Bakery-prison uncovered at Pompeii. Image courtesy of Pompeii Archaeological Sites

Pompeii: Discovery of a Bakery-Prison

Culture News

Archaeologists at Pompeii have unearthed a bakery-prison providing an insight into the workings and conditions for those involved in bread production.

Within Region IX, Insula 10 of Pompeii, a bakery-prison has been unearthed, shedding light on the oppressive conditions faced by enslaved workers and donkeys involved in grain grinding for bread production.

The confined workspace features a cramped room with high windows, iron-barred to let in light, and floor indentations coordinating the movement of animals, predominantly donkeys. This discovery occurred within the ongoing excavations aimed at securing and consolidating the slopes surrounding the unexplored sections of Pompeii.

Property under renovation at time of eruption

The revealed structure was undergoing renovation at the time of the Vesuvius eruption. It encompasses a residential area adorned with Fourth Style frescoes and a productive quarter serving as a bakery.

Recent findings included three victims within the bakery, dispelling assumptions of the property being uninhabited during the renovation. The archaeological evidence aligns with the accounts of second-century AD writer Apuleius, vividly describing the strenuous labour in ancient mills and bakeries, and harsh reality of Roman slavery.

The production area lacks doors and direct access to the outside, emphasising the restricted freedom of movement for individuals of servile status. The secured windows with iron bars reveal a side of ancient slavery marked by brute violence. “It is, in other words, a space in which we have to imagine the presence of people of servile status whose freedom of movement the owner felt the need to restrict,” notes Director Gabriel Zuchtriegel.

The millstones’ area, adjacent to the stable, showcases semicircular indentations in volcanic basalt paving, likely deliberate carvings to prevent animals from slipping and forming a circular furrow. Historical sources suggest that a donkey and a slave usually operated the millstone, with the slave overseeing the grinding process. The worn indentations indicate the repetitive cycles synchronised with the millstones’ movement.

“In the final analysis,” Zuchtriegel adds, “it is spaces like this that also help us understand why there were those who thought it necessary to change that world and why in the same years Paul, a member of a small religious group, who was later canonised, wrote that it is better to be all servants, ‘douloi’, meaning slaves, not of an earthly master, but rather of a heavenly one.”

New exhibition opens December 15th

This rediscovered space, reflective of challenging daily life, complements the narrative presented in the upcoming exhibition, “The Other Pompeii: Ordinary Lives in the Shadow of Vesuvius,” opening on December 15th at the Palestra Grande in Pompeii.

The Pompeii exhibition focuses on individuals often overlooked in historical sources, such as slaves, constituting the majority of the population and significantly contributing to Roman civilisation’s economy, culture, and social fabric.

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