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The laws of bread: a short trip from the middle ages to the renaissance

Doing some historical digging about the history of baker’s guilds I found this very interesting book printed back in 1635 called “Tesaurum artis pistoriae, seu, Gratiarum ac privilegioru[m] a summis pontificibus pistoribus almae Urbis concessorum: pars prima in qua registratum legitur breve Urbani VIII” which is a compendium of rules and regulations “with the legal and ecclesiastical rights granted to that guild”. With a commentary by Peter Augustus Antolinus reviewing the history of the bakers’ art in ancient Rome.

tesaurum

This is a typical example of the classical revival movement or as we commonly refer to it the renaissance.

During this time, Europe begins and interesting re-shifting of their ideas and also ways to re structure and organize social life by re studying classical Greek and Roman authors such as Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Pliny, Cato, etc.

When we think of humanism we often only consider the contemporary secular approach, but it actually originated during the renaissance and it had a deep religious connotation, however they use the knowledge harvested from the classics and applied it to come up with practical solutions to the urban, social and every day matters.

This last aspect of everyday matters is exemplified by this book that takes with all seriousness the regulations and organization of the baker’s guild and providing clear examples of how it was organized and managed during ancient Rome and it is particularly interesting that it was the pope himself who commissioned this book.
IMG_5355I remember learning about the regulations of the Worshipful Company of Bakers of London at the London Metropolitan Archives (which was funded in the 12th century) and in spite of being a mediaeval organization it resembled the roman collegia or associations.

Better economic conditions and periods of high agricultural productivity boosted food production, specifically of grains, consequently there were new mills and bakeries that became increasingly regulated by feudal lords, kings and evidently the church too.

Guilds were the people’s response to the authorities as a way to have an organised representation but also as a self-regulating mechanism.

Baker strapped into a hurdle and dragged through the city streets, with his defective loaf tied around his neck, in the time of Edward I. From H.T. Riley, ed. Liber Albus, vol.3, London, 1862.

Baker strapped into a hurdle and dragged through the city streets, with his defective loaf tied around his neck, in the time of Edward I. From H.T. Riley, ed. Liber Albus, vol.3, London, 1862.

Punishments could be as strict as those imposed by the cities’ authorities, they included revoking a licence, economic fines, physical punishments and even destroying the baker’s oven if a particularly serious crime was committed. The most common offences were adulteration of the flour, lying about the weight of their bread and so on.

An illustration of the punishment dealt to bakers that had violated weight regulation on bread. The offender would be dragged through the city streets on a sled with the fraudulent bread tied around his neck. City of Bristol Record Office.

An illustration of the punishment dealt to bakers that had violated weight regulation on bread. The offender would be dragged through the city streets on a sled with the fraudulent bread tied around his neck. City of Bristol Record Office.

Conclusion: For good or evil, we owe the Roman Empire the urban, agricultural and legal structures that shaped Europe and continued to do so even during the Middle Ages and a thousand years later, the classical revival movement found in a distant past the answers to re interpret the classics to modernise their social, cultural and political dynamics.

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