Bread in Ancient Greece

A day in the life of the ancient Greeks started at early rise with barley bread dipped in wine and, perhaps, a few figs or olives.

This may sound ‘spartan’ compared to today’s full breakfast but Athenaeus, 2nd-3rd Century AD grammatist, names a long list of different breads in The Deipnosophistae  (dinner table philosophers), sometimes called the oldest surviving cookbook, that underlines the importance of bread in ancient Greek life.

Bread played a vital role at the table for nourishment and health (there were three daily meals). There were special breads and cakes for all occasions, such as celebrations, entertainment and sacred festivals. Among the variety of breads were raised breads, coarse brown bread from emmer wheat and barley, white bread from fine flour, oven bread, bread baked in ashes and wafer bread, as well as soft cakes, such as sesame cake and barley cakes. Bread was at the heart of the table and served with meat, fish, vegetables and fruits.

The ancient Greek word for bread ‘artos’ means flavor and breads were named after ingredients, shape, ways of baking and origins, as well as judged on quality; the color counted, white was preferred. Athens was, by far, in the winner’s circle, with the famous Athenian baker, Thearion, often mentioned in ancient literature and described as one of the marvelous caretakers of the body.

Baking bread was a main household occupation involving the women of the house and a process taking up to five hours a day. However, by the 5th century BC, commercial bakeries became popular and fresh bread could be bought at market. White bread, enjoyed by the Athenian upper classes, was expensive because the bread wheat was imported, mainly from Egypt, as the cultivation of wheat in Mediterranean climates was difficult.

The ancient Greeks revered Demeter, the Olympian goddess of agriculture, grain and life-giving bread. The Greek tradition of producing a delicious variety of freshly-baked bread spans the centuries and, today, this cherished custom is yours to experience at The Greek Breakfast table. Freshly baked breads include village style, white and brown bread, corn bread, barley bread, white bread, bread with herbs, ‘symmikto’ (mixed) bread with three types of flour and leaven, plus many more to enjoy.

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