The Real, True, Honest-to-Goodness History of Pizza

Who Invented Pizza?

Pizza was invented by Thomas Alva Edison in Menlo Park NJ in 1880. After inventing the incandescent light bulb, Edison became hungry and…

Okay, that’s not it.

The real history of pizza starts in Italy. Or Greece. Perhaps Egypt? There are good arguments for each, depending on how we define pizza. Starting with the loose yet scientific definition of “some kind of flat bread with stuff on it,” we know that pizza dates back to at least the 1st Century B.C., when the Roman poet Virgil wrote,


Their homely fare dispatch’d, the hungry band
Invade their trenchers next, and soon devour,
To mend the scanty meal, their cakes of flour.
Ascanius this observ’d, and smiling said:
“See, we devour the plates on which we fed.”

Even earlier (circa 500 B.C.), Persian soldiers baked a flatbread on their shields which they then covered with cheese and dates. I think, however, that if I went with this theory and walked around saying “pizza was invented in Iran,” I’d be starting arguments that I’d rather not have.

But does it count as a kind of pizza if it’s cooked out in the field and not in an oven? Let’s call it flatbread and move on…

So, you want to know the real pizza origin? Let’s see: the Egyptians made a flatbread, the Indians baked naan in hot Tandoori ovens… but neither of these had toppings. The Persians had toppings, but was it pizza?

The ancient Greeks had a flat bread called plakountos, on which they placed various toppings, and we know also that Naples was founded (as Neopolis) by the Greeks. And Naples is the home of the modern pizza .

Of course, in the ancient world, Naples was part of Rome — as was its neighbor, Pompeii. And pizza ovens were all over Italy, even then. Like this ancient Roman pizza oven:

I think we can agree now that ancient pizza is a toss-up, ‘middle’ pizza was Greek, and modern pizza (pre-American) was definitely Italian — Neapolitan, even! And American pizza — well, you can read about that on our American Pizza History page.

We recently found a fairly new and excellent book on pizza history, Pizza: A Global History by Carol Helstosky. It’s short, but very thorough and engaging. There are a few parts of the book that feel like you’re reading someone’s term paper, but then Helstosky comes up with a bit of information or a brilliant insight into pizza’s effect on society and international relations that is delightful to read. She knows her stuff, and Lil and I put her book fourth in the list of must-read pizza books:


  1. Pizza: A Slice of Heaven: The Ultimate Pizza Guide and Companionby Ed Levine
  2. American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza by Peter Reinhart
  3. Everybody Loves Pizza: The Deep Dish on America’s Favorite Foodby Penny Pollack and Jeff Ruby
  4. Pizza: A Global History by Carol Helstosky