Pompeii’s historic ‘bakery prison’ exposes brutal ancient slavery

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A view shows a "bakery-prison" where slaves and donkeys were locked up to grind the grain needed to make bread, in the ancient archeological site of Pompeii, Italy, in this handout photo obtained by Reuters on December 8, 2023. Parco archeologico di Pompei/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES

Archaeologists in Pompeii, Italy, have unveiled a ‘bakery prison’, shedding light on the grim realities of slavery endured by both enslaved individuals and oxen collaborating in bread production.

The smaller production space featuring barred windows indicates a workplace-prison setting aligning with Apuleius’ second-century AD account of the harsh treatment by Roman millers and bakers in the marketplace.

Located at Via Annia in Region IX – Insula 10, Pompeii, the bakery-prison provides insights into the socio-economic conditions of the city. Marked by iron-barred windows, narrow walkways, and enclosed walls, this environment suggests a space where slaves were held captive. Markings used to coordinate the movement of enslaved workers and blindfolded animals were found on the bakery’s floor near a stable, emphasizing the intense work life in an ancient Roman bakery.

Gabriel Zuchtriegel, the director of Pompeii Archaeological Park stated, “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.” He also emphasized the need to acknowledge the harsh realities of ancient slavery, including brutality and confinement.

This discovery introduces a new facet of Pompeii’s history featured in an upcoming exhibition dedicated to slaves, commencing on December 15. The Archaeological Park aims to highlight overlooked narratives, portraying how these individuals survived and worked as slaves in the ancient city.

The upcoming exhibition, “The Other Pompeii: Ordinary Lives in the Shadow of Vesuvius,” will delve into the untold stories of individuals like slaves who significantly shaped Roman history.

Further information reveals that the bakery-prison was part of a residential complex adorned with frescoes, showcasing the stark contrast between magnificent artistry and the everyday struggles of slaves.

Ongoing excavations in Pompeii continue to unveil various facets of the old town, enriching the understanding of the daily lives of its inhabitants.

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