History Kitchen – Roman Army Bread

Trust me, I’m not the best cook in the world but I am curious, especially about the foods of our ancestors so when I see an interesting historical recipe I immediately want to re-create it.

I was browsing the baking section in Morrison’s today and noticed they had organic spelt flour which reminded me of a British Museum recipe I had come across for the most ancient complete bread loaf found intact (over 2000 years old) which was discovered inside an oven in Pompeii. During this time period in this geographic area, bread was probably one of the most popular foods and was baked using grains such as buckwheat, rye and spelt.

And on the back of the spelt flour bag (which by the way I got £1 deducted from the price as there was a tiny slit in the bag) was a recipe for ‘Roman Army Bread’ which was almost identical to the ‘Pompeii Loaf’ recipe except using spelt. I knew then this was a sign from the culinary Gods and today I had to make ancient bread.

Quote: “Spelt, or triticum spelta, is an ancient relative of the modern wheat. First cultivated over 9,000 years ago, it is a cousin of modern wheat. Spelt warrants a mention in the book of Ezekiel in the Bible, as well as being favoured by mystics and herbalists throughout history. Legend has it that the Roman army called spelt their ‘marching grain’. To make wholegrain flour, the inedible outer husk is removed, leaving the inner bran and grain intact. Wholegrain Spelt flour has a deliciously complex flavour and is excellent in specialist breads..” 

Despite the fact that I did not have a sourdough starter made with wild yeasts (as our ancestors would probably have used), everything else was as it should be in the recipe and a couple of hours later I was experiencing a food that the Romans ate around 2000 years ago.

It is an extremely moist sloppy dough that sticks like glue to every one of your digits during the mixing and kneading process but it is these very qualities that lend it to creating quite an airy, crumpet like interior which makes the bread surprisingly light!

Here is the recipe!

C xxx

Roman Army Bread


500g Doves Farm Organic Wholegrain Spelt Flour
400 ml tepid water
½ tsp salt
1 tsp Quick Dried Yeast (or use sourdough starter if you have it)
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp olive oil
Total time required 1 hr 45 mins

Preparation time: 1 hr
Cooking time: 45 mins


In a large bowl, mix together the flour, salt and quick yeast.
Dissolve the honey in the water and roughly mix it into the flour.
When the dough is craggy, add the oil and mix well.
Knead or work the dough for a few minutes, then divide between two 500g bread tins or place on a large, well oiled baking tray for an artisan-style loaf.
Cover and leave to rise for 25 minutes in a warm place.
Bake in a pre-heated oven at 200C/180 Fan/Gas 6 for 25 minutes if using a baking tray, or 40-45 minutes if using loaf tins.

Recipe kindly provided by Doves Farm.

And here is the British Museum recipe I was telling you about…