In the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, a remarkable discovery has been made by archaeologists that could potentially rewrite the culinary history of one of the world’s most beloved dishes – the pizza.
A fresco, estimated to be around 2,000 years old, has been unearthed, depicting what appears to be a flatbread that could be an early precursor to the modern pizza.
The fresco was discovered on a partially crumbled wall in the hallway of a house in Pompeii, located next to a bakery.
This discovery was made during new excavations of Regio IX, one of the nine districts that the ancient site is divided into.
The building was partially excavated in the 19th Century, and digging recommenced in January this year – nearly 2,000 years after the volcanic eruption that engulfed the city.
The flatbread depicted in the fresco, according to Italy’s culture ministry, “may be a distant ancestor of the modern dish”. However, it lacks the classic ingredients to technically be considered a pizza. Tomatoes were only introduced to Europe from the Americas a few centuries ago so that’s why they’re missing.
The fresco shows the flatbread painted next to a wine goblet, suggesting that it may have been consumed with fruits such as pomegranates or dates, or dressed with spices and a type of pesto sauce.
Pompeii’s director, Gabriel Zuchtriegel, noted that the fresco illustrates the contrast between a “frugal and simple meal” and the “luxury of silver trays”. He further drew parallels with pizza, which originated as a ‘poor’ dish in southern Italy and has since conquered the world, even being served in starred restaurants.
The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 buried Pompeii in ash, freezing the city and its residents in time. Since its discovery in the 16th Century, the site has been a rich source for archaeologists. Interestingly, Pompeii is only about 23km (14 miles) from the city of Naples – the modern-day home of the UNESCO-protected Italian pizza.
This fascinating discovery not only sheds light on the dietary habits of the ancient Romans but also offers a tantalizing glimpse into the possible origins of a dish that has become a global phenomenon.
As we enjoy our next slice of pizza, we can now ponder its ancient roots, stretching back two millennia to the vibrant city of Pompeii.