The Romans saw grain as an essential. They preferred vegetables to grain, but grain was something that could be stored against famine.
Having grain meant that people weren’t reduced to combing the woods for acorns and chestnuts, something that would have been seen as barbaric and beneath the dignity of a Roman citizen, however lowly or poor.
In giving its citizens free grain during time of war or famine, the government was protecting its citizens dignity. The free grain allowance was called the “annona”. There was no profit in growing grain in Rome. It was seen as a citizen’s basic right, so it had to be sold at a cost dictated by the state, or even at times distributed free.
The “breadbaskets” of the Roman world were Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Southern France and Sicily. Egypt produced both the most grain by far, and the grain most prized. Egypt continued to be the breadbasket of the ancient world until it was overrun by Arabs, and its millennia old wheat and grape crops perished.
The Romans liked high gluten wheat because of the chewy, stable loaves it made. Barley flour bread was for slaves or soldiers being punished. Barley, millets and oats were considered only fit for the poor. Rye was grown only in the northern part of the Roman Empire, as it was a grain that tolerated the cold.
In the early stages of the Roman Empire, most grain was consumed in the form of Puls: grains cooked in water.
Puls, a boiled wheat porridge, was an important part of the diet in early Rome, before they adopted the habit of using bread as a staple in their diet. Meat or veg could be added to make a stew. Pulmentum could also be made thicker, making it an early precursor to the dish we now know as Polenta.
Cato the Elder (234 BC – 149 BC) was annoyed with the switch in preference from puls to bread; he thought bread was decadent.
By the 1st century, the preference was definitely for white bread made from white flour. Pure wheat flour was called “siligo”. Second rate breads would be made of wheat with the bran still in them, or of just the bran. In the cheapest breads, dried ground beans, chick peas, green peas and lentils would be mixed in with the flour.
In Caesar’s time, a man named Vitruvio, who also wrote “De Architectura”, invented the use of water wheels to power flour-grinding mills. They began to be more widely used in the first century AD.
A bakers’ guild was formed around 168 BC. Called the Collegium Pistorum, it was an important, respected guild. Bakers could become wealthy. By Augustus’ time (31 BC – 14 AD), there were over 250 bakeries in Rome. Modern estimates put their output at 500,000 loaves a day.
A bakery was called a “pistrinum”. Many bakeries ground the grain as well, thus the alternative word “Pistorum”, meaning “grinders”. The mills for grinding would be turned by asses or horses.
Bakeries had large bowls made of volcanic stone for dough kneading, with the blades turned by animals or slaves. The oven doors would be made of iron. Bakeries would keep on hand baking pans made of bronze for making cakes with. Bakeries even made dog biscuits.
Most Romans in Rome lived in apartments without kitchens, let alone ovens, so they couldn’t bake their own bread. They would buy bread from the bakeries.
Whenever they were given free grain by the state, they would often take most of it to a bakery to grind it for them into flour and make bread from it for them. They still had to pay the bakers for the milling and bread-making, so rather than receiving free grain, it perhaps more accurate to say they got cheap bread (as only the grain part was free.)
Wealthier homes could bake their own bread in their own ovens, but even they still seemed to send their grain out to millers for grinding.
Roman bread loaves were generally circular and flat, but you could get them in different shapes such as birds or musical instruments such as a lyre for special occasions.
Bakers would also make different designs on them, just as we do today. They were often marked with notches to make them easier to break (and to share.) Bread was also made in stick shapes like baguettes.
Bread was, of course, made in different ways depending on which part of the Empire it was made in. In the province of Egypt, bread was made with “barm” (live yeast from beer brewing), as was bread in northern Gaul and other provinces. But on the peninsula of Italy itself, beer was viewed as a barbarian’s drink, and wine was made instead. Wine yeast, though, isn’t good for making bread from.
Consequently, the Romans in Italy made their bread instead with “starter”, a bit of dough left over from previous batches, as in done with sourdough bread today.
Soldiers were given bread each day, and not allowed to sell or trade it. Warriors were considered heavy-bread eaters, not heavy meat-eaters, as they are now. Our current association of a warrior being a hearty meat-eater is owing to later Germanic influence.
The art of making finer breads was lost for centuries after Rome fell.
Some Roman bread types:
Small rolls, also oily honey cakes
Bread made from coarse grains other than wheat. Very cheap.
Bread made from coarse grains, a little better and a little more expensive
Panis plebeius / panis cibarius
Bread made from coarse wheat flour
Panis castrensis, panis militaris
Camp or soldiers bread, made from wheat flour with bran
Panis durus ac sordidus
Dark bread made from bran alone
Country style or rustic bread, made from bran
Panis siligineus / siligeces
Bread made from white wheat flour. Made from pure white wheat called “siligo”. Contained no bran.
Bread that, instead of being sourdough based, would have been made from barm on the top of beer that is being brewed. Made in Gaul.
CEREALES ET PAIN
Dans les greniers, on entreposait du froment et des fèves. A Pompéi on a découvert des amphores remplies de farine (mola) et d’épeautre (far).
Le pain apparut assez tard à Rome (IIIe siècle av J.C). Des galettes de céréales le remplaçaient.
Le pain était aromatisé avec des graines de pavot, d’anis et de céleri.
On distinguait selon la qualité plusieurs types de pains: pain de fleur de farine, de farine moyenne, pain noir, pain complet, pain de son.
Parmi les produits céréaliers: l’orge, le blé, l’épeautre, le millet, l’avoine, préparés en bouillies (puls, tisana). Les Romains en consomment tellement que les Grecs les ont surnommés “pultiphagonides”, c’est-à-dire “mangeurs de bouillies”, et dont la plus connue est la polenta, à base d’orge et parfumée de graines de lin.
La légende veut que la découverte du pain levé fût le fruit du hasard dû à un boulanger égyptien. Il aurait laissé plusieurs heures à l’air ambiant une bouillie de céréales et ce mélange, contaminé par une levure sauvage ou par des bactéries, aurait fermenté et levé sous la multiplication des micro-organismes dans la farine.
Beaucoup de domus disposent d’un ou de plusieurs fours à pain. Sous Auguste, Rome compte 329 boulangeries, toutes tenues par des Grecs, experts dans l’art de faire du bon pain. Les pâtissiers (clibanarii) doivent leur nom au moule (clibanus), «tourtière » qu’ils utilisent. Le sucre est inconnu des Romains ; aussi les gâteaux sont-ils au miel.
Sous l’Empire, il existe de nombreuses variétés de pain, généralement de forme ronde et marqués d’une double croix, pour faciliter le partage. Pain blanc, pain au lait et aux œufs pour accompagner les huîtres, pain au lait avec huile et poivre, pain au jus de raisin, pain à la croûte parsemée de graines de pavot, le pain d’orge, le pain de millet, surtout mangé chaud, le pain de campagne, (panis rusticus), le pain militaire (panis militaris)…
Pour les familles les plus pauvres
Depuis le premier siècle, le gouvernement avait décidé de donner du blé à 200 000 familles pauvres de Rome. Chaque mois, ces 200 000 familles, inscrites sur les registres de l’État recevaient 35 kg de blé chacune. A cette distribution, pour éviter les files d’attente, ces famille recevaient une tablette de bois portant le numéro du bureau où elles devaient se rendre et la date de distribution de blé.
LA BOULANGERIE DE MODESTUM A POMPEI
Le blé est moulu dans la cour de la boulangerie. La meule se compose d’une partie fixe, la meta, conique, en pierre dure, sur laquelle s’emboîte une autre pierre en forme de bobine (le catillus) qui peut tourner. Les grains de blé, versés dans le catillus, sont broyés par le frottement des deux pierres et la farine s’écoule dans des récipients dessous.
Les artisans qui utilisent le feu pour leur activité, verriers, potiers, forgerons… sont généralement installés dans la périphérie des villes à cause des risques d’incendie.