History of bread – Antiquity

c. 8000 BC.

At first grain was crushed by hand with pestle and mortar. In Egypt a simple grinding stone (quern) was developed. All bread was unleavened, there were no raising agents and bread was made from a mixed variety of grains. Today’s equivalents are Indian chapattis and Mexican tortillas.

 c. 5000 – 3700 BC.

Egypt developed grain production along the fertile banks of the Nile. Grain became a staple food and spread to the Balkans and throughout Europe, eventually being cultivated in Britain.

c. 3000 BC.

Tougher wheat varieties were developed and the baking of bread became a skill in Egypt along with brewing beer. In this warm climate wild yeasts were attracted to multi-grain flour mixtures and bakers experimented with leavened doughs. The Egyptians invented the closed oven and bread assumed great significance. Homage was paid to Osiris, the god of grain, and bread was used instead of money; the workers who built the pyramids were paid in bread.

c. 2300 BC.

In India grain cultivation began along the Indus valley.

c. 1500 BC.

Horses took over ploughing from men, using the first iron ploughshares.

c. 1050 BC.

The south of England became a centre of agriculture – barley and oats were grown freely; by 500 BC wheat in Britain started to become important.

c. 1000 BC.

In Rome risen, yeasted bread became popular and by 500 BC a circular quern was developed – a circular stone wheel turned on another which was fixed. This was the basis of all milling until the industrial revolution in the 19th century and is still the way stoneground flour is produced today.

c. 450 BC.

In Greece the watermill was invented, although it was a few centuries before its significance was fully realised.

c. 150 BC.

In Rome the first bakers’ guilds were formed and well-to-do Romans insisted on the more exclusive and expensive white bread – a preference which persists in Europe and English speaking countries to this day. A Roman invented the first mechanical dough-mixer, powered by horses and donkeys.

c. 55 BC.

Romans invaded Britain where wheat was still being crushed by hand and baked over open fires. More sophisticated techniques were introduced, including watermills.

c. 40 BC.

Bread and politics. In Rome the authorities decreed that bread should be distributed free to all adult males.


c. 500 AD.

Saxons and Danes settled in Britain and introduced rye which was well suited to cold northern climates. Dark rye bread became a staple which lasted to the Middle Ages.

c. 600 AD.

The Persians are said to have invented the windmill. The power generated could drive much heavier stone querns for milling but it was 600 years before they appeared in Western Europe.