Pliny the Elder, Bk.18: The Grains of Gaul and Spain

Galliae quoque suum genus farris dedere, quod illic bracem vocant, apud nos scandalam, nitidissimi grani. Est et alia differentia, quod fere quaternis libris plus reddit panis quam far aliud.

The Gauls also give their own type of spelt/grain [far], which they call “brace”– to us it is “scandala” – a most brilliant grain. There is another difference: it returns almost four pounds of bread more than other grains. 

Nunc ex his generibus, quae romam invehuntur, levissimum est gallicum . . .

Now from these types [of wheat], which are brought to Rome, the lightest is the Gallic . . .

Arinca galliarum propria, copiosa et italiae est, aegypto autem ac syriae ciliciaeque et asiae ac graeciae peculiares zea, oryza, tiphe.

Arinca is a native [plant] of the Gauls, and is abundant in Italy, in Egypt, Syria, Cilicia, and Asia Minor, and in Greece the varieties are: zea [spelt], oryza [rice], and tiphe [one-grained wheat].

Siliginae farina modius gallicae xx libras panis reddit.

A modius of Gallic winter wheat flour returns 20 pounds of bread.

Panico et galliae quidem, pracipue Aquitania utitur.

In Gaul, especially Aquitania, the people particularly use panic-grass.

Cribrorum genera galliae saetis equorum invenere.

The Gauls invented a type of bolter [made] with the hair of horses.

Non pridem inventum in raetia galliae duas addere tali rotulas, quod genus vocant plaumorati.

Not long ago, there was invented in Raetia, what the Gauls call the plaumorati, a plow with two wheels added.

Galliarum latifundis valli praegrandes, dentibus in margine insertis, duabus rotis per segetem inpelluntur, iumento in contrarium iuncto; ita dereptae in vallum cadunt spicae. [. . .] Panicum et milium singillatim pectine manuali legunt galliae.

In the vast estates [latifundia] of Gaul, the farmers drive through the plants with two wheels, in which teeth are inserted, and with the yoke joined behind it; thus, the ends [of the grain] having been torn off, fall into the opening [of the plow] [. . .] The Gauls pick panic and millet, one by one, with a manual comb.

Hordeum ex omni frumento minime calamitosum, quia ante tollitur quam triticum occupet rubigo – itaque sapientes agricolae triticum cibariis tantum serunt, hordeum saculo seri dicunt -, propterea celerrime redit fertilissimumque quod in hispaniae carthagine aprili mense collectum est. Hoc seritur eodem mense in celtiberia, eodemque anno bis nascitur.

Of all the grains, barley is the least disaster-prone because it is collected before rust/mildew attacks the wheat – thus, the knowledgeable farmers sow only so much wheat [as is needed] for food; the say that barley is sown in a money-purse – on account that it returns [a profit] most quickly, and the most fertile is the barley that in Spain and Carthage is collected in the month of April. This grain is sown in the same month in Celtiberia and yields two harvests a year.

Genera criborum galliae saetis equorum invenere, hispaniae lino excussoria et pollinaria

The Gauls invented a type of bolter [made] with the hair of horses, and the Spanish invented bolting sieves [made of] flax.

Utilissime tamen servantur in scrobibus, quos siros vocant, ut in Cappadocia ac threcia et Hispania, Africa, et ante omnia ut sicco solo fiant curatur, mox ut palea substernantur; praeterea cum spica sua conduntur ita frumenta. Si nullus spiritus penetret, certum est nihil maleficum nasci. Varro auctor est, sic conditum triticum durare annis l, milium vero c [. . .] servari.

The most useful [plan], however, is to preserve [the grain] in trenches, which they call “sirus,” just like in Cappadocia, Thrace, Spain, and Africa; and before all else, they take pains that the ground is dry, and then they toss about the chaff [on the ground]; the grain, moreover, is stored in its own ears. If no air penetrates, certainly there will be no spoilage. Varro, the author, said that, stored thusly, wheat can be preserved for 50 years, millet for 100 years.


Today’s entry includes the collected descriptions of grain for the beer-producing/drinking regions of Gauls [i.e. Celts] (1, 2, 3, 4) and Spain/Celtiberia (1, 2, 3). Beer was not necessarily produced with all of the described grains, but it is possible that at least some of these grains (especially wheat) were malted and brewed.

It is difficult to identify the specific variety of grain that is described in ancient sources. The scientific names for plants and animals, though derived from Latin and Greek, were developed long after the fall of the Roman Empire. Often, individual words, such as hordeum (barley), were used for several varieties of a plant. We also cannot assume that the plant varieties present (or common today) were genetically the same as those 2000 years ago. Consequently, modern two-row barley may not offer precisely the same brewing properties as ancient two-row barley. Does this mean that the recreation of ancient brews is a fruitless exercise? Certainly not. Something is always to be learned through experimentation and recreation, so long as the experimenter/brewer does not expect an exact facsimile of ancient concoctions. At the very least, you get more (and sometimes strange) beer to drink!

From the descriptions above, Gallic barley and grain was quite fertile and abundant. This likely facilitated the preference for fermenting grains rather than fruits. The lightness of their grain, moreover, allowed for greater food production per modius (a dry measure) of grain. With barley less of a risky investment compared to wheat, farmers planted barley in abundance to ensure (at least) a minimally productive harvest in case of pestilences of rust/mildew (rubigo). [Fun fact: the Romans so feared rubigo that they worshiped a god of mildew, Robigus, and had an annual festival in his honor, the Robigalia (April 25). Imagine having a day off from work for National Mildew Day].

Types of Grain
Hordeum, -i (n) – barley

Brace, -es? (f) – a Gallic grain, spelt? hulled emmer? malted wheat?

Far, farris (n) – a sort of grain, spelt?; according to tradition, this is the earliest food of the Romans; like a polenta

Arinca, -ae (f) – Gallic, a kind of grain called elsewhere olyra; either rye or one-grained wheat (Triticum monococcum)

Siliginea, -ae (f) – winter wheat?

Panicum, -i (n) – Italian panic-grass; millet?

Author’s Note
Pliny the Elder (23-79 CE)
You should know him by now, really.

Image Source
Wikimedia Commons. Osado. Side B of 7th century CE capital in eastern corridor of Santa Maria la Real de Nieva church, Segovia province, Spain. Farmers working on wheat harvest.




8 Comments Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s