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…