Tomb of Eurysaces the Baker

Tomb of Eurysaces the Baker

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The Tomb of Eurysaces the Baker is an impressive and peculiar ancient tomb in Rome dating back to around 30BC.

The tomb was built by a former slave turned wealthy freeman named Marcus Vergilius Eurysaces – who made his fortune as a grand baker and contractor.

Unique in shape and design, it is believed that the Tomb of Eurysaces was constructed to fit this unique plot of land and also to highlight the tools of the baking trade – such as grain measures and dough-kneading machines.

It was built at the junction of the Via Labicana and the Via Praenestina – meaning a host of visitors and locals would have passed it every day.

The frieze at the top of the tomb depicts various elements of the bread-making process and is quite unique – certainly a world away from depictions of great conquests and brutal battles which can often be found on other Roman remains.

The tomb was later enclosed by the Aurelian Wall – and stands alongside the Porta Maggiore – but has now been excavated.

The Roman Baker’s Tomb

The Tomb of Marcus Vergilius Eurysaces the Baker is a fantastic insight into Roman culture. This tomb shows us not only a lot about the life of a baker, but also information about social identity, welfare states, and labour relations.

The words “EST HOC MONIMENTVM MARCEI VERGILEI EVRYSACIS PISTORIS REDEMPTORIS APPARET” adorn the tomb of Eurysaces the Baker, meaning “this is the monument of Marcus Vergilius Eurysaces, Baker and Builder, obviously”. The tomb itself is adorned with images of a Roman bakery, showing us production methods and techniques.

(A typical bakery scene – Image from Livioandronico2013 via Wikimedia Commons)

Bakers played an extremely interesting role in Rome after the corn dole was passed. Rome from Julius Ceaser onwards gave out free corn (ground up wheat, not maize) to the “poorest” of society. This was purely to stop revolts amongst the mob. This idea of public welfare to stop dissent can also be seen in the creation of the modern “welfare state” when Otto Von Bismarck of Prussia pushed for limited public healthcare in order to take power away from early communist movements. “Bread and Circuses” became the state policy. We can learn a lot about how Rome constantly feared its own peoples, more than any other invasion. In fact, a significant amount of conquest was undertaken purely to keep Rome fed. However, it’s important to note that the poorest in society, the homeless and destitute, and the slaves, were not given this dole. This welfare policy really only reached out to classes who still had political power.
This corn would then be given to bakers to prepare bread for a small cost.

(The tomb from the front, note the dough spinning barrels (the circles)and the corn storage (the cylinders) – from Livioandronico2013 via Wikimedia Commons)

Marcus Vergilius Eurysaces is a very interesting name. Eurysaces is clearly Greek, with the other names being Roman. This leads us to believe that Eurysaces was a freed slave. This means that this ornate and well located tomb was a product of great social mobility. In Rome identity wasn’t really based on where you came from, rather it was a question of what you did. Slaves, excluding gladiators, were bottom of the pack, but post slavery one could achieve feats of social mobility through the right trade. Baking clearly then was a profitable industry (or at least it was for our dear friend Eurysaces). What’s interesting of course, is that this emphasis on labour is almost contemporary Marxian. Anthropologists such as Bruno Latour, Alfred Gell, etc all emphasise the importance of labour on the notion of self (and of course the self on labour). It seems that the Romans too were very attached to this idea that a man was what he did. Enough so to be place on tombs.

The Baker’s Tomb

When I first saw the Baker’s Tomb in June 2015, it was surrounded by weeds. It sits just outside Rome’s East Gate, the Porta Maggiore, which features a “wide” and a “narrow” gate, the inspiration for Mt 7:13-14. It was built c. 52 when Claudius was Emperor.

Contrary to tradition, the Baker’s Tomb was not built in the first century BCE it was built c. 74 CE when the two people most important to the Story of Jesus the Nazarene and Mary the Magdalene died within a short time of one another. Their remains were placed in the Tomb, which became the focus of Essene-Nazarene ceremonies for more than three hundred years.

Then, circa 400 CE, Bishop Epiphanius convinced Emperors Theodosius and his son Honorius to put an end to the Nazarene “Heresy” for all time. They buried the Baker’s Tomb and the Porta Maggiore beneath a monstrous structure and destroyed all other “heretical” monuments and temples throughout the Roman Empire.

A heavily damaged marble relief of the couple entombed was retrieved in 1838 when Pope Gregory the XVI had the Tomb and the Porta Maggiore uncovered, concurrent with an apostolic letter forbidding “Faithful Catholics” to participate in the Atlantic Slave Trade.

Hidden for more than two centuries in the bowels of the Capitoline Museum, the marble relief was recently restored and put on display at one of Rome’s least-visited museums, Centrale Montemartini. A former industrial power plant, this obscure museum houses over 400 pieces of ancient sculpture from the collection of the Capitoline Museums. At one time, the woman’s head was missing in photographs. This “Freedman” and “Freedwoman” were dressed much like royalty of the time.

In fact, the image of the Baker and her husband (above) is very similar to one of Emperor Tiberius and Empress Livia (below). (Tiberius was the father of the man who played the role of “Jesus the Nazarene.”)

An epitaph found with the relief portrait of the Baker and her husband is written in Latin and honors the woman:

Atistia was my wife

A most excellent lady in life

the surviving remains of her body

which are in

Writing in the Greek language, Philo of Alexandria, a contemporary of “JC and MM,” overused the phrase, “most excellent,” to the extreme, in writings still extant. It is also prominent in the opening verses of Luke and Acts. I note this because “Atistia the Freedwoman” was also known as the “Freedman Antonius Pallas,” the “Freedwoman Antonia Caenis,” “Philo of Alexandria,” “Mary Magdalene,” et. al. Evidence for this stunning claim is outlined in mind-numbing detail in the three volumes of Following Philo, available from Amazon (link below).

The Tomb itself is rife with clues to the identities of the couple. Look closely at the three times the letter “T” appears. They are noticeably larger than the other letters and appear be crosses in the style of first century Roman crucifixions.

The Latin words, repeated on the three sides of the Tomb that remain intact are, MARCEI VERGILEI EURYSACIS PISTORIS REDEMPTORIS APPARET, traditionally translated, incorrectly, “This is the monument of Marcus Vergilius Eurysacis, baker, contractor, public servant.”

However, this common translation is problematic and deficient for several reasons: The most obvious problem is with the last word, APPARET. Translated here as a noun (“public servant”), apparet is a verb that means “to come in sight, to appear, become visible, make one’s appearance (class. in prose and poetry).” Also, “to be seen, to show one’s self, be in public, appear.” Therefore, it is quite clear that “public servant” is notthe correct translation.

MARCEI is a reference to the god Mars, the father of twin sons, Romulus and Remus, the mythological founders of Rome. The twins’ mother, Rhea Silvia, was a Vestal Virgin. In one version of the myth, the twins were conceived when Mars visited Rhea Silvia in a sacred laurel grove that was dedicated to him. It may also refer to Marc Antony’s daughter Antonia, the mother of the woman who played the role of “Mary Magdalene.”

VERGILEI is a reference to Vestal Virgins, the preeminent “Bakers” in the Roman Empire. Vestals led the annual New Year rites on March 1 when new laurel branches replaced the old branches as they relit the sacred fire to symbolize a fresh start of the New Year. The poet “Vergil,” a “Vestal Virgin,” was the grandmotherof the woman called “Mary Magdalene.”

The Vestals’ most important festival was the annual Vestalia which ran from June 7 to June 15. On June 9, according to first century poet Ovid, also a Julio-Claudian, a donkey was crowned with garlands of flowers and bits of bread. The donkey was the animal consecrated to Vesta it was also the animal that delivered the “Bat Ela Ha Em, the Betulah em, to Bet Lehem” (translated, “Daughter of Ela the Mother, the Virgin Mother, to Bethlehem”). A donkey also delivered Jesus to “Daughter Jerusalem” prior to the Crucifixion.

EURYSACIS can be broken into two words: Eury means “wide” sacis means “narrow.” Rome’s East Gate, like Jerusalem’s East Gate, had a wide gate and a narrow gate. “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many enter through it” (Mt 7:13-4). The message is that a Princess of Peace passing through the narrow gate is more effective than soldiers, horses, and chariots storming through the wide gate.

PISTORIS takes us back to Ovid. Included in the definition of PISTORIS is one revealed by him: “A surname of Jupiter, because, when the Romans were besieged in the Capitol, he gave them the idea of hurling bread, as though they had an abundance of it, at the besieging Gauls.” “Jupiter,” of course, was the Roman name for the deity the Greeks called “Zeus”–as in YaH-Zeus. Therefore, if Jupiter’s surname was Pistoris, then Zeus’ and YaH-Zeus’ surnames were Pistoris as well.

REDEMPTORIS can also be tied to Mary Magdalene: the Hebrew words, MGDL DR (MiGDoL eDeR), are translated, “watchtower of the flock.” The MaGDaL was introduced in the Old Testament immediately before the Bethlehem Prophecy (Mic 5:2-3) at Mic 4:8: “As for you, watchtower of the flock, stronghold of DaughterZion, the former dominion will be restored to you the Kingdom will come to Daughter Jerusalem.”

Can this be interpreted as anything other than a prophecy that Daughter Jerusalem–the Watchtower of the Flock–would be resurrected from the ashes of Asherah that YHWH demanded be destroyed: “Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and burn their Asherah poles in the fire cut down the idols of their gods and wipe out their names from those places” (Dt 12:3).

Micah’s prophecy continues: “Writhe in agony, Daughter Zion, like a woman in labor, for now you must leave the city to camp in the open field. You will go to Babylon [where the Old Testament was compiled and edited] there you will be delivered, Redemptoris from the hand of YHWH, your adversary” (Micah 4:9-10).

The Julio-Claudian Dynasty honored the Essene-Nazarene version of Gen 1:1: “Son of Man, Father Light, Ela the Mother.” They were fully aware that the “Gods and Goddesses” in Hebrew Scripture were, in fact, mortal Kings and Queens who assumed the name of their imagined deity. They understood that myths had always been attached to mortal members of royal families in order to engender awe and compliance among their subjects. They reenacted the story of the “Baker,” Joseph’s mother whom he saved from crucifixion by taking her place on the Cross. These annual celebrations were a thorn in the side of Paul and the Early Church Fathers.

The patriarchal, misogynistic Church Fathers chose the Judean version of the Hebrew Bible. They took the mythological story of “YaH-Zeus,” the “Watchtower of the Flock,” and the “Daughter of Ela the Mother,” buried the Goddess, separated “Jesus” from the Nazarenes, and turned YaH-Zeus into a historical, magical “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” anda vicarious atonement!!

And this irrational deception has been successfully sold, swallowed, and regurgitated for more than two thousand years!


Additional interpretations of enigmatic messages on the Baker’s Tomb are outlined in depth in Chapter One of Following Philo: From Ba’al and Asherah to Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

Tomb of Eurysaces the Baker - History

The Tomb of Eurysaces the Baker seen through the Porta Maggiore Aqueduct

I’m a huge fan of the Tomb of Eurysaces. I first encountered it in books as a classical archaeology student, when I studied it in some depth and it became one of the topics I felt most at ease answering questions on in the dreaded Exam Schools. I remember my first glimpse of it, from the Leonardo Express going into Termini from the airport – and then seeing it up close on the British School at Rome summer school. For me it’s one of those landmarks like the Eiffel Tower or the Athenian Acropolis, which you see so often in books and then can’t believe you’re seeing in real life. Except that it seems to be only classical archaeologists who have heard of it!

Disclaimer: everything that follows is from my memory! So if any of my former tutors happen to be reading this then I apologise if I haven’t done it justice -).

The Tomb of Eurysaces, though easily visible from the airport train, is relatively off the beaten track, at the Porta Maggiore – about ten minutes’ walk from Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II. The locality is dominated by the imposing remains of a Roman aqueduct (or two aqueducts to be precise, one on top of the other). The tomb is late Republican, thought to date to sometime between around 50-20BC, and the aqueduct was built later (under Claudius). Visiting the monument today, you can see just how close the tomb is to the aqueduct, which suggests that the aqueduct’s engineers and architects were sufficiently impressed with the Baker’s tomb that they built around it.

A close-up of the Tomb of Eurysaces, showing the bread-making frieze along the top and the distinctive round holes on the sides

Eurysaces himself was a freedman, and the fact that he was a baker is made abundantly apparent by his impressive and wholly unique tomb. Not only does its inscription identify him as a baker and contractor (the final word of the inscription, the word “Apparet”, translates “as is obvious”, implying obvious from the appearance of the tomb, according to my tutor), but there is a wonderful frieze showing the bread-making process around the top. Furthermore, the strange form of the tomb itself is thought by some to depict machinery used to make bread. I don’t think anybody really knows exactly what it represents (there are several theories), but an idea I like is that it represents a dough-kneading machine. There are rusty patches in the sockets of the prominent holes on the side, suggesting that there might once have been attachments – perhaps the arms which would have worked the machine. If this is indeed what it represents, it would show off the up-to-the-minute technology employed by Eurysaces, portraying him as wealthy (being able to afford brand new technology), successful (being contracted to produce the bread in such quantities as would demand such a machine) and progressive (this kind of machinery would have been a new invention at the time). Among other theories, it has also been suggested that the holes correspond to the size of a unit of grain, by which Eurysaces meant to demonstrate the importance of his bakery to the city.

The tomb is also very useful to archaeologists because its frieze shows organisation of production, indicating that industrial-scale production was taking place in the ancient world. Moses Finley had argued, among other things, that this did not happen, but we see in the frieze several different groups of slaves who are each specialising in different stages of the bread-making process. This is the level of organisation which would have been required to produce bread (or any other commodity) in industrial-scale quantities. As well as telling us about the great demand for bread in Rome, this means that Finley was wrong, and the tomb is part of an ever-growing body of evidence which contradicts his arguments and which shows the sophistication of the Roman economy, which had previously been understated.

Baker’s Tomb one of Rome’s many ancient historical secrets

Between 50-20 B.C., the former Greek slave Eurysaces built his own tomb to represent his bread baking profession.
They say living in Rome is like living in an outdoor museum. It’s true. Hide from the rain in a church, look up and you’re standing under a Caravaggio painting. Stop for traffic in the middle of the street and you’re next to a Bernini fountain.

But living in Rome is also like living in an open history book. A lot of it is in your face. The Colosseum, Castel Sant’Angelo, Il Vittoriano, St. Peter’s, they all can be seen from nearly every hill in the city. My Testaccio neighborhood is dominated by Piramide, a 120-foot-high pyramid dedicated in 12 B.C. to a 1st century B.C. magistrate named Gaius Cestius. It stands out in Testaccio like the Transamerica building in San Francisco.

What I love about Rome’s history is the subtle of it all. Standing on nearly any street corner, you have no idea the importance of that spot 2,000 years ago. All you have to do is look around. Around the corner from my apartment is the remains of a stone wall. It was part of the warehouse they called Porticus Aemilia. It was built in 174 B.C. and stored grain, wine and olive oil, among other goods, during Ancient Rome. Julius Caesar used to come by and check the inventory. Julius Caesar! In my ‘hood! Every day, I walk on the same path he did.

Yesterday I took another trip down a 2,000-year-old memory lane. It’s at the scruffy axis of Piazza di Porta Maggiore, banked on two sides by the Aurelian Wall built to encircle the seven hills of Rome in the 3rd century B.C. It was a major road junction and remains that today with Via Prenestina, Via Casilina, Via Porta Maggiore and Via Giovanni Giolitti colliding near Termini train station. It’s a hodgepodge of bus and tram stops, a hangout for poor immigrants and littered with trash and weeds. Grand Central Station this is not.

But 2,000 years ago, a man erected one of the grandest tombs of Ancient Rome. And it remains here today.

His name was Marcus Vergilius Eurysaces. He was a Greek slave who, when freed, could continue his profession as a baker but could not earn Roman citizenship until …

… he baked 100 bushels of bread a day — single handedly. Furthermore, he had to sell the bread to the state, at a larcenously low price, for at least three years. Yes, in many ways, Ancient Romans were complete unadulterated swine.
Graphic reliefs depicts the process of bread making.
Eurysaces kneaded and baked, baked and kneaded. Soon, he found himself with Roman citizenship and a thriving bakery. Bread was a valuable foodstuff in Ancient Rome and by 30 B.C., Eurysaces had become one of the top bakers in town. He became rich. So, matching some of the egos in the Roman Senate, he purchased a plot of land near one of the main gates of Rome. Why?

So he could build himself his own tomb.

(Yes, this is the second blog in a row on Roman tombs. Last week I survived a hacker in my Hotmail account, and I’m in a very dark mood. Bear with me. It helps writing about the dead.)

On a gray chilly Sunday, I took the No. 3 tram from a stop across a piazza from the Piramide. The tram wound past Circo Massimo where they held the chariot races, skirted the green expanse of Monte Celio and went by the Colosseum before chugging through the gritty lower-class neighborhood south of the train station. We stopped in the middle of the piazza surrounded by the old Roman wall.

Here is where Ancient Rome has lost its historical charm. I stepped off the tram and a Bangladeshi beggar approached me with a wide-eyed, exasperated look and a sign reading, “HO FAME!” (I’M HUNGRY!). Two gypsy women I saw moments earlier washing their hands in a public cistern shuffled past me looking at the ground for anything worth collecting.

However, I looked above me and there it was. Standing 33 feet high atop a series of strong round columns, stood Eurysaces’ tomb. Surrounded by weeds and a crude, short-iron gate, it looked like a post-apocalyptic ruin of a civilization that prided itself on food. On its sides are a series of huge round holes, which Eurysaces wanted to represent kneading troughs for bread loaves. Later archeologists measured them and realized they represent the exact size for one unit of grain.

Above the holes are a series of graphic reliefs showing the bread-making process. It was Eurysaces’ nod to an Ancient Roman population that was largely illiterate. An inscription below the loaves reads, “Est hoc monimentvm marcei vergilei everysacis pistoris redemptoris apparet” (“This is the monument of Marcus Vergilius Eurysaces, baker, contractor, public servant.”)
Emperor Honorius built the tower over it in 400 A.D.
Next to it stands a huge double archway built by Emperor Honorius in 400 A.D. and later used as a quarry. During many future excavations, found nearby Eurysaces’ tomb was an urn. It was in the shape of a bread basket.

I did what I usually do when I make a new little discovery in Rome. I looked up and stare at 2,000 years worth of history. Then I walked to a tram stop and joined a mob of Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and Indians, like most Rome residents unlikely aware of the historical significance of the monument hovering above them.

The History of the Baker Institute

The 1994 groundbreaking ceremony for Rice University&rsquos Baker Institute for Public Policy marked an important moment in its history and a clear signal of the direction it would take. Four former U.S. presidents &mdash Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush &mdash participated in the ceremony, setting a bipartisan tone that James A. Baker, III, and university leaders had mandated from the very beginning.

Secretary Baker has himself defined the purpose of the institute that bears his name. &ldquoMy vision for the institute is simple: to build a bridge between the world of ideas and the world of action,&rdquo he said. &ldquoScholars should learn firsthand from statesmen of the practical imperatives that impact policy, often times making the &lsquoperfect&rsquo the enemy of the &lsquogood.&rsquo Statesmen and policymakers should hear rigorous, logical &mdash and always practical &mdash scholarly analyses of how to improve the work they do. And students, the next generation of scholars and statesmen, should be enriched through participation in this dialogue and go on to be better scholars and statesmen as a result.&rdquo

The founding of the Baker Institute represents the culmination of a long-standing relationship between the Baker family and Rice University. James Baker&rsquos grandfather and namesake was the first chair of the Rice Board of Trustees, a post he held from 1891 to 1941. &ldquoCaptain&rdquo Baker, as he was affectionately called, was also instrumental in saving the nascent university&rsquos endowment after a valet murdered its benefactor, William Marsh Rice, in his sleep.

Between 1993 and 1994, the Baker Institute was managed by John Rogers, former undersecretary for management at the U.S. Department of State. In May 1994, distinguished diplomat Edward P. Djerejian was named the institute&rsquos director. His appointments over 30 years of public service included U.S. ambassador to Israel and to the Syrian Arab Republic. Under the ambassador's leadership, the Baker Institute quickly joined the ranks of the nation's and the world&rsquos leading nonpartisan think tanks.

Visit the Baker Institute timeline for highlights of the past two decades, which include:

&bull Feb. 7, 1997: The Honorable Madeleine Albright, then newly appointed secretary of state, delivers her first major foreign policy address outside of Washington, D.C., at the Baker Institute.

&bull Oct. 15, 1997: Mikhail Gorbachev and Henry Kissinger are among the featured guests at the institute&rsquos Third Annual Conference.

&bull April 23, 1998: Kofi Annan, secretary-general of the United Nations, speaks at the Baker Institute on the challenges of conflict prevention in the post-Cold War era.

&bull Oct. 26, 1999: Nelson Mandela addresses an audience of 5,000 students, faculty and community members.

&bull Oct. 17, 2003: The Baker Institute celebrates its 10th anniversary, raising $3.2 million in support of its mission as a nonpartisan, independent policy resource.

&bull April 7, 2004: Nobel laureate Richard Smalley issues a call to restore scientific integrity in policymaking.

&bull June 2004: The Jesse Jones Leadership Center Summer in D.C. Policy Research Internship Program is launched. Now one of the institute&rsquos premier internship opportunities, the program helps Rice undergraduates develop careers in public policy by funding hands-on summer internships in the nation&rsquos capital.

&bull April 28, 2005: The Baker Institute marks the 75th birthday of its honorary chair, former Secretary of State James A. Baker, III, with a western-inspired celebration. Former President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush are honored guests.

&bull Jan. 16, 2006: Israel&rsquos President Shimon Peres delivers a lecture at the Baker Institute.

&bull Nov. 16, 2006: The Baker Institute awards the inaugural James A. Baker, III, Prize for Excellence in Leadership to former Secretary of Energy Charles W. Duncan Jr. in recognition of his distinguished accomplishments in public service and civic life.

&bull Feb. 8, 2007: Former President Bill Clinton addresses over 2,700 Rice University students.

&bull May 1, 2007: His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama speaks at the Baker Institute.

&bull Nov. 13, 2008: Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice delivers the keynote address at the Baker Institute&rsquos 15th anniversary gala.

&bull Oct. 31, 2009: To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the institute hosts a historic panel discussion with six of the principal decision-makers who navigated the sometimes treacherous path to German unification.

&bull Nov. 10, 2009: Philanthropist and businessman Robert C. McNair receives the James A. Baker III Prize for Excellence in Leadership.

&bull Nov. 12, 2009: Author, educator and activist Jehan Sadat, widow of the late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, delivers a message of hope and peace during an event for the Women and Human Rights in the Middle East Program.

&bull March 19, 2010: Robert B. Zoellick, president of the World Bank, discusses the U.S. economy at a Baker Institute event.

&bull March 2013: A Baker Institute special report informs Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts to initiate Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

&bull Oct. 2013: Building on the achievements of the past 20 years, the Baker Institute launches three new research centers: the Center for Energy Studies, the Mexico Center and the Center for the Middle East. The institute&rsquos work in other research areas expands as well.

&bull Nov. 2013: The Baker Institute marks its 20th anniversary with a celebration gala and, the following evening, a party for young professionals held in a fictional &ldquoClub Berlin.&rdquo

&bull March 18, 2014: The Baker Institute welcomes the Honorable Nancy Pelosi, Democratic leader of the House of Representatives, for a wide-ranging discussion on domestic and international affairs and succeeding as a woman in a male-dominated industry.

&bull June 2014: The Honorable James A. Baker, III, and Susan G. Baker establish an endowed fellowship to honor the work of founding director Edward Djerejian and his wife, Françoise. The Djerejians direct the endowment to Tony Payan, director of the Baker Institute Mexico Center, as the first Françoise and Edward Djerejian Baker Institute Fellow.

&bull August 2014: The Baker Institute and the School of Social Sciences launch a master&rsquos program in global affairs at Rice University.

The Baker’s Tomb at Porta Maggiore

In front of the Porta Maggiore, of which I wrote in my last post, is the tomb of an Augustan era bread magnate. Built about 30 BCE, on the cusp of Republic and Empire, it predates the aqueduct (of which the Porta Maggiore is part) by eighty years. The master baker who built it was called Eurysaces, an indication of familial origins in the Greek-speaking East, and a suggestion that either he or his ancestors were freed slaves. Whatever the nature of his humble origins, his monument is anything but rather it is the advertisement of a fortune made.

The tomb of Eurysaces at Porta Maggiore

Eurysaces’ tomb was built at a moment in which the city and her ever growing territories must have felt invincible. Some four centuries later the situation was altogether other: as Rome bowed before the inevitable and imminent onslaught of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse, the construction of a fortified tower used Eurysaces’ memorial for its base. It was only in the nineteenth century that Pope Gregory XVI’s archeological enthusiasm would see this tower dismantled to reveal the tomb beneath.

It is a curious structure, its original trapezoidal form determined by its position on an awkwardly shaped, but undoubtedly prime, piece of afterlife real estate. Wedged between the vie Labicana and Praenestina it guaranteed maximum exposure to passing traffic. Thus maximum memory of the deceased was guaranteed, fundamental to the Roman concept of the hereafter.

A theorised reconstruction of the tomb, including the now missing main facade (on the opposite side to the Porta Maggiore)

The surviving section retains its travertine cladding, revealing at the jagged edge an infinitely less glamorous interior: a brick skin filled with concrete and rubble. Vertical travertine cylinders are embedded in the lower sections of the three surviving facades. Above these, circular openings give the impression of the same cylinders laid horizontally. These forms, strikingly modern in their stark solidity, are usually thought to be stylised renditions of the grain measures which were the tools of Eurysaces’ trade.

Repeated on the three extant sides, a partial inscription survives between the two levels of vertical and horizontal cylinders:

Est hoc monumentum margei Vergilei Eurysacis pistoris redemptoris…
“This monument belongs to Marcus Vergilius Eurysaces, baker and contractor…”

The “contractor” part (redemptoris) indicates how Eurysaces had been able to build a monument of this grandeur on such a desirable piece of land: his contract was with the nascent Empire. He was presumably involved in supplying bread to the Army, a lucrative business.

A pilaster with a simplified, flattened, Composite capital highlights the corner, and helps to support a frieze in which detailed carvings show bakers practising their trade. We see millstones turned by asses (just like the stones we can still see today at Ostia Antica) shirtless workers put bread in an oven which looks remarkably like a modern pizza oven baskets of loaves are being weighed (presumably an advertisement for Eurysaces’ honest business practice).

The bread making process depicted in part of the frieze. On the left the bread is shovelled into an oven. (Apologies for the desperately poor quality of the picture, it’s a zoom from my phone)

When the late Imperial tower subsequently built on top of the tomb was removed in the nineteenth century, it was with the characteristic speed and gung-ho enthusiasm of the era. Although Eurysaces’ monument undoubtedly benefitted from this project, there was an inevitable element of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”. Among the resulting rubble was found a double portrait (carved in marble, a more valuable and resilient material than the travertine used in the rest of the facing) which we can assume depicts Eurysaces and his wife, Atistia. Today the carving languishes in the stores of the outpost of the Capitoline Museums at the Centrale Montemartini where it is is awaiting restoration (some details and a photo can be found here).

This relief presumably adorned the main facade (seen in the reconstruction above), which faced away from Rome and would have advertised Eurysaces’ wealth to visitors arriving in the city. An inscription was also found (now visible in Room IV of the National Roman Museum at the Baths of Diocletian:

Fuit Atistia uxor mihei/ femina opituma ueixsit/ quoius corporis reliquiæ/ quod (sic) superant sunt in/ hoc panario

“Atistia was my wife. She lived as an excellent woman, whose surviving remains are in this bread basket”.

The funerary inscription of Atistia, wife of Eurysaces. Museo Nazionale Romano.

The “panario” referred to is assumed to be a basket shaped urn also found in the vicinity. Sadly this is also not visible at present, but is in the stores of the National Roman Museum at the Baths of Diocletian.

As no further funerary epigraph was found in the area, it would appear that we are being told that the tomb commonly referred to as the Tomb of Eurysaces was, in fact, built for his wife. However, we are left in no doubt that it is a monument to his achievements, not hers.

The inscription is framed by curious pilasters which look rather like the legs of a table, or (if it is not too fanciful) a madia (a piece of furniture specific to bread making). The epigraph is also intriguing for its linguistic idiosyncrasies: mihei, veixsit, quoius are all odd quod is used instead of quae opituma rather than optuma. This is something upon which I am profoundly ill-equipped to further comment, but it is curious.

The tomb of Eurysaces (and Atistia!) is an intriguing fusion of the erudite architectural language of the Greek world (the pilaster with its capital, the presence of a decorative frieze) and a particularly Roman, and enormously appealing, down-to-earth practicality (the literal documentary nature of the frieze, the use of the grain measuring form). It is also a reminder of the great social mobility of the Roman world in the Augustan era, and a document of the processes of baking.

I find this incomparably helpful in our attempts to remind ourselves that the Romans weren’t only conquering generals and tyrannical emperors, they were also butchers, and bakers, and candlestick makers. The tomb of Eurysaces is a monument to Rome’s large merchant class, their hands often dusty with flour.

A visit to the tomb can be included in my Roads and Water itinerary.


The tomb has a trapezoidal plan. It consists of a podium, an upper floor and a small crowning pyramid, which no longer exists today. The upper floor can be divided into four zones:

  • The first zone shows vertically arranged cylindrical motifs that are located between decorative strips.
  • The second zone is divided by a smooth horizontal strip with an inscription. The inscription reads " est hoc monimentum Marcei Vergilei Eurysacis pistoris redemptoris: apparet ". That means: "This is the monument of the baker Marcus Vergilius Eurysaces, he is an entrepreneur and sub-civil servant ."
  • A smooth field framed by pilasters with three rows of cylindrical motifs, which, like those in the first zone, are hollow and open to the outside, forms the third zone. These cylindrical openings could be interpreted as bread dough kneading troughs.
  • The frieze represents the fourth zone and shows the steps involved in making bread.

Both the content of the inscription and the frieze indicate the profession of Eurysaces.

Since he did not have Roman citizenship as a freedman , he was able to work as a baker. However, it was possible to get full citizenship if you worked for the state. In the service of the state there were certain obligations: bakers had to deliver the bread to the Annona at cheap prices, their members had to be entered in the official lists, work personally and had to bake 100 bushels a day. For this they enjoyed privileges, and if a freedman did this for over 3 years, he could receive full citizenship. If you consider the costs for the property, the architect and the craftsmen for building the grave, he must have come a long way in his profession.

The shape of the urn in the form of a bread basket, in which the ashes of Eurysace and his wife are supposed to be, is a further reference to the baker's wish to present himself as a baker even after his death. Today it can be viewed in the thermal baths museums in Rome.

The main side of the tomb faces east. On this side there was probably also the portrait relief of the baker couple, which was removed together with the pyramid in the course of the construction work on the Aurelian city wall in the 5th century AD. The portrait relief is now in the Capitoline Museums in Rome.

Talk:Tomb of Eurysaces the Baker

Hey, I really liked the information in this article. It was obvious that a lot of research was done, and I liked how it was split up into sections. Maybe you could include a little more information on the people behind the building of the tomb, but overall great job!

Hi Susan. I think that this article is a great encyclopedia article because you cover all the relevant information while emphasizing the unique points. The organization is also excellent. My only suggestions are only very minor things to think about:

- Sentence 2, there is a typo. Did you mean,". and it is located. "

- Consider adding Marcus Vergilius to the section title "Eurysaces" because you say something about his standard praenomen and nomen before the reader knows those are marcus and vergilius

- I know that Prof Strong said in class the thing about the tomb being a practical contribution to society because of the grain measuring holes. I have always wondered though how practical it would be to climb up this big monument carrying your grain in order to measure it. Maybe i'm missing something obvious (was eurysaces' tomb not all that big?) but if this is indeed a good point its something to consider changing.

- Endnotes are needed throughout to indicate which of your sources supports particular claims

Ken D'Aquila Kfd182 01:59, 15 May 2007 (UTC)

I felt like your article was overall very informative, a few things to watchout for: Careful with the use of pronouns, often times the use of "it" would be best substituted with the "tomb" It might also be interesting to add something about what the tomb shows us about Roman society at this time as well as more detail about what the tomb looks like, this probably could be accomplished with the addition of your image though.

I have read some scholarly articles that dispute Eurysaces' status as a freedman, namely because he does not call himself a freedman in the inscription, nor does he list the name of his master, as were conventions at the time. Indeed, this article itself says that freedmen can build a name for themselves because of their masters, and there is lots of evidence for listing these names in other archaeological sources. What this article lacks is any explanation why Eurysaces is thought to be a freedman in the first place. I would say at least a section is warranted concerning this idea, as there is a section devoted to how Eurysaces is exemplary of freedman architecture and art, while there is not much evidence pointing to his status as a freedman in the first place. Stever Augustus (talk) 06:25, 22 February 2011 (UTC)

I suspect you'd better do it - the general assumption I think always was that he was one. Johnbod (talk) 06:28, 22 February 2011 (UTC)

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Watch the video: Encountering the evidence: the bakers tomb (August 2022).