But did the Romans “invent” twice-baked bread?

We’ll never know. One other very frustrating aspect of food history (just like most history) is that it pretty much runs out in the Western world when you get back to the Romans and the Greeks. The reason: because before them, nobody was very much good at writing things down. As a result, they (especially the Greeks) get credit for most of the human history — and there were tens of thousands of years of it — that came before them. We give them that credit because we don’t know who else to give it to. Plato could have stolen every idea he ever had from a philosopher’s convention he went to in Gaul. Homer could have ripped off all his plot lines from a traveling dinner theater troupe out of Kuru — and we’d never know the difference. But that’s how it is in the history game. The one to record the invention is the one who gets to brag about it. Ask anyone you know who’s Greek, they likely tell you (and tell you, and tell you…).

The Greeks wrote things down because they were artsy sophisticates who liked the idea of preserving their works for posterity. The Romans because they had an empire to run, and you can’t run an empire without paperwork: production records, shipping records, inventory records, you name it. That’s the way they were, which is how we know about things like panis biscotus. Could they have picked up the technique from some other culture they encountered (or likely took over)? Very likely. People had been making bread for thousands of years by the time the Romans showed up on the scene. Odds are somebody thought to bake it twice for the purposes of preservation. The Romans were probably just the first to mass-produce it (then keep track of it).

Not really very creative people, those Romans. At least not compared to their Greek predecessors, a fact Romans themselves were all too aware of. In fact they were not unlike modern-day Americans: intensely proud of all they’d accomplished, but a little insecure in the culture department. Most of the art that prominent Romans kept in their homes came from somewhere else, from cultures they considered more “real” and “authentic” than their own. In fact young Romans frequently went to Greece to study art and literature, much like we send our youth to Europe today (though instead of calling, their kids had to send running slaves back to ask their parents for more money). Greece was the cradle of “real culture” as the Romans saw it, thus to speak Greek and know greek theater and poetry was considered cultured. But you could go too far with it, especially if you were in politics. To be seen as overly “Greek” meant you were snobby and out of touch with real Roman values. So Roman statesmen took great care not to put on Greek “airs” (John Kerry could have learned a lesson from them by not speaking French publicly or ever going wind surfing).

Where are you going with this, Joe…I’m a busy person! Um…I forget, to be perfectly honest.

As you were…

6 thoughts on “But did the Romans “invent” twice-baked bread?”

  1. I would like to address the folks who commented on this page. Panis Biscotus Romans could have picked the technique from another culture. Could have, likely took over… the Romans probably… not really a very creative people those Romans, LOL. These are weak, unsure and bias words. It’s true that Romans copied the great Greeks and wisely so. why not learn from an imperial culture just like our forefathers of this country copied and admired ancient Rome? But not only did the Romans learn from the Greeks they improved many inventions of other cultures. Romans are famous for their advanced engineering accomplishments, though some of their inventions were improved from older ideas and inventions. The technology for brining running water into cities was developed in the east, but the Romans took it to another level, transformed a technology that was inconceivable in Greece. Of course Rome was strongly influenced by Greek and Etruscans. And that wouldn’t bother some Italians especially the one’s from Tuscany, because they have Etruscan DNA. Anyway roads were common at that time and Romans improved their designs and perfected the construction. Many of their roads are still in use today. Ever hear of the Appian Way? They don’t call it, ” The Queen of Roads” for nothing. Armies, actors, musicians, philosophers traveled that road. Even the apostle Paul preached along the great road. Roman accomplishments surpassed most other civilizations of their time and after their time by A THOUSAND YEARS! Many of their structures withstood the test of time to inspire others. During the Renaissance which is another period that Italians flourished. We have Marko Polo, Galileo, do you ride a bike? Thank Da’Vinci, he invented it. Michelangelo, most art critics would declare was the greatest artist that ever lived. Bellini, Titian, Caravaggio who was the first to create light figures against dark shadowy backgrounds. A host of other artist copied that style and Rembrandt was on of them. And that just to name some. If you like going to the library thank the Romans for creating it. An Italian gave us the first widely diffused dictionary translated into multiple languages. But back to Rome, that was a confident, cosmopolitan and futuristic city. It contained wonders of architecture and engineering. the Circus Maximus stadium was twice the size of the largest stadium today. That’s where you get the word ‘ Circus’ the origin of today’s circus was in ancient Rome. A building for horse and chariot races, equestrian shows, staged battles, gladiatorial combat etc. Rome had health spas, road systems, running water and sanitation. The roots of Mardi Gras stems from ancient Rome. Rome pushed backed the boundaries of what was possible. It was like no where on earth with the first shopping malls. A futuristic design with 5 floors and shops. There were bars and take out food stores etc. Rome had the first pit-stops along the roads for changing horses and buying food. Their aqueducts were an engineering break through, a marvel! It brought the purist water to citizens with amazing tunnels below the ground, an incredible system. An engineering blue-print for ever modern city ever since. And still in use today from what I understand. For the aqueducts they created the first gravity driven siphon. Rome gave you the ground to walk on, cement and cement that solidifies under water. Did you ever hear of the Nemi ships that emperor Caligula had built? Two barges filled with marble and statues. One was a floating palace that had mosaic floors, heating and plumbing, baths and rotating statues on ball bearings before Da Vinci’s ball bearings. Scholars, well the prejudice ones, often ridiculed the idea that Romans had the degree of sophistication needed to build an elaborate truly large ship. That was until they excavated the skeletons of these ships. Both ships featured technology long thought to be recent inventions. Emperor Calacalla built ” The Baths of Calacalla.” It was magnificent structure that had Olympic size swimming pools, sauna, gyms, and gardens. There would no cities if it weren’t for ancient Rome. Rome’s building technology, the first to put windows in buildings for a view. But about the bread, the roots of bread are baked deep into Roman culture. Greek bakers dominated the bread trade in Rome. Greek baking traditions date back to 800 B.C. in Greece, through the expansion of the Roman empire. Greek baking traditions influenced a vast area of the world. Romans again took the art of break making to a higher level. They made different types of bread for different kinds of meals. They were the first to produce flour which could be baked into white bread. They gave us white bread and invented the dough machine operated by donkeys. And French toast was NOT invented in France. It was around before France even existed as a country. The soaking of hard bread in milk and egg, then cooking it is a great idea for not wasting food. The earliest reference to doing this dates all the way back to the 4th century Rome in a cook book attributed to Apicius. Romans would take the bread, soak it milk and egg mixture then cook it. Typically frying in oil or butter pretty much the same way it’s done today. And for the naysayers who like to cling to the belief that it came from France, like maybe the others who wrote on this website, before the French called it ‘pain purdu’ they called it ‘ pain a la Romanine’ which means Roman bread. Italians are a great people. I don’t agree on the way we treat each other at times, but I can’t imagine this country being what it is without our monumental achievements. Little do people know that close to two thousand Italian Americans fought in the Revolutionary War. And many more took up arms in the Civil War. During World War Two, more Italian Americans fought for this country than any other ethnic group. Many people are free to write and express themselves on websites such as this. Like the words of the great Italian patriot Philp Mazzei, ‘ All men are by nature created free and independent, such equality is necessary in order to create a free government. All men must be equal to each other in natural law’ Sound familiar? Well, Thomas Jefferson paraphrased these words from the writings of Filipo Mazzei for the Declaration of Independence when he wrote ‘ all men are created equal’ In August 1994 the 103 rd congress admitted those words were from the writings of Mazzei. John F Kennedy admitted in his book, ‘ A nation of Immigrants’ that those words are from Mazzei’s own hand written in Italian several years before the doctrine was written. Jefferson was a good friend to Mazzei and admired him greatly. From the pizza, to gelato, an ice-cream like no other. To the ice-cream cone, Italian ices, to the McDonald’s ‘ Big Mac’ that if you eat too much of those and develop a bad heart, to an Italian creating the first artificial heart, we absolutely left our mark in history. With many Italian dishes, Italians rule when it comes to a delicious cuisine. Italian food is the most popular here in the states. From ancient Rome to the founder of Barnes and Nobles, to Bank of America, athletes, actors, singers, politicians, to writers such as Mario Puzo who wrote the Godfather, to Terry Rossio that helped write, Pirates of the Caribbean, we made and continue to make imperial contributions. This country was named after an Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, Manhattan Island was discovered by an Italian Giovanni Verrazano. Now Columbus was not the first European explorer to reach the Americas. The Norse expedition led by Leif Ericson preceded Columbus. BUT, Columbus’s voyages led to the first lasting European contact with the Americas, a period of European exploration, conquest, and colonization that lasted for centuries. So mark up another great achievement. We are the first Latin’s creating the language and culture. From ancient Rome to now, are we are magnificent culture? Yes… very likely the best, envied by others? Probably. Are ancient Romans up to today’s Italians a very creative people? I think so.

  2. Thanks Joe I like your site. All people know are the mob guys. They think that’s all the Italian do, join the Mafia and open pizzeria’s. What do people think the Romans were cavemen? Get this DVD. It’s call “Pride and Passion Italians in America”. You can probably get it on Amazon. Rome didn’t last as long as it did if they were barbaric. Yes, they were a rough bunch, but as rough as they were that’s how innovative they were. Of course Romans copied other cultures, that’s the smart thing to do. We listen to teachers don’t we? That’s how you learn and develop skills and improve and eventually create.

    1. Speaking as someone who hails from Chicago, the mob and pizza places aren’t that far off the mark! (I joke, I joke).

      But I’m with you for sure. We owe our modern system of government in part to the Romans. And that’s just for starters! I’ll check out that DVD. Thanks very much!

      – Joe

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