Skip to 0 minutes and 20 seconds We see an important change, something that makes quite a difference, I think, in the daily life of people, which is the appearance of bakeries, which meant that people didn’t need to bake their bread at home and didn’t need to spend time using a hand mill to mill down the wheat into flour and so forth. But they could just go and, if they wished, buy, every day, fresh bread.
Skip to 0 minutes and 59 seconds This tomb has a unique physical appearance. We have columns, and then sort of strange rotund openings on the surviving sides of it, and a frieze running around it at the very top, and an inscription that’s repeated on three of the three surviving sides of this monument in which the baker states his name. Says that he is a pistor, a baker, and that he is a redemptor, which seems to suggest that he sort of was contracted by the Roman state as sort of entrepreneur, presumably in the same business. And then there’s a word that nobody seems to understand, although I think it’s actually quite clear.
Skip to 1 minute and 48 seconds It says, APPARET And some have argued that APPARET could be yet another title, an abbreviation, apparitor. It seems more likely to me that it is just a Latin term for, ‘this is obvious’. With any object that we encounter, we’re trying to make sense of it. So what is this? And some people have said, well, this could be something like an overblown baking oven. Less likely, perhaps, the top half reminds me of a table top, like we sometimes see in Pompeii with vessels inserted. So it could be vessels for measuring grain. It could be vessels for containing grain. It could be vessels for kneading dough. There are many possible ways in which we could read this.
Skip to 2 minutes and 39 seconds It may not have been straightforward for people looking at it, trying to make sense of it, trying to read it in the ancient world either. And we can think there’s a connection there, perhaps, between some of the grand political monuments that we’ve looked at in this course. We’ve seen the emperor, Augustus, about this time, trying to be remembered in the city of Rome by leaving it a city of marble. Transforming it here on a much smaller scale is one individual from a different social class altogether, maybe an ex-slave, who’s maybe using something of the same architectural language expressed differently in a different way to try and secure his own immortality.
Skip to 3 minutes and 13 seconds When we are thinking about production on a larger scale, Eurysaces was clearly a very successful large-scale baker. The frieze on the top of his tomb depicts all the stages of production. So from where the wheat will be delivered on his premises, and being received and checked, and then being milled and sieved, and then being mixed to a dough to make the bread, and loaves being shaped on tables, and then being baked into ovens, and so forth, until then the loaves of bread are ready to be sent out, and are checked and weighted. And there are officials recording everything.
Skip to 3 minutes and 51 seconds And what I find fascinating about the monument is not simply because we have a frieze showing us all the stages, but there are some little pointers there that perhaps may explain why he was so successful as a large-scale baker, perhaps why he won a contract to supply bread, which are little bits of technical innovations. So there is one scene on the frieze that shows a mechanical dough mixer operated by– well, it depicts a horse. I would believe that in real life, they would use either a mule or a donkey. But a horse looks nicer on the frieze. And what a mechanical dough mixer was was basically a large cylinder made of stone.
Skip to 4 minutes and 33 seconds And then you would insert in it a vertical wooden shaft with a series of paddles. And an horizontal element could be attached to a horse that would go around. And the wooden paddle inside will turn and mix your dough. So it’s a prototype of a kitchen robot that one would have in the kitchen nowadays, which meant you could be more efficient and quicker rather than having people having to mix the dough by hand. And it has been suggested that the various elements, these circular elements that are around the tomb of Eurysaces represent a view of this dough mixers.
Skip to 5 minutes and 16 seconds And when it comes to technical innovations, it’s always said that the ancient world was a bit hesitant to embrace and adopt, although I think this view has been changing in recent years, because of archaeological discoveries. And for instance, we see it in the case of the water mills. It was believed from many years that the water mills really appeared in late antiquity, although the Romans knew about it. Vitruvius writes about it and describes one very well in his treatise on architecture that dates to the early first century AD. But it was believed that practical applications were not found.
Skip to 5 minutes and 53 seconds But then archaeological evidence has been turning out evidence for water mills in Italy and the rest of the Roman world dating back to the first century AD. And in Rome, in the capital, we see the use of water mills the moment the grain dole, the annona moves to distribute daily bread rather than the wheat. That’s when a series of mills are built on the Janiculum hill in Rome clearly to process the flour that then would be given to bakers of the kind of Eurysaces much later on, but the kind that Eurysaces then would be producing bread for the population. So it’s harnessing the flowing water of one of Rome’s aqueducts– Absolutely. –To do that, a secondary job.
Skip to 6 minutes and 36 seconds And they continued to work for several years and was temporarily cut off, the aqueduct, when Rome was besieged, of course, in late antiquity. But then it looks like the mills were restored and worked until about the ninth century AD. And they were excavated. Some remains of these mills are under the American Academy in Rome. These were excavated a few years ago. Yes. So we get a sense that the city is exploring the technical boundaries of what it’s capable of to keep this food supply and the processing of that food to keep the population happy and contented and fed, which is, of course, an important task.
Encountering the evidence: the baker's tomb
I join Professor Annalisa Marzano and Professor Peter Kruschwitz back in Reading’s Ure Museum, to discuss the remains of a tomb of a Roman baker called Eurysaces. Annalisa and Peter explain what the imagery on the frieze of the tomb can tell us about him, and about how Rome was fed.
You can view the baker’s tomb in Rome in our 360° panorama picture.
Please note: this link takes you to the external site ‘Panellum’.
© University of Reading