Eurysaces: baking, Rome, taste

On a dirty patch of grass next to a tram terminus in modern Rome is one of the most intriguing monuments to have survived from the ancient world. It is the tomb of a Roman baker, Marcus Vergilius Eurysaces, who died around the middle of the first century BC. Over 30 feet high, it is a visual joke. Its strange shape and decoration mimic on a grand scale the various tools of the baker’s trade, from mixing bowls to kneading machines; in a way, the whole tomb can be read as an image of a bakery, or a vast bread oven. And, just to make it explicit, around the top…run detailed sculpted friezes showing different stages in the break-making process…It offers an illustrated handbook of the Roman bakery business, and a wonderful document of pride in the job…Eurysaces was both lucky and unlucky in his choice of site for his memorial. Unlucky, because he had purchased a prime (and presumably) expensive position where two main roads met, just outside the city limits. But within a few decades his monument was completely overshadowed…by a huge new aqueduct, which ran into the city hardly more than a metre away from it. Lucky, because the aqueduct was later incorporated into the city wall, and eventually the fortifications of one of the city gates were built around Eurysace’s tomb, preserving it almost perfectly until it was brought to light again in the nineteenth century…

– Mary Beard, “Free at Last”. TLS: March 2, 2012

(Miseraestupendacittà 2005)

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