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Historians have long been captivated by Pompeii, the Roman village that was preserved beneath layers of ash left behind by Mount Vesuvius' eruption. Excavations began in 1748 and have been ongoing since the 18th century. There is still a lot to learn and record after centuries. Recently, a startling structure was discovered during villa excavations. The archaeologists declared that they had discovered a prison bakery, where slaves were made to toil in inhumane conditions beside donkeys to grind flour for bread. The chamber serves as a sobering reminder of slavery's long past.

The room, which is part of an old house that was being renovated at the time of the volcanic explosion, is situated in Region IX, Insula 10. The bakery is located in the latter of the house's two sections, which are residential and productive. The discovery of three bodies in one of the rooms suggested that the bakery complex was occupied at the time. The space in which slaves would have been housed was a dim, stone cell with a few tall, barred windows. The main house was the only exit, indicating that one needed authorisation to depart. 

Director Gabriel Zuchtriegel noted, “It is, in other words, a space in which we have to imagine the presence of people of servile status whose freedom of movement the owner felt the need to restrict."

Additionally, arcs of indented tracks in the basalt floor were discovered to be millstones. These paths were made for the blindfolded donkeys who ground flour by turning stones. (A nearby feeding trough was also found.) The enslaved workers would then use the flour to make dough, which would then be baked into loaves for domestic use. 

Clearly, the slaves who worked in the bakery were essential to its operation, and this was also true for the ancient world as a whole. Slavery was pervasive in domestic households, the mining industry, and agriculture. It was not strictly based on skin colour or place of origin, unlike in the American South, and it is difficult to easily map the contemporary definition of race onto the practice. People could be born into slavery or be captured, and people from particular regions of the world were occasionally sought after for their alleged abilities.

A common theme among these accounts of ancient slavery was the absence of autonomy and liberty, coupled with frequently cruel living circumstances, like those found in the recently found bakery.

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