Birthday cakes have been around in one form or another for many centuries and throughout many cultures the world over. In ancient Greece and Rome, flat round (moon) shaped cakes sweetened with honey were baked for those celebrating a birthday, though the more current idea of an actual cake (not a flat piece of sweetened bread) with candles can be traced, according to some sources, to Germany (though the Greeks did use candles on their unleavened cakes to represent the light of the Moon in honor of the Goddess Artemis).
There is also growing evidence that flat, honey-sweetened cakes were also baked in ancient Egypt, preceding Greece and Rome.
During the 17th and 18th Century, with the advent of new food sources, foodstuffs, new baking and culinary skills and techniques the baking and decorating of cakes makes a leap forward, thought these much elaborate and sometimes ridiculously impractical confections became the almost exclusive privilege of the upper classes in Europe and to a lesser extent the colonized territories of the Americas, Africa and Asia.
The voracious and innovative mercantile impetus of the Industrial Revolutions in England and France during the late 18th and throughout the 19th centuries also gave raise to new standards of production and mechanization for many industries and crafts, including baking, thus creating a need for broader markets beyond just a reduced group of royals, nobles and rich bourgeois families. The birthday cake had arrived at this point to the beginning of its proletarianization, claiming henceforth its iconic place in the palates and preferences of millions of people, notably so in Western societies.