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 Four 4 of 7


The Baker’s Tomb successfully honors and celebrates the life and work of Marcus Virgilius Eurysaces. Baking in Rome between the late Republican and early Imperial periods was considered a trade suitable for slaves and ex-slaves alike; and Eurysaces’ tomb shows signs of the gaudy taste typical of freedmen and those of new money. Slaves had neither voting rights nor the right to marriage, and freed slaves were unable to attain elite status in Roman society. Eurysaces’ primary concern would have been to establish himself as an admirable member of Roman society in spite of his unflattering past. As an ex-slave bread maker, this achievement came with the cost of building for vindication rather than following traditional elite style. His employment of the freedman architectural style was required for such vindication.

Most scholarly investigations of freedmen allude to Petronius’ literary character Tramalchio, a successful ex-slave who invests heavily in his own funerary monument in order to assert his credibility as a member of society (238-9). Although there are no established parameters governing the freedman style, deviations from mainstream design as demonstrated by Eurysaces’ tomb are typical. Caution must be observed, however, when describing the monument as belonging to the freedman style. Petersen explains that the category has hindered the study of Roman culture because it does not permit a comparative approach integrating all forms of art (235). Elements of the tomb may be written off as freedman adornments when they are in fact wonderful innovations.

Claudius’ need to be esteemed by the common people of Rome motivated his construction of Porta Maggiore. His desire for the acceptance of the hoi polloi rose from his social ineptitude that destroyed any chance of winning the approval of his elite peers. Cluadius, who was noted for his speech impediment, suffered from either juvenile paralysis or cerebral palsy (Levick 13-15). His own mother rejected him and publicly described him as being only part human. The man did not even possess sufficient funds required to be a member of senate, and thus was forced to sell property in order to become emperor (28). Claudius eventually found solace in the community of wealthy freedmen, who became his loyal supporters.

Claudius’ pragmatic approach to building projects helped him win over the people of Rome (108). Rather than build for the nobility (e.g. luxurious theaters), he built for the common man (e.g. water works). Soon after taking power in 41 AD, Claudius began his efforts to make both food and water more accessible to his people. First, he added nearly 400 square miles of fertile land to the greater Rome area by draining Fucine Lake. He then extended two highly important aqueducts into the city using his own personal funds (111).

Claudius was a staunch micromanager and employed allied freedmen as directors of a broad range of government projects, most notably the aqueducts (82). Perhaps this alliance with freedmen is linked to his preservation of Eurysaces’ tomb. His reign coincides with the era noted for the great honor awarded to freedmen (47).

Porta Maggiore thus achieved its purpose of assuring the people of their emperor’s concern for them and thereby winning their admiration. The gate attested to the high efficiency of Cluadius’ managerial ability as he killed two birds with one stone, so to speak, by implementing the same work force for both the aqueducts and the lake drainage (132). The monument also immortalized Claudius as a conscientious emperor.