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Ancient Bread From Pompeii Fascinates

Ancient Bread From Pompeii Fascinates

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Published by Kitchenboy
Many of you have probably seen the photo below as it made its way around the social media avenues: it is a loaf of bread from the ruins at #Pompeii. The original publishing site, Ancient Resource, focused on the bread stamp mark in the preserved #ancient #bread, but I think more people, myself included, are amazed by the bread itself.
Many of you have probably seen the photo below as it made its way around the social media avenues: it is a loaf of bread from the ruins at #Pompeii. The original publishing site, Ancient Resource, focused on the bread stamp mark in the preserved #ancient #bread, but I think more people, myself included, are amazed by the bread itself.

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Published by: Kitchenboy on Aug 22, 2013
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Ancient Bread From Pompeii Fascinates
ByKitchenBoy, August 22, 2013Many of you have probably seen the photo below as it made its way around the social media avenues:it is a loaf of bread from the ruins at Pompeii. The original publishing site, Ancient Resource, focusedon the bread stamp mark in the preserved ancient bread, but I think more people are amazed by the bread itself.Ancient bread photo source http://www.ancientresource.com/ Personally I was taken with the stamp, shape and the scoring marks on top of the ancient bread.
Ancient Bread Stamps
When I started to do some research about ancient bread stamps I discovered quite a bit about the breadof antiquities. In Roman times, the bread stamp was used for various purposes. It could signify that the bread was from an authentic or approved bakery, that the bread was for a particular person or familyand also used to indicate that the bread was baked for free distribution.
Authentication
Beginning in the year 168 B.C., the Romans legislated and formed the first baker’s guild, known as theCollegium Pistorum. The word pistorum comes from the phrase to grind so the guild members not only baked but also milled grains. Soon after the formation of the guild, the Roman government took control; bread became a regulated public commodity with price increases requiring high levels of legislative approval. There are many documented pleas sent to various Emperors asking for an increasein the subsidized bread prices.Although controlled by the local governing entities and the Emperor of Rome, there were someinteresting benefits and regulations allotted to these certified professional bakers. Unlike most tradeswhere the workers were slaves, the members of the Collegium Pistorum were freemen and they andtheir families enjoyed all the benefits to which free Roman citizens were entitled. Choosing to becomea member of the Collegium meant that you would be a baker for the remainder of your life.
 
As beneficial as it could be to become a certified guild member, there were some odd restrictions.There was a requirement of the Collegium Pistorum which stated that members were forbidden to mixwith “comedians and gladiators.” Bakers were also forbidden to attend performances at theamphitheater.Pompeii bakery photo sourcehttp://wings.buffalo.edu/AandL/Maecenas/italy_except_rome_and_sicily/pompeii/ac880824.html I have no problem believing there were “bootleg” bakers offering up cheaper bread in back alleys, butas with all street food, buyer beware. We know not all bakers were certified guild members. Historiansfrom Rome, Egypt and other parts of the ancient world stated that the Cappadocians (Modern Turkey) possessed superior skills as bakers and thus were often taken as slaves and employed in many of thelarger, privately owned villas and bakeries.So, getting back to our stamp, a certified guild baker could use these ancient bread stamps to indicate place of origin, quality and implied certification of the state and surrounding authorities.
Special Order Bread
It is known that for various reasons wealthy citizens would place large orders of bread with a favoredlocal baker. We can assume that breads baked on special order would be marked with a family name or insignia to separate this bread from those commonly available for sale in the bakers stall. bread stamp photo source www.ancientresource.com 
 
Bread for Free Distribution
Given the sheer amount of bread baked in Rome and the varying styles brought by the diverse culturesthat made up the Republic, it would be virtually impossible to list all of the baked goods and types of  bread enjoyed by the Romans. Suffice to say that a given baker produced several grades of bread for the public. Most Romans were eligible for a daily dole of imported grain, which they would take totheir local bakery and hand over to the baker with a few coins and immediately take home fresh hot bread.It is recorded that certain groups of people were designated to receive free bread by order of localmagistrates or edicts from the Emperor. We also know that free bread was handed out at large festivalsor games and these breads were often marked with a special stamp by the baker.In later centuries, we find that the metallic stamps were replaced by stencils or distinctive towels at public bakeries. Average people did not have ovens capable of properly baking bread. People wouldoften mix and raise their dough at home, then bring the ready to bake bread to the local baker, whowould bake it in a communal oven. The bread would have either a floured stencil or special scoringmarks to indicate the owner of the bread.
Scoring Marks
Speaking of scoring marks, on the ancient bread from Pompeii, we notice cuts which divide the roundloaf into eight roughly equal sections. Except for references to Panis quadratus, which owes its name tothe slashes on the top of the loaf that divide it into quarters, I could not find an explanation for the eight piece sectioned scoring. Most depictions of ancient bread from Roman life show these scoring marks.My wife and I wondered if these marks were for bread sold in a public cafe where a patron might have purchased an individual slice of bread vice the whole loaf. It could also have been used by privatecitizens to easily tear or serve the bread. Normally bread is slashed or scored prior to going into the oven to give the expanding bread dough anarea to bloom while baking. This significantly improves the appearance of baked breads and alsoallows for varieties in form and shape. If not scored in some way, bread will burst in random locationsand can result in oddly shaped loaves. The scoring also brings out the bread baker’s artistic talent, providing a unique signature.The classic modern example is the French baguette where the bread expands through each careful slitinto an eye shape maintaining the slender length of the bread. One thing we know about people in alleras: physical appearance is important to the buyer so proper scoring ensures a consistent, pleasing bread shape.
Ancient Bread Summary
This article could easily have been several thousand of words long and gone into great detail about thewonderful world of Rome’s ancient bread culture. From the amazing yeast and fermentation methods,to the surprising number of bakeries in each village and town, bread history is a fascinating topic to the baking geek.This preserved loaf of ancient bread from Pompeii shows we modern humans that life really hasn’tchanged all that much and that food in ancient Rome wouldn’t be a completely unfamiliar experience.The breads made by the Romans could easily be served in modern cafes and restaurants without a diner noticing anything different.

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