Classical Rome: Staple Foods and Major Flavourings

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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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Rome’s status as an overgrown city-state is signalled by one of the special privileges enjoyed by inhabitants of the city: the free bread ration. Interruptions in this led to riots: its continuity was eventually assured by Rome’s annexation of Egypt at the suicide of Cleopatra in 30 bc. Thereafter, huge grain ships left Alexandria regularly through the sailing season, bringing wheat to Ostia at the mouth of the Tiber. It was on such a ship that St Paul reached Italy after having been shipwrecked on Malta. Roman bakers baked leavened bread, both white and wholemeal. Small-scale baking required a dome-shaped baking-crock, testumclibanus: fragments of these are often found by archaeologists. A commercial bakery, complete with fossilized loaves, has been excavated at Pompeii.