Out of the Patera, into the Fire: Bronze Paterae as Equipment for Domestic and Small Scale Commercial Bread and Pastry-Making in First Century Rome (20 min)


Farrell Monaco, University of Leicester (UK)-School of Ancient History and Archaeology


This study is focused on an intact, carbonized wheaten cake that was excavated from a second-story residential space above the Central Baths of Herculaneum (Italy) in August of 1874. Circular in form, and featuring a bas-relief medallion on its surface, the Central Baths “galletta” (Inv. No. MANN 110126) is the only specimen of bread/pastry remains in the Roman archaeological record that presents previously unidentified evidence of dough being baked inside of a vessel.

While several impactful studies related to Roman commercial bakeries, and associated technologies, have been published in recent decades, a study has yet to attempt an analysis of the bread or pastry remains produced in small-scale commercial and domestic spaces. The galletta presents an exciting opportunity, not only to witness the practice of Roman bread-making outside of commercial bakery contexts, but to also reconsider current scholarly understandings of metal vessel use in Roman settings.

With the aim of identifying the vessel used to cook the cake, this study uses a multimethodology approach relying on previous publications by Borgongino, Hayes, Maiuri, Oxé, Ruggiero, Scatozza Höricht, and Tassinari while incorporating archaeological and iconographic evidence, typological and morphological analyses of Roman-era metal and terracotta vessels, and experimental recreation of the cake using reproduced Roman-era vessels and a portable hearth (foculus).

The study concludes that the galletta was baked in a bronze patera with the dimensions of the typology Tassinari H2400, featuring an engraved emblema on the inside floor of the vessel, as recorded in the typologies Tassinari H2100; H2322. Commonly categorized as hygienic/ablution vessels, paterae have been found in both domestic and commercial food service settings at Pompeii. The results of this study propose that paterae should also be categorized as bread/pastry baking vessels in the Roman world.