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There are numerous kinds of wheat which have received their names from the countries where they were first produced. For my part, however, I can compare no kind of wheat to that of Italy either for whiteness or weight, qualities for which it is more particularly distinguished: indeed it is only with the produce of the more mountainous parts of Italy that the foreign wheats can be put in comparison. Among these the wheat of Bœotia1 occupies the first rank, that of Sicily the second, and that of Africa the third. The wheats of Thrace, Syria, and, more recently, of Egypt, used to hold the third rank for weight, these facts having been ascertained through the medium of the athletes; whose powers of consumption, equal to those of beasts of burden, have established the gradations in weight, as already stated. Greece, too, held the Pontic2 wheat in high esteem; but this has not reached Italy as yet. Of all the varieties of grain, however, the Greeks gave the preference to the kinds called dracontion, strangia, and Selinusium, the chief characteristic of which is a stem of remarkable thickness: it was this, in the opinion of the Greeks, that marked them as the peculiar growth of a rich soil. On the other hand, they recommended for sowing in humid soils an extremely light and diminutive species of grain, with a remarkably thin stalk, known to them as speudias, and standing in need of an abundance of nutriment. Such, at all events, were the opi- nions generally entertained in the reign of Alexander the Great, at a time when Greece was at the height of her glory, and the most powerful country in the world. Still, however, nearly one hundred and forty-four years before the death of that prince we find the poet Sophocles, in his Tragedy of "Triptolemus," praising the corn of Italy before all others. The passage, translated word for word, is to the following effect:— "And favour'd Italy grows white with hoary wheat."
And it is this whiteness that is still one of the peculiar merits of the Italian wheat; a circumstance which makes me the more surprised to find that none of the Greek writers of a later period have made any reference to it.

Of the various kinds of wheat which are imported at the present day into Rome, the lightest in weight are those which come from Gaul and Chersonnesus; for, upon weighing them, it will be found that they do not yield more than twenty pounds to the modius. The grain of Sardinia weighs half a pound more, and that of Alexandria one-third of a pound more than that of Sardinia; the Sicilian wheat is the same in weight as the Alexandrian. The Bœotian wheat, again, weighs a whole pound more than these last, and that of Africa a pound and three quarters. In Italy beyond the Padus, the spelt, to my knowledge, weighs twenty-five pounds to the modius, and, in the vicinity of Clusium, six-and-twenty. We find it a rule, universally established by Nature, that in every kind of commissariat bread3 that is made, the bread exceeds the weight of the grain by one-third; and in the same way it is generally considered that that is the best kind of wheat, which, in kneading, will absorb one congius of water.4 There are some kinds of wheat which give, when used by themselves, an additional weight equal to this; the Balearic wheat, for instance, which to a modius of grain yields thirty-five pounds weight of bread. Others, again, will only give this additional weight by being mixed with other kinds, the Cyprian wheat and the Alexandrian, for example; which, if used by themselves, will yield no more than twenty pounds to the modius. The wheat of Cyprus is swarthy, and produces a dark bread; for which reason it is generally mixed with the white wheat of Alexandria; the mixture yielding twenty-five pounds of bread to the modius of grain. The wheat of Thebais, in Egypt, æhen made into bread, yields twenty-six pounds to the modius. To knead the meal with sea-water, as is mostly done in the maritime districts, for the purpose of saving the salt, is extremely pernicious; there is nothing, in fact, that will more readily predispose the human body to disease. In Gaul and Spain, where they make a drink5 by steeping corn in the way that has been already described—they employ the foam6 which thickens upon the surface as a leaven: hence it is that the bread in those countries is lighter than that made else- where.

There are some differences, also, in the stem of wheat; for the better the kind the thicker it is. In Thrace, the stem of the wheat is covered with several coats,7 which are rendered absolutely necessary by the excessive cold of those regions. It is the cold, also, that led to the discovery there of the three-month8 wheat, the ground being covered with snow most of the year. At the end mostly of three months after it has been sown, this wheat is ready for cutting, both in Thrace and in other parts of the world as well. This variety is well known, too, throughout all the Alpine range, and in the northern pro- vinces there is no kind of wheat that is more prolific; it has a single stem only, is by no means of large size in any part of it, and is never sown but in a thin, light soil. There is a two-month9 wheat also found in the vicinity of Ænos, in Thrace, which ripens the fortieth day after sowing; and yet it is a surprising fact, that there is no kind of wheat that weighs heavier than this, while at the same time it produces no bran. Both Sicily and Achaia grow it, in the mountainous districts of those countries; as also Eubœa, in the vicinity of Carystus. So greatly, then, is Columella in error,10 in supposing that there is no distinct variety of three-month wheat even; the fact being that these varieties have been known from the very earliest times. The Greeks give to these wheats the name of "setanion." It is said that in Bactria the grains of wheat are of such an enormous size, that a single one is as large as our ears of corn.11

1 From Theophrastus, De Causis, B. iv.

2 That of the Ukraine and its vicinity, which is still held in high esteem.

3 Panis militaris.

4 To the modius of wheat.

5 He alludes to beer, or sweet-wort. See B. xiv. c. 29.

6 He alludes to yeast. See B. xxii. c. 82.

7 This assertion, from Theophrastus, Hist. Plant. B. viii. c. 4, is not based on truth. It is possible that he may allude in reality to some other gramineous plant.

8 Trimestre.

9 Bimestre.

10 Columella (B. ii. c. 6) does not state to this effect; on the contrary, he speaks of the existence of a three months' wheat; but he asserts, and with justice, that wheat sown in the autumn is better than that sown in March.

11 If he alludes here to what Theophrastus says, his assertion is simply that, in Bactria, the grains are as large as an olive-stone.

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  • Cross-references to this page (5):
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), CONSUL
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), EXE´RCITUS
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), LEX
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), POENA
    • Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854), GA´LLIA TRANSALPINA
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