Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Origin of Viking Bread?

Between the heat of the last few weeks here and various personal tasks, I have not been very interested in more speculative adventures into recreating Viking Age Scandinavian cuisine.

Bread found in the ruins of Pompeii
I was delighted to learn of this article which discusses a very interesting theory about how bread making came to Scandinavia.  The article is in Swedish, but Google Translate did a very good job of making it intelligible to this English speaker. You can see Google Translate's English version here.

Liselotte Bergström, at the Department of Archaeology and Classical Studies at Stockholm University, has been studying archaeological remains of bread found at Mälarlen, Östergötland, Helgö and Birka, and she has reached some interesting conclusions.

It appears that the earliest finds of bread and bread-making equipment in Scandinavia date to about 200 C.E. Grain likely was eaten by Scandinavians much earlier, but in the form of porridges, not as bread. Bergström's theory is that Scandinavians learned how to make bread from Roman soldiers, possibly from serving with Roman forces as auxiliaries. Grave finds also indicate that bread was associated with male leaders--not females--and was not an everyday commonplace. So far as I can tell from the article, bread finally became a common part of the Scandinavian diet in the Viking age.

According to the article, the early forms of bread were more like small, round rolls, made from a dough consisting of two parts flour to one part water, and cooked in a frying pan over a fire.   The loaf above was found at Pompeii and may be similar to the Scandinavian product (except for the shape).  The idea sounds simple enough to try some weekend when I've gone back to making stew, possibly using barley flour.

The most important thing about Bergström's theory is not that it sheds light on food practices particular to Scandinavia, but that it demonstrates how archaeology can help us learn how such ephemeral tasks as the preparation of our daily bread were learned, and spread.  This kind of research has the potential to enlighten us about the development of cultures in a way that is difficult for written history to match, and it will be welcome to see more such research opening our eyes to the past.


  1. Let us know of the result!
    Say, do you prepare the bread by hand, or do you have one of the handy bread-making machines?

  2. I will, though it's going to be awhile before I experiment because I have a vacation coming up....

    I do have a bread-making machine, but I don't use it for my pan-fried Viking bread experiments. It's more important to have something like a bread machine to mix dough for leavened bread (which my Viking breads are not), and anyway, the original Viking breads would have been hand-mixed. :-)