Political grafitti at Pompeii house

Pompeii politician bought votes with bread

Culture History of Italy News

Pompeii Archaeological sites unearth tangible proof that vote buying was not uncommon in ancient Pompeii. In one particular case, bread was the dough which brought in the votes.

Roman satirist Juvenal wrote of politicians keeping the common horde quiet by providing them with ‘bread and circuses’ (panem et circenses), two thousand years ago. Archaeologists at Pompeii have now proved that many a true word is spoken in jest, with tangible evidence of one politician buying votes with bread.

Archaeological experts recently unearthed a fascinating discovery — a house that served as the headquarters for a budding Roman politician’s election campaign and came with an expansive oven for bread production.

This intriguing historical find sheds light on a unique aspect of Roman politics, as it is believed the loaves of bread produced in this bakery were either distributed freely or sold at nominal prices to ordinary Romans in exchange for their valuable votes.

Vote buying for position of aedile

Graffiti and inscriptions uncovered at the site reveal the ambitious individual vying for political office was the affluent Roman Aulus Rustius Verus. He aspired to secure the position of an aedile, a senior official within the Roman government.

Political graffiti. Image courtesy of Pompeii Archaeological Sites

What makes this discovery even more extraordinary is the placement of these inscriptions. Unlike the norm, where such political messages were commonly displayed on the external walls of buildings for public view, these inscriptions were found on the interior walls of the villa. This unique placement strongly suggests this house served as a dynamic hub for campaign activities, hosting meetings, gatherings, and dinners as part of Aulus Rustius Verus’s political strategy.

“Aulus Rustius Verus would have understood, when he was scheming to become an aedile and during his election campaign, that voters relied above all on bread for their survival,” said Maria Chiara Scappaticcio, co-author of a report on the discovery. “Magistrates and bakers collaborated to the very limits of legitimacy.”

Political and economic motives

During their excavation, archaeologists stumbled upon the initials of the aspiring politician etched onto a millstone within the bakery’s confines. This discovery further bolsters the hypothesis that he had a vested interest in financing the bread production enterprise, driven by a strategic combination of political and economic motivations.

It is entirely plausible he held ownership of the property. However, Gabriel Zuchtriegel, director of the Pompeii archaeological site, suggests it is also likely he leased it to one of his business associates, close friends, or even a former slave.

“We know from the ancient sources that there was often a connection between bakeries and politicians because through the distribution of bread, they could influence the electorate and secure votes,” he said.

“It is something that today would be considered illegal campaign financing or corruption, but it was quite common at the time. Without Pompeii, we would know much less about how these things worked.”

Lararium decorated with snakes. Image courtesy of Pompeii Archaeological Sites

Excavations also found an altar in the house Lararium. The last votive offerings made before the 79AD eruption of Vesuvius obliterated Pompeii were figs and dates, as well as the traces of fruits, fish and meat.

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