Bread on a Spit: Fragment from Atheneus

Twist bread made during a Scouts Camp.jpg
Bread on a Stick. Same as “Bread on a Spit” from 400BCE?


From 6 Athenaeus 645bc

ἐγὼ μὲν ἄρτους, μᾶζαν, ἀθάρην, ἄλφιτα,κόλλικας, ὀβελίαν, μελιτοῦτταν, ἐπιχύτους,πτισάνην, πλακοῦντας, δενδαλίδας, ταγηνίας.


6 I [have, provide] loaves of bread, barley cake, porridge, barley groats, rolls, bread on a spit, honey cake, cupcakes, barley gruel, flat-cakes, barley cakes, pancakes.

Greek Woman Baking Bread Circa 500 BCE

Reading in translation is always problematic. One has to trust the translator to have gotten it right. In this fragment from Athenaeus, preserved in a work by the Greek comic poet, Nicophon (late 5th to early 4th century BCE), in his work Testimonia and Fragments (Loeb Classical Library LCL 415 p. 400-401), we have a bakery’s worth of baked goods: loaves of bread, barley cake, rolls, bread on a spit, honey cake, cupcakes, flat-cakes, barley cakes, and pancakes! Obvious questions: what is the difference between a loaf of bread and a roll? What is the difference between a barley-cake and a flat-cake? What is a cupcake?

“Bread on a spit” is one of those tantalizing breads whose mention is always brief, and in my experience, always lacking context. Is “bread on a spit” the same as the bread on a stick popularized by the American scouting movement? Who, exactly, was making bread on a stick? Was it a style prized as, say, a street food? Should we imagine a shepherd bread being sold in the city? Or a shepherd making bread on a stick while tending goats and sheep? Nostalgia? Regional specialty? The list implies equality between the items. “Honey cake” is on a par with “porridge” which is on a par with “bread on a spit.” Everybody knows porridge, so everyone must know “bread on a spit.”

If “bread on a spit” is a shepherd bread, then we can assume the shepherd carried flour, not baked breads. That implies a flour and water dough and that implies a relatively coarse flour to keep the crumb palatable.

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