Ancient Egypt: Cultural and political history, mythology and daily life
The bread in ancient Egypt: Grinding the corn, composition of the dough, baking.
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Bread, the Staff of Life

Men dehusking     Barley, durah, a kind of millet, and pre-eminently wheat (at first emmer and since Ptolemy II, 3rd century BCE, a more modern, naked sort) [5], were used.

Men pounding spikelets
Tomb of the vizier Intef-iker, 12th dynasty

    The emmer was taken from a silo [7] in which it had been stored after threshing and winnowing. The spikelets were moistened and pounded by men in mortars [8] in order to separate the chaff from the grain. The bran was removed and probably used as animal feed.
    The grinding was mostly women's work and took hours of hard labour kneeling down every day, often causing disability. Only the amount of meal used each day was prepared. They fought tedium by singing chants such as "May the gods give my master strength and health" [4] (or that is what their master, who left the record of these words, would have liked them to sing.)
    slave girl grinding corn Until the Middle Kingdom mills were placed on the floor, later they were raised onto workbenches, rendering the milling process somewhat less tiresome. The mill was a simple trough with two compartments. The grain was poured into the top compartment and by rubbing and crushing it with a grindstone, moved into the lower partition. Since the Roman Period rotary mills have been known [2].
    After sieving, the larger particles were poured back into the top for further grinding. The sieves made from rushes and the like, were not very efficient and allowed grains of sand and little flakes of stone to remain in the flour, especially when soft mill stones were used.
    This way of preparing the flour caused severe abrasion of the teeth above all of those who depended upon bread as their main source of nourishment (David, p.148). But it affected all classes: Amenhotep III for instance suffered badly from his teeth.

Model of bakery, Source: 'La vie quotidienne en Egypte' by Pierre Montet-     The dough was made of flour, water and leaven - either some sour dough left over from the previous day or some leaven from the last brewing of beer - and was left to rise in warm moulds [3] and then baked in closed ovens [1]. During the New Kingdom ovens big enough to bake several loaves simultaneously came into use. These ovens often had ceramic steps on the inside and their outside was covered with clay. Round imprints made with jar openings prevented cracks forming in this outer layer.
    Sesame seeds, honey, fruit such as dates, butter, eggs, oil and herbs were often added to the dough to flavour the bread. In the first millennium BCE yeast came into use, replacing the sourdough. Over forty varieties of bread and cake were made in the New Kingdom.

    The following satirical description of baking dates from the New Kingdom - by this time ovens were generally accessed through an opening at the top:
The baker kneads incessantly and puts the loaves in the fire. His head is in the middle of the fireplace. His son holds him by his legs. Should they slip out of his hands, the father would fall into the fire.
    According to this description the dough may have been formed into flat round disks which were stuck to the hot inner surface of the oven (in the manner pitta bread is still baked in Arabic countries) or tall, thin bread moulds [6] standing upright in the fire were still used, as they had been during the Middle Kingdom.

Breadmaking, Line drawing after a picture     Hand formed bread was baked on a clay disk covered by a lid. Later, a vaulted copper or iron sheet was used. The bread dough was baked on its convex part, while, turned upside down, the concave part served as a sort of kettle for cooking liquid foods.

    When no oven was available, the Egyptians baked wafer thin bread on the hot sand, as desert dwellers have done since time immemorial.
    Bread was often used as a synonym for food and hospitality. The New Kingdom scribe Any exhorted his readers Do not eat bread while another stands by without extending your hand to him. The rich, hoping that good deeds would count in their favour in the afterlife often mentioned their generosity. Sheshi, Harkhuf and many others made such claims, using formulaic language which inspires little faith in the trustworthiness of their protestations:
I gave bread to the hungry, clothes <to the naked>,
Inscription of Sheshi. 6th dynasty
M. Lichtheim Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vol. I, p.17
    The gods, and the deceased aspiring to an eternal life of divinity, were offered white bread, some on a daily basis, others only on special holidays
His beloved wife, who shares (his) estate, the Sole Royal Ornament, Priestess of Hathor, Demyosnai, good of speech; who makes the offering of white bread, who pleases in all that one wishes...
Stela of the Butler Merer of Edfu
M. Lichtheim Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vol. I, p.87
    Statues were representative of the deceased and food offerings were brought to them, thus before a statue of Thutmose III in the Ptah temple at Karnak:
6 "heaps of offerings, supplied with everything" and with bread of the "Coming Forth" (to be issued) before the statue of millions of years of my majesty
Inscription of Karnak
J. H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Part Two, § 618
    These food offerings were thought to be essential for the continued survival of the dead person's ka, but might be withheld from a sinner:
Do not scheme against people,
God punishes accordingly:
If a man says: "I shall live by it,"
He will lack bread for his mouth.
The Instruction of Ptahhotep
M. Lichtheim Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vol. I, p.64
    While a pious life might help a person to eventually join the gods in the heavens, a few spells were bound to lessen the risk of being left without sustenance
Take your bread that rots not,
Your beer that sours not,
Teti Pyramid texts, Utterance 373
M. Lichtheim Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vol. I, p.41
    Wages were at times paid in bread and beer, but probably more often it was grain which was used for this purpose. Knowing that a worker's daily ration was ten loaves of bread and two jugs of beer during the Old Kingdom, or that a superintendent of a temple at Kahun received sixteen loaves and eight jugs of beer (David, p.133) means very little to us as the size of these loaves is unknown and seems too have varied greatly from time to time and place to place. But we may assume that they were enough to keep the workers and their families alive, with possibly a little surplus left over to buy other necessities with.

Picture sources:
[ ] Model of bakery: Pierre Montet La vie quotidienne en Egypte au temps des Ramsès
[ ] Line drawing of bakery: T.G.H. James Pharaohs Volk
[3] The use of moulds suggests the early use of wheat, the only ancient type of corn to rise thanks to its high gluten content. The other kinds of grain known to the Egyptians were low in gluten and were therefore probably used to make thin, flat pitta-like bread.
[4] P. Montet: La vie quotidienne en Egypte, chap.4, § 5
[5] While millet and sorghum played (and still play) an extremely important part in the diet of the Nubians and other peoples living south of Egypt, the Egyptians seem to have grown them less frequently. A study from the year 2003 of Graeco-Roman mummies found in the Dakhleh oasis concludes that these two crops played no part in the alimentation of humans or their domesticated animals at that time and in that location at least.
[6] The bread could not be removed from these moulds without breaking them, which made this kind of bread expensive. It was apparently used for ceremonial purposes (Kemp, p.122).
[7] Not all households had their own storage facility. In some places the state or perhaps the commune seems to have maintained grain silos, in others it was incumbent upon the great domains to provide this service.
[8] Most houses had their own mortars and querns. For those without there were public pounding and milling facilities (cf. Delwin 1999a, p.135 about the workers' village at Akhetaten).

J. H. Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, University of Chicago Press
A. Rosalie David, The Pyramid Builders of Ancient Egypt: A Modern Investigation of Pharaoh's Workforce, Routledge, 1996
T. G. H. James Pharaohs Volk
Barry John Kemp, Ancient Egypt: anatomy of a civilization, Routledge, 1993
Barry John Kemp ed., Amarna Reports V, Occasional Publications 6 pp. 253-290: "Their staff of life: initial investigations on ancient Egyptian bread baking," Egypt Exploration Society, London, 1989.
M. Lichtheim Ancient Egyptian Literature, Berkeley/London 1973-1980
P. Montet: La vie quotidienne en Egypte au temps des Ramsès, Hachette 1946
Delwen Samuel, Bread making and social interactions at the Amarna Workmen's village, Egypt in World Archaeology, vol. 31, 1999
Delwen Samuel, Cereal food and nutrition in ancient Egypt in Nutrition 13:579-580 1997.
Delwen Samuel, Bread in D. B. Redford (ed.), The Oxford Encyclopedia of ancient Egypt, Oxford, 2001
Delwen Samuel, Brewing and baking in P. T. Nicholson & I. Shaw (eds.), Ancient Egyptian materials and technology, Cambridge, 2000

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Foods of the Bible[1] Foods of the Bible
Upper stone from rotary mill[2] Upper stone from rotary mill, Roman Period (Petrie museum collection)
Feeding Pyramid WorkersThe Lost City: Feeding Pyramid Workers (Aera website)
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