View Page: The Evolution of a Monumental Space: The Baker's Tomb and Porta Maggiore
University of Washington Honors Program in Rome

The Evolution of a Monumental Space: The Baker's Tomb and Porta Maggiore
Section One 1 of 7

Relief Sculpture of Eurysaces and Asistia
Reflecting upon his first journey to Rome in 1786, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe proclaimed, “even in Rome, too little provision is made for the person who seriously wants to study the city as a whole. He is compelled endlessly to piece it together from fragments, though these are certainly superabundant” (164). Porta Maggiore and the Baker’s Tomb represent two of these many fragments.

During the middle of the first century B.C., the commercial baker and bread contractor Marcus Vergilius Eurysaces constructed his own sepulchral monument known today as the Baker’s Tomb. The box-shaped structure was erected in an area well populated by funerary monuments. Eurysaces, who amassed his fortune through the production and distribution of bread, is believed to have been a Roman citizen of freedman status. His name indicates that he was an ex-slave of Greek origin. Eurysaces’ belonging to this monument is evident by two inscriptions bearing his name on the tomb’s exterior.

The missing east façade of tomb has permitted a plethora of speculation regarding the domestic standing of the baker. A nearby marble relief portrait accompanied by its own respective epitaph suggests that the wife of Eurysaces, Asistia, is also buried within the tomb (Petersen 232). Although the figures in the piece are not touching, their postures indicate marital status. Luigi Camina, a professional excavator, put forth a detailed reconstruction of the tomb that shows the marble relief mounted on the mysterious wall (234).

A hundred years after the arrival of the Baker’s tomb, Claudius began improving the Roman water supply immediately upon taking power in 41 AD. After completing the advancement of two of Rome’s most important aqueducts—Aqua Claudia and Anio Novus—the emperor constructed his massive Porta Maggiore to mark the entrance of the waterways into the city. The total cost of the double aqueduct extension and Porta Maggiore came to represent nearly 50 percent of the yearly taxes collected by the government (131). Nearly 250 years later, Aurelius incorporated the structure and the respective above ground aqueducts into his ambitious city wall. Another gate, referred to by some as Porta Praenestina, was built to accompany the existing structure.

Pope Gregory XVI demolished Porta Praenestina in 1838 in an effort to liberate the older, more impressive Porta Maggiore. The long-forgotten Tomb of the Baker also benefited from the excavation, resulting in the existing site of Porta Maggiore.