baltimore, 1939), Vol. V, p. 144; or AUGUST MAU in Pauly's Encyclopedia, 2,
2735, I896.

moderate quantities, it was in the first place not the product of

the three-grade grindings described in greater detail by PLINY,
but one-grade flour. PLINY, properly interpreted, contains ample
evidence on this score (38) and there are also other testimonies.
Moreover, although due to immense technical improvements
a flour of a given extraction rate is now much better than it was
in antiquity, the one-grade flours normally were of a higher
extraction in antiquity than now. When writing his " Wheat
Prices and Milling Costs . . .," the present writer, by analyzing
the prices of similago and siligo as given by PLINY and a statement
in the Geoponica (II, 32), came to conclusion that one-grade
flours were of about 8o percent extraction (39). Analysis under-
taken later of the prices at EPHESUSpertaining to the 2nd century
A.D. leads the writer to believe that the standard bakery bread,
called katharos (white), was made from a flour of about go percent
extraction in that city. The bread was certainly gray and the
term katharos was obviously used only in a relative sense (40).
The idea that the extraction rates were higher in antiquity than
now may seem surprising. Historians are inclined to assume the
reverse situation (41). They erroneously believe that the extrac-
tion rates are determined by milling techniques and that, conse-
quently, the low state of techniques in antiquity had to be
associated with correspondingly low extraction rates. Actually,
however, the extraction rates are in the first place determined
by what the consumers can afford, and the bulk of the ancient
consumers could afford but little.
Reasonably white flour was obtained in antiquity only in the
three-grade or similar grindings but only the first grade of

(38) See for example PLINY, XVIII, 67. The incorrect interpretation of all
of PLINY's statements on flour other than farina as pertaining to the three-grade
grindings is due to the interpretation of siligo and similago as the second grades
of those grindings. Actually siligo and similago almost always represented one-
grade flours. For details see the writer's " Wheat Prices and Milling Costs in
Classical Antiquity," Wheat studies of the Food Research Institute, 20, 151-56, I944.
(39) Op. cit., PP. 155-56.
(40) " The breads of Ephesus and their prices," Agricultural history, 21, 190,
(41) See ROJoBERTUS, " Zur Frage des Sachwertes des Geldes im Altertum,"
a/ahrbucherfur Nationzklikonomie und Statistik, 14, p. V, I870, and MICHAEL
ROSTOWZEW, " Frumentum," Pauly's Encyclopedia, 7, 149, 1912.
246 N. JASNY

the three-grade grindings was white. The erroneous idea that the
three-grade grindings were widespread in antiquity has already
been mentioned. White bread was indeed so rare that even in
Rome a plebeian did not get a slice of it even when, perhaps
once in a lifetime, he was invited to dinner by his patron (42).
The error of assuming a low extraction of flour, discussed above
in connection with one-grade flours, was actually made in con-
nection with PLINY'S three-grade grindings. (The existence of
one-grade flours in antiquity has been entirely disregarded.) The
students quoted in note 41 above assumed the extraction of flour
in those grindings to have been only about 6o per cent. The
present writer's analysis (43) indicates that the extraction of all
three grades was closer to 90 per cent. The last or 3rd grade,
cibarium or secundarium, not included with the flour by RODBERTUS
and ROSTOWZEW, must be treated as flour for antiquity because
it was used for human food. According to present standards it
was, of course, nothing but fine bran or a mixture of fine bran
and middlings.
If all three grades of PLINY'S three-grade grindings were mixed
together, they would have yielded a flour which (provided the
grain were clean and the baking proper) would have produced
grey and coarse but welltasting and palatable bread. However,
the 3rd grade would now pass only as animal feed not only in
the United States but in most of the world. Yet bread was made
and used both as animal feed and human food in antiquity even
from the coarse bran (panis furfureus), obtained in addition to
the three grades of " flour."
Groats. Porridge rather than bread was the principal food of
the Romans in their early history. A saying has it that the Roman
legionnaires conquered the world on porridge. The principal
material for porridge in Italy was emmer (a hulled wheat), from
which the hull but not the skin was removed. The best material
for porridge (alica) was prepared by breaking up the hulled
emmer into bits, and sorting the product into three sizes of which
the largest and poorest was recognized as an inferior product and
had a special name. In a similar way the Greeks made their

(42) JUVENAL, Satires, V, 70.

(43) See " Wheat Prices...," op. cit., p. 154.

porridge from barley with the hull but not the skin removed;
the breaking into bits, if done at all, was part of the cooking
proper. The mortar was the instrument used in both countries
in the preparation of groats. An immense distance separates
those products from the farina made of wheat and from pearl
barley of today.


Maza. Maza, the standard food of the Greeks, was barley,

very coarsely ground with nothing removed, mixed with water
and cooked, probably in a container on an open fire, or, as the
Greeks described it, dried on the fire. The superiority of this
food over hog food is in the use of fire. Maza was apparently
similar to the Rumanian mamalyga of today, which also is a very
coarse food but is made from whole-corn meal rather than whole-
barley meal. Maza was indeed so coarse that one of the most
prominent dietitians of this country has refused to believe that
such a concoction could have been the standard food of the Greeks
in the period of their greatest glory.
The evidence of GALEN, who lived in the 2nd century of the
Christian era, leaves no doubt that at his time maza was still
the standard food of the Greeks. Its post-classical history is
rather obscure, at least for the present writer. But it seems likely
that maza survived until Indian corn was introduced around the
I7th century into the Balkan peninsula and replaced barley-with
a considerable advantage for the consumer-as the standard
material for the preparation of maza. Thus, mamalyga may be a
direct successor of the maza. Not only are the methods of their
preparation similar, but the very names seem to be related.
Bread. To make bread seems simple; no machinery is needed.
Mix flour with water, add salt and yeast or a left-over of dough
from a previous baking, knead, let the dough ferment, form, and
bake. One is, therefore, easily misled into believing that the art
of making good bread is very old, perhaps 4000 years or more old.
A description of bread-making very similar to the one given above
can be found in a translation of the epic " Gilgamesh " (44). As

(44) Cambridge Ancient History, I, p. 543. The writer is indebted to

248 N. JASNY

one reads MICHELL (45), one cannot help visualizing Pericles

fretting at a loaf as good as ours, but perhaps a day old or inade-
quately wrapped (46). The fact is, however, that the inheritance
of the classical era from earlier history with reference to bread-
making was very meager and, although substantial progress was
made during the era itself, those techniques left a great deal to
be desired when the era came to its end. The coarsely ground
flour, mostly containing all the dirt in and on the grain, was baked
with the application of very poor techniques in classical antiquity.
The resulting bread, as stated at the beginning of this article,
must have resembled that of Yugoslavian peasants as described
-It seems to be common opinion among students that the practice
of leavening bread goes back 4000 or 5000 years, indeed indefinitely
far back (47). What makes the present writer hesitate to accept

Dr. T. H. JACOBSON of the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago, for the

comment that such a translation does not necessarily imply that the same story
is in the original.
(45) Op. cit., pp. 194-95.
(46) To the knowledge of the writer, wrapping of bread is practiced only in
the United States and is only a few decades old.
(47) The old Sumerian language has not been in use for over 4000 years. Yet
P. DEIMEL (" Commentarii de Rebus Assyro-Babylonicis, Arabicis, Aegyptiacis,
etc.," Orientalia, I4, 26. 1924) said " No [old-Sumerian] expressions for leavened
and unleavened bread were thus far ascertained, although this differentiation
most likely existed." The writer has yet to come across a doubt that leavening
of bread was common in Egypt at the time of the Exodus, i.e., in the 12th century
B. C. FRANZ WOENIG (Die Pflanzen im Alten Aegaypten, Leipzig, I886, p. 175)
even believed he had located the container for the fermenting dough on the bakery
relief found on the tomb of Rameses III (around x2oo B. C.), the basket shown
at the top, left, having served in his opinion for this purpose. The basket, how-
ever, may have contained the meal to be processed in the bakery. If the basket
had contained the fermenting dough, the relief would probably have shown
the preceding kneading of the meal. WALTER WRESZINSKI (" Bhckerei," Zeitschrift
fur Aegyptische Sprache und Altertumskunde, 45, 6, 1936) speaks of the practice
of leavening in old Egypt only as a possibility, but he assumes souring the dough
by some imported material to have been the standard practice without any
limitation as to time or classes of people.
The fact that a kind of brew was prepared by the old Babylonians and Egyptians
from almost immemorial times is certainly a serious argument in favor of the
idea that leavened (fermented) bread is very old. But who knows what was
the brew, the preparation of which is shown on Egyptian reliefs and is mentioned
in Babvlonian inscriptions? One certainly hesitates to accept chemical analyses,
which are supposed to have proved the presence of yeast in old Egyptian beer,
this view is that in such case the practice of leavening, certainly
a very beneficial one, spread immensely slowly and it is difficult
to find a reason for this. Leavened bread was mentioned by
Greek writers of the early classical time (as, for example, CRATINUS
THE ELDER, 5th century B.C., in Athenaeus III, IMle), but only
as a rarity. Little, if any, bread was leavened in Italy and probably
in Greece when the Christian era started. Somehow such easily
accessible and unequivocal evidence as CATO'S (LXXIV) escapes
attention: " Recipe for kneaded bread: wash your hands and a
bowl thoroughly. Pour meal into the bowl, add water gradually,
and knead thoroughly. When it is well done, roll it out, and
bake under a pot." Not a word is here on yeast or any substitute
for it.
Thus, in the 2nd century B.C., Cato, and consequently Rome,
were unfamiliar with fermented bread. Nor did Seneca (XC, 23),
who lived in the next century, mention it in describing the process
of bread making. Leavened bread was introduced in Italy only
sometime between SENECA and PLINY THE ELDER, but it did not
come as a well-developed practice. The leavened bread was very
poor at first.
Even unleavened bread of that time was inadequately baked.
The specific weight is a good indicator of quality and also, to a
certain degree, of palatibility. The European breads of the present
time have the following approximate specific weights (48):
Good wheat bread 0.25
Poorer wheat bread 0.33-0.37
Bread from branless rye flour 0.40
Komrnisbrot(rye flour with only part of the bran removed) 0.55
Whole rye bread 0.70

The breads in this country are lighter throughout.

Along with the coarse Yugoslavian breads mentioned at the
beginning of this article, MAURIZIO (op. cit.) gives details for
ten similar breads from Galicia in Poland. While better than
the Yugoslavian breads, those from Galicia also were made from
whole meal, coarsely ground in querns, with little or no cleaning.
The material was rye, in two or three cases with an admixture

as mentioned in A. LUCAS, Ancient Egyptian materials and industries (London,

1934, PP. 12-13). The air is too full of yeast to make such analyses worth much.
250 N. JASNY

of potatoes; in one case with the admixture of barley. The

breads were so inadequately fermented that MAURIZIO considered
them unleavened. The average specific weight of nine of those
breads, ascertained when they were no longer fresh, was 0.59;
the weight would probably have been around o.65, if the breads
had been fresh when weighed (49).
The standard breads of antiquity probably were as heavy as,
or even heavier than those from Galicia. Classical sources
have quite amazing things to report on this score. PLINY (XVIII,
I05) said: " It is not so very long since we have bread introduced
from Parthia, known as waterbread (aquaticus) from a method
of kneading it, of drawing out the dough by the aid of water,
a process which renders it incomparably light and full of holes,
like a sponge. Some call this bread Parthian."
GALEN (2nd century A.D.) was even more specific, when he
wrote of a floating (plutos) bread, " which has this name because
of its lightness; it does not sink in water but remains on the surface
like a cork" (50). This bread was believed by him to have been
of little nutritive value, but easily digestible and good for the sick.
The present writer has to confess that he unsuccessfully tried
to make from wheat flour a bread so heavy that it would sink
in water. While the bread was horrible, and certainly seemed
uneatable to him, it was moderately lighter than water. Only
after he shifted to real corn meal (of course with nothing but
water added), he did succeed in obtaining a kind of bread which
would just sink.
Unfortunately the breads excavated in Pompeii are the only
ones that still remain from classical times on which the present
writer has any data (5I). While considerably lighter than water,

(48) A. MAURIZIO,op. cit., p. 385; A. FORNET,Die Theorie der Practischen

Brot- und Mehlbereitung (2nd. ed., Berlin, 1923), P. I83, and other sources.
(49) The village bread, on which Dr. A. E. R. BOAKlived when participating
in the Karanis excavating, was apparently not different from this. Dr. BOAK
mentions that native workmen had their teeth worn to the gums from eating
hard gritty bread.
(50) De al. fac., I, 5.
(5 i) Round breads, most of them about 20 centimeters in diameter and
6-6.5 centimeters high on the outside and 3-4 centimeters in the center and
weighing almost 6oo grams each. See M. S. DE LuCA, " Recherches chimiques
sur le pain et sur le bIe decouverts a Pomp&i," Comptes rendus de 1'Acadimie

these breads were very heavy. Owing to carbonization, loss of

water, and other reasons, it is impossible to determine their
specific weight exactly, but it might have been only slightly less
than that of the Galician breads analyzed by MAURIZIO. It must
be remembered that the Pompeian breads represented commercial
bread-possibly leavened-from wheat in a town close to the
capital of the world, while the breads of Galicia were peasant
breads made from rye. One can be almost certain that the Pom-
peian breads were at least twice as heavy as modern wheat bread
in Europe.
The extract from PLINY quoted above shows that he did not
have any idea that fermentation, whatever be its cause, produces
the holes in the bread. One need not be an expert in baking
to realize the gap between the baking practices employed by the
Romans in the beginning of the Christian era and the present
ones, when one reads in PLINY (XVIII, io6):

Picenum still maintains its ancient reputation for making bread which it was
the first to invent, alica being the material employed. The alica is kept in soak
for nine days, and is kneaded on the tenth with raisin juice, in the shape of long
rolls, after which it is baked in the oven in earthen pots, till these break. This
bread is never eaten until it has been soaked, which is mostly done in milk mixed
with honey.

One is tempted to think that the raisin juice and the milk mixed
with honey were added to offset the sourness and foulness
developed in the dough during the long exposure to the bacilli
of the air. Yet Picenum bread is mentioned as a delicacy even
by the gourmet Athenaeus.
The use of amulum from wheat for bread-making in antiquity
is another indication that the most elementary aspects of bread-
making were not understood then. The bread-making properties
of the wheat were destroyed in the preparation of the amulum
with the removal, indeed the destruction, of the proteins, the
most valuable part of the wheat. With the techniques of that
time, amulum and the products from it may have been an easy
way of obtaining white products, and this whiteness was a strong

des sciences, 57, (Paris, i863), pp. 475-79. The breads, when fresh, probably
weighed 3 Roman pounds, i.e., slightly over iooo grams.
252 N. JASNY


An example of skipping two millennia is, in the opinion of

the writer, FRANK'S (5z) assumption, accepted also by others, that
only the richest households made their own bread in Pompeii
and Rome and consequently in other Italian cities, the rest of
population having been served by commercial bakeries. The
entire absence of home baking in cities does not fit the economy
of that time. The sources leave, for example, no doubt that
every Jewish family in Palestinian cities baked its own bread.
There is no reason to assume that the situation was fundamentally
different in Italy, except in so far as the state took over the cost
of processing.
FRANK and others apparently believe that grain was ground and
bread was baked only in houses where there was a " Roman"
mill and a bakery oven. The number of the known mills in
Rome, including the water mills, was very small relative to the
population of the city. Pompeii, to be sure, had a great number
of commercial bakeries. But the output per mill was very small
then (53); all the mills of Pompeii would probably have had to
grind day and night in three shifts to meet the requirements of
the whole population of the city. Annona was distributed in the
form of bread only since the 3rd century. The grain obtained
before that as annona could, of course, have been exchanged in
commercial bakeries for bread, but there are no indications that
this was done on a large scale. A slave who received 5 modii
of grain and 5 sesterces per month, could neither pay for the
exchange nor afford to lose that part of the grain which would
have gone as payment for the processing. A large proportion
of the free persons also could not possibly have afforded the
luxury of purchased bread. It is very likely that right in Rome
the mortar and quern were used on a very large scale until the
very end of antiquity. The ground product was then either baked

(52) TENNEY FRANK, An economic survey of ancient Rome, (Baltimore, 1940),

vol. V, pp. and 26i.
(53) In " Wheat Prices...," p. 159, the writer estimated this output at about
3,5 bushels per mill-ass a day.

under the pot or cooked in the pot (54). At least in some Italian
towns, bread is still baked in commercial bakeries by the people

Food Research Institute, NAUM JASNY.

Stanford University.

(54) FRANK, OP. Cit., V, p. 26i, gives as reasons for the centralization of baking
in commercial shops in Pompeii ... inadequate methods of milling," scarcity
of fuel, and " slow process of baking." Only scarcity of fuel could have been
a factor, but there is a saving of fuel involved when the heat used for baking
simultaneously warms the room (baking on braziers, which were in wide use
in antiquity and the like). Inadequate methods of milling fostered home rather
than commercial grinding. 'T'he process of baking was fast rather than slow
in antiquity because of little or no fermentation and the flat form of the individual
breads. In any case, the slowness of the baking, particularly pronounced in
rye-bread preparation, nowhere proved a hindrance to home baking.

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