The Origins of Pizza in the Ancient World

Pizza is a beloved and iconic dish that has a long history dating back thousands of years. Despite being closely associated with Italy, where it evolved into the familiar form we know today, its origins lie in the ancient world. This article explores the potential origins of pizza in Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, and Ancient Egypt, and sheds light on the fascinating history of this beloved food.

Uncertain Origins

There is much debate among historians about where exactly pizza originated. While there is evidence to suggest that pizza-like dishes existed in ancient Greece, Rome, and Egypt, the exact origins of modern pizza are difficult to pinpoint.

One reason for this uncertainty is that pizza-like dishes were likely made by many different cultures throughout history. The concept of topping bread with various ingredients is a simple one that likely occurred independently in different parts of the world.

Another reason is that the word “pizza” itself has evolved over time. The term was not widely used until the 18th century in Naples, Italy, where pizza as we know it today first emerged. Prior to this, similar dishes were referred to by different names in different regions.

Regardless of its origins, pizza has become a beloved food around the world, with countless variations and styles to suit every taste. Its history may be shrouded in mystery, but its popularity is undeniable.

Ancient Greece

The ancient Greeks are often credited with the invention of pizza, or at least with its earliest precursor. According to legend, the Greeks created a simple flatbread called plakous, which was topped with herbs, spices, and cheese. This dish is said to have been a popular snack for Greek soldiers, who would bake the bread on their shields over an open fire.

The plakous was also a popular food among the working-class population of ancient Greece. It was a simple and cheap meal that could be quickly prepared and eaten on the go. The bread was made from flour, water, and salt, and was topped with whatever ingredients were available, such as olives, onions, and cheese.

While the plakous may not have been a true pizza in the modern sense, it was certainly a precursor to the dish. The Greeks’ love of bread and cheese would influence the development of pizza in Italy and beyond.

Ancient Rome

Although Ancient Greece had its own version of flatbreads, Ancient Rome is often credited with creating the precursor to modern-day pizza. This Roman version of pizza was known as “picea” and consisted of a thin layer of bread dough topped with cheese, honey, and bay leaves. It is important to note that the Roman version of pizza was quite distinct from the Greek version of plakous, which was thicker and had fewer toppings.

However, it wasn’t until the 16th century when the tomato, a New World fruit, was introduced to Europe that pizza began to take on a more recognizable form. Initially, the tomato was seen as poisonous and was only grown as an ornamental plant. It wasn’t until the late 18th century that pizza makers in Naples began to incorporate tomatoes into their pizzas, creating the classic Margherita pizza we know today.

But before the tomato was added to the pizza, cheese had already become a staple ingredient. The city of Naples was particularly known for its use of cheese in pizzas, with mozzarella being the most popular choice. The addition of cheese to pizza is believed to have happened in the late 19th century when the Neapolitan Pizza Margherita was first made. This pizza was made with mozzarella cheese, tomatoes, and fresh basil leaves, which represented the colors of the Italian flag.

In addition to the incorporation of cheese and tomato, pizza also underwent a transformation in its cooking method. Initially, pizza was cooked in a wood-fired oven or over an open flame. However, in the 19th century, the first pizza ovens were invented in Naples, which allowed for pizzas to be cooked more efficiently and at a higher temperature. This resulted in a crispier crust and a shorter cooking time, making pizza even more popular.

Despite its popularity, pizza was still largely a regional food until the mid-20th century. It wasn’t until after World War II that pizza began to gain international recognition, thanks in part to American soldiers stationed in Italy who developed a taste for the dish. Pizza made its way to the United States in the late 19th century, but it wasn’t until after World War II that it became a mainstream food in America.

Ancient Egypt: An Unlikely Candidate for Pizza Origins

When it comes to the history of pizza, Egypt holds a significant place as one of the potential origins of this beloved dish. Although there is limited evidence and historical records, there are intriguing clues that suggest pizza-like creations may have existed in ancient Egypt.

Ingredients: Bread, Herbs, and Olive Oil

In ancient Egypt, bread was a staple food, and various types of bread were consumed by the Egyptians. Flatbreads, similar to modern-day pizza crusts, were commonly made from wheat, barley, or emmer wheat, and they were often flavored with herbs and spices such as coriander, cumin, and garlic. Olive oil, which was abundant in the Mediterranean region, was also likely used in ancient Egyptian cuisine, including in the preparation of bread and other dishes.

Consumption Practices: Quick and Convenient

Ancient Egyptian cuisine was known for its simplicity and practicality, with an emphasis on quick and convenient meals. Flatbreads were a popular food choice as they could be easily prepared and consumed on the go. They were often used as a base for various toppings, such as vegetables, fruits, and herbs, which were locally available in the Nile River valley. This practice of topping bread with ingredients bears similarities to the concept of pizza, where toppings are placed on a bread base.

Discoveries: Hieroglyphics and Artistic Representations

Although there is no direct evidence of ancient Egyptian pizza as we know it today, there are some intriguing discoveries that suggest the existence of similar food preparations. Hieroglyphics, ancient Egyptian writing systems, depict scenes of bread-making and food preparation, showing bread being baked on hot stones or in ovens, and being topped with various ingredients. Some artistic representations found in tombs and temples also depict scenes of bread being served with toppings, which could potentially be interpreted as early examples of pizza-like dishes.


The origins of pizza are shrouded in mystery and myth, but it is clear that this beloved food has a long and fascinating history. Whether it was the ancient Greeks, Romans, or Egyptians who first created a dish similar to pizza, it is undeniable that pizza has had a profound impact on the world of food. From its humble beginnings as a simple flatbread to the many variations and toppings we enjoy today, pizza has become a beloved staple of cuisines around the globe.


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