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Ancient Egyptian Bread and Beer

dabrownman's picture

Ancient Egyptian Bread and Beer

Teach them


to have fun baking. Smile a lot, tell them how good they are doing and ask them if they are having fun. Let them know they will get better with practice and before long, they will be making good baked goods and feeling good about their fine accomplishments and themselves.

I would start with baking history in a fun way going back to the Egyptians when they were building the pyramids and being paid in bread and beer. Then some baking terms and vocabulary then on how to doing some baking but not too easy - make them stretch a little. I like deserts, especially chocolate ones, so I would start easy yummy! Cookies and cakes. I like the way Rachel Allen teaches her students at the Ballymaloe Cooking School in Ireland. I loved it when I stayed there on vacation. I think watching her in action would help you.

Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself - how would I want to learn this baking stuff?

Generosity is the highest and most difficult of the character attributes, to have and hold dear, that are required for success. Teaching is the highest form of generosity. So, be generous with your students and teach them everything you know without expecting anything in return. You will be rewarded many times over.

Good luck sustainthebaker and keep smiling :-)

Submitted by SteveB on April 11, 2012 - 2:50pm.I'd Insist On Cash...

I would start with baking history in a fun way going back to the Egyptians when they were building the pyramids and being paid in bread and beer.

dabrownman, my guess is that your wife might consider that 'bread and beer' to be not so much a payment but rather just sustenance to keep the slaves who built the pyramids alive. Bread and beer in those days were equivalent to bread and water today.



Submitted by dabrownman on April 11, 2012 - 6:04pm.I'm not sure Steve,


You assume that Jewish slaves built the pyramids? Even experts fail when they learn their assumptions are wrong. You aren't claiming that Jews built the pyramids are you? The pyramids were pretty old when Ramses the Great was Pharaoh and let the 'chosen people' go. Jews would have been Egyptian slaves for how long by then? I've learned something new today - that Jews actually built the Pyramids. Who knew? No matter though.

Back then, when things, like cash, didn't exist, beer and bread were right up there with IPads and Scions. That was how the pyramid builders were paid because they demanded to be paid that way. It was how they existed - or they rioted to get their bread and beer - they just couldn't live without them. Just like now, when cash allows folks to exist to buy bread, beer and other stuff.

To call it bread and water today, makes beer seem inconse1quential and beer is far short of that. It is one of the 6 food groups with sugar, chocolate, pizza, donuts and bourbon :-)

Submitted by Broc on April 11, 2012 - 11:26pm.Egyptian Stuff


Well... since you didn't ask...

Egyptians considered bread and beer as the first-fruits of the field... products of the life-sustaining cereal crops. And, bread and beer were made in the same process... bread being solid beer, and beer being liquid bread.

In their burial rituals, the most common ritual prayer went like this --

htp di nsw n wsir hnty-ntw, nb Ddw nb AbDw m prt hrw m t hnkt, etc.

"A kingly offering to Osiris, lord of Djedu, lord of Abedju -- this prayer offering of bread and beer [and on to the first fruits of the flock, of the earth, etc]

The ancent Egyptian hierogyph for bread is a bun-like sign.

FWIW -- The Hebrews may not have been "slaves" in our construct of the word, but rather very low-caste Asiatics performing the most menial of duties. That said, it certainly is easy to understand that later generations of Hebrews, looking backward, could have considered their forebears as slaves...

Also, the city of Pi-Rameses has been partially excavated and the world's oldest inscription mentioning the Hebrew diety of war and storm, YHWH [not in Hebrew script, which hadn't evolved before that time] has been found there. It is probable that archaeological digging at this site may remain suspended while Egypt suspends democratic reforms. Currently, the site has been covered over and planted, and is completely off limits to archaeology.

*newSubmitted by dabrownman on April 12, 2012 - 10:25am.Steve,


I'm taking this to a new thread so as not to hijack this one.

dabrownman's picture

I couldn't help but notice that you didn't answer my questions but were happy to answer ones I never asked. So I will answer them plus some more you raised.

Google: How were the pyramid builders paid? The answer is:

The elite core of skilled workers and scribes were paid in kind as money had not been invented. They too would got their food, vast quantities of beer, a town to live in and even health care.

As for the slaves just food and shelter and other things to survive.

The first Pharaohs arrived around 3100 BC but the 'Pyrimid Era' was from 2650 BC to 2250. The first being Djoser (being a trained architect, Imhotep is one of my favorite ones - the first one we know of anyway) and the last pyrimid of this era being Pepi II. The great pyramids of Giza were built between 2550 and 2490 BC in the 4th dynasty.

Hebrews or Jews had absolutely nothing to do with the Egyptian pyramids or their construction, neither as skilled or slave workers. Hebrews didn't arrive in Egypt until 1650 BC and they certainly were not slaves then. But, by the time of Ramessess II (The Great in 1279-1213 BC and 19th Dynasty) who is associated with Moses and the Hebrew Exodus, the Hebrews then were considered slaves by Jews and Christians today and described as such in the Torah and Bible.  Is this true who knows?

Here is some research on when the Hebrews came to Egypt originally:

"The son of Isaac, Jacob, also known as Israel (or "Champion of God"), became the founder of the early Hebrew social system, each of Israel's twelve sons becoming the chieftains of a subdivision of the Jewish people, one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. As their numbers gradually increased as a result of alliances and intermarriage with the members of local Canaanite communities, Hebrew influence eventually spread throughout "the land of milk and honey." However, in approximately 1650 B.C., a famine struck their territories, leading to a massive wave of emigration south, toward the Nile Delta. This occurred, according to Kamm, within Jacob's lifetime.

Egypt, at this time, was plunged into internal squabbling, disarray, and wave after wave of foreign domination. Thus, no efficient security system existed to prevent the Hebrews from settling there and initiating agricultural and pastoralist enterprises. Being distant relatives of both the Babylonians and the Hittites, as well as the then Hyksos masters of Egypt, the Jews possessed ample skill in iron working and the creation of wheeled vehicles that had placed them on an equal footing with the Hyksos.

Thus, the Hyksos sought to forge an alliance with the Jews and recruit their talents to serve their ends. Hebrew craftsmen, herders, and farmers prospered during this period, and one of the sons of Jacob, Joseph, served as a pharaonic vizier, bestowing upon the ruler essential advice aimed at avoiding a drought similar to the one experienced by Canaana short time prior. For several generations, the Hebrews dwelled inEgyptunder conditions of relative comfort and affluence. Silvestri writes that "Hebrews were given the land of Goshento herd their flocks, and became a prosperous and productive part of Egyptian society.""

How Hebrews went from a prosperous and productive part of Egyptian life to virtual slaves in less than 400 years is not known but, if they looked back at their ancestors then they would have known that their ancestors inEgyptwere not slaves but prosperous and productive.

So back when the pyramids were being built by non Hebrews, the skilled and slave workers both were paid in bread and beer and they were both way more important to the slaves since all they got was basic food and shelter, than bread and water today. These items were like your paycheck or welfare check today some of the very most important items to survive a hard life.

This is why the Egyptians offered bread and beer to their gods and recorded it in hieroglyphs - because they were so important to Egyptian royalty, as well as, all Egyptians and skilled pyramid builders slaves or not.

Jews didn't come to Egypt until about 600 years after the pyramid building era so my wife or any of her ancient Hebrew relatives (or any other Jewish relative today) could not have any reference of any kind to bread and beer in Egypt and it was nearly 400 more years before Ramessess II and Moses time where the first reference to the Hebrew god YHWH was found at Pi -Ramessess a city built by Ramessess II around 1250 BC in the 19th dynasty.

But, Jews today might have had ancient relatives who worked on the underground tombs in the Valley of the Kings as skilled workers or slaves or something in between.  But, even then, these underground tomb builders, if slaves or skilled workers, were still probably being paid in shelter, bread and beer - and these things were still as important as a pay check today - not just bread and water.

Even today, when the Egyptian government lowers the subsidy on bread causing its price to spike, the people riot as a result.  It seem this has been going on for millenia - no?  At least 4,500 years i'm guessing.  So today bread in Egypt is a serious and potentially deadly business.  Hardly inconsequential.

My question is why can't you buy beer with 'food stamps' today but you can still by bread?  Aren't they nearly the same thing now as then?  Sadly, here is anti beer sentiment, somewhere, for some reason :-)

Broc's picture

@ Dabrownman


I don't wish to argue with your I-net source of information, but the Egyptian offering formula is much more complicated [and religious] than simply ascribing it to common table items [bread and beer].

The offering formula bespeaks thanksgiving for --

  • the first fruits of the field, cereal crops, which become t [bread] and hnkt [beer], followed by 
  • the first fruits of the flocks -- ka [red meat/ox] and apd [white meat/duck/goose], followed by
  • the first fruits of the earth -- shys [alabaster] and mnht [linen], followed by
  • optional-yet-proscribed sequences of offerings, such as purified water, various ointments used in embalming, unstated provision, etc...

... all on behalf of the ka-spirit [think "soul"] of the deceased so that the deceased may enter into life eternal with the gods [ankh nTr im].

All of this is done ritually in a profoundly religious ceremony.  Even Judaic and Christian echoes of this ritual remain in worship today [think bread and wine, death and resurrection].

It may not be an accident that ancient Hebrews leaving Egypt were withdrawing from an Egyptian society that had previously -- for a short time -- been monotheistic... and that these Hebrews tell stories of bread [manna].

Gotta go!  Lightning coming in fast... gotta shut down...


dabrownman's picture

Somethoing I wrote upset you enough to disagree so lets go back to it.

I said :I would start with baking history in a fun way going back to the Egyptians when they were building the pyramids and being paid in bread and beer.

You said: dabrownman, my guess is that your wife might consider that 'bread and beer' to be not so much a payment but rather just sustenance to keep the slaves who built the pyramids alive. Bread and beer in those days were equivalent to bread and water today.

My wife being Jewish as you well know, you imply that Jews, as her ancestors, built the pyramids as slaves and that she would consider bread and beer not a payment but sustenance to stay alive. I asked if you though Jews built the pyramids? because that is the only way you could have connected the two.  You refused to answer.

I pointed out the fact that even google agrees with me that the skilled and non skilled laborers who built the pyrimids were paid in in beer and food but also shelter - You say you don't want to argue with I-net info.  Jews had nothing to do with building the pyramids since they didn't arrive in Egypt until 600 years later.  So you were wrong about that too.  Weren't you Steve?  No Jew ever or alive today could have any reference that their ancestors, as Hebrew slaves building the pyrimids were not given payment for doing so but considered it sustenance.  This never ever could have happened and why you would believe this is .... disappointing.

Your claim that 'Bread and beer in those days were equivalent to bread and water today."  This is only slightly correct in the weakest way and misses the point entirely.  Everyone agrees that bread was/is food then and now but bread and beer then took on a much different significance than they do today.  They were how you got paid, they were your paycheck, these were buried with the dead - even for royals, they made up a huge portion of your everyday life, there wasn't much else in 2,500 BC.  Even your references to Egyptian prayer offerings, hieroglyphs, show just how important bread and beer were to Egyptians than they are today.  As I said, these items were much, much more than than the common table items for sustenance they have become today - as you changed you mind and agreed by stating 'the Egyptian offering formula is much more complicated [and religious] than simply ascribing it to common table items [bread and beer].'  Why you did an about face is laudable since your original assertion that they were the same then as today was farcical and not any more defensiblke than your assertion that Jews built the pyramids..

I sure hope you don't also think salt is the same today as it was in Roman times even though it too was used as payment for Roman legions, much more valuable and much more important to Romans than it is today even though humans need a small amount it to survive physically just as much today as humans did 2,000 years ago.


jcking's picture

For a speedy reply you may consider contacting SteveB directly at his website

Broc's picture

I think we're confusing who the writers of this thread are.  I am Broc Brockway, simply commenting on the religious significance of the "first fruits" aspects of the ancient offering formula [formulae], and am offering [pun intended] my comments as an Ancient Egyptian linguist...

I, for one, have made no assertations re: the Jews building the pyramids [Agreed -- they didn't!  And in all probability they weren't builders of the tombs within the Valleys of the Kings and Queens... the turquise mines in Sinai..?  Well, that's another matter... and hotly debated, as the rise of alphabetic scripts {including Hebrew} stems from here]...

I am also not offended by anyone's post, nor trying to offend.  

M htp [Loose translation -- "Peace be with you!"]

~ Broc

PS -- Yes, I know a lot more about Middle Egyptian texts than I do about baking!

~ B



dabrownman's picture

I was confused as to the reply.  Your comments are enlightening.  Sorry to confuse you with Steve I should pay more attention.

Stuart Borken's picture
Stuart Borken

We don't only have bread baking mavins here on this fantastic site, but, cultural anthropologists, and very bright ones as well.  Very rounded people.  Love this TheFreshLoaf!

Stu B.

Bakeation's picture

Very interesting topics which are related to Bread one of the earliest forms of food and can tell us a lot about our history, I for one thought that salt had a significant role to play in payment. Afterall as you are probably aware that is where the word salary has derived, I should imagine the earliest forms of bread were probably unsalted similar to the Italian pane sciapo. Apparently this bread keeps for longer however I have never cared for this type of bread unless eaten with a salty cheese.