The Romans and Bread
Baking flourished in the Roman Empire from as early as 300BC but it wasn’t until 168BC that the first Bakers Guild was formed, within 150 years there were more than three hundred specialist pastry chefs in Rome.
The whole craft was incorporated in a guild of bakers - COLLEGIUM PISTORUM - and was of so high repute in the affairs of the state that one of its representatives had a seat in the Senate. The ruins of Pompeii and other buried cities have revealed the kind of bakeries that existed in those historic times.
The Romans enjoyed several kinds of bread, with interesting names. Lentaculum, made originally flat, round loaves made of emmer, (a cereal grain closely related to wheat flour) with a bit of salt were eaten. There was also oyster bread (to be eaten with oysters); 'artolaganus' or cakebread; 'speusticus' or 'hurry bread', tin bread, Parthian bread and the Roman Style Slipper Loaf
Breads were made richer by adding milk, eggs and butter, but only the wealthy and privileged could afford these. The Egyptian grammarian and philosopher Athenaeus, who lived in the 3rd century A.D., has handed down to us considerable knowledge about bread and baking in those days.
He wrote: “the best bakers were from Phoenicia or Lydia, and the best bread-makers from Cappadocia.”
He also gave us a list of the sorts of bread common in his time; leavened loaves, unleavened loaves; loaves made from the best wheat flour; loaves made from groats, or rye, and some from acorns and millet. There were lovely crusty loaves too, loaves baked on a hearth and bread mixed with cheese, but the favourite bread of the rich was always white bread made from wheat.
In ancient Greece, keen rivalry existed between cities as to which produced the best bread. Athens claimed the laurel wreath, and the name of its greatest baker, Thearion, has been handed down through the ages in the writings of various authors.
During the friendly rivalry between the towns, Lynceus sings the praises of Rhodian rolls.
“The Athenians', he says, 'talk a great deal about their bread, which can be got in the market, but the Rhodians put loaves on the table which are not inferior to all of them.
When our guests are given over to eating and are satisfied, a most agreeable dish is produced called the "hearth loaf", which is made of sweet things and compounded so as to be very soft, and it is made up with such an admirable harmony of all the ingredients as to have a most excellent effect, so that often a man who is drunk becomes sober again, and in the same way, a man who has just eaten is made hungry by eating of it.”
The island of Cyprus had a reputation for good bread. Another old writer, Eubulus, says,
"Tis a hard thing, beholding Cyprian loaves, to ride carelessly by, for like a magnet, they do attract the hungry passengers.'
All through the ancient days, bread and bakers were held in the highest respect; this respect lives on to our times, for what would we do without our bakers?
The Greeks and Romans really liked their white bread; colour was one of the main tests for quality at the time of Pliny (A.D. 70). Those who think the obsession for white bread is a modern trend should read this.
'The wheat of Cyprus is swarthy and produces a dark bread, for which reason it is generally mixed with the white wheat of Alexandria.'
The story continues with Bread in the Middle Ages: Here