There are not many aspects of our heritage that are drawn unaltered from prehistory—food, however, certainly offers a direct bridge to our past. When it comes to the preparation of food there is no method that has seen as little change from its first appearance to the present day than the use of the baking cover.

The baking cover, also known as a baking lid or cooking bell, is known in Croatia under many names: usually as a peka or pekva but quite often also as čripnja, crijepnja, pokljuka, vršnik, pokrivača and sač. A simple piece of cooking ware, the peka is a ceramic or metal dome used to prepare food in an open hearth. In terms of form there are two basic kinds: the campaniform or bell-shaped and the calotte-shaped (flattened dome / bowl-shaped) types, often with a single top handle or two side handles. There are numerous local variations, with or without handles, and some feature a flange to hold hot ash and perforations to release steam.

Baking covers are numbered among the coarse pottery, fired of clay with a temper of sand, crushed rock or shells to better cope with the high heat stress, with some specimens even having had chaff and goat hair added to the clay fabric. Their diameter ranges from twenty to sixty centimetres and height from ten to forty. In prehistoric times they were crafted by hand; from the antiquity period on they are thrown on a potter’s wheel.

The food is prepared either by placing it directly on the heated hearth surface or on a shallow platter and then covering it with a baking cover that has been pre-heated to scalding hot. The baking cover is then in turn covered with embers and hot ash and left to sit for a few hours. This method constituted a significant step forward from roasting directly over an open flame. It may have developed from the earlier practice of rolling food into a leaf or a thin layer of clay and then laying it on embers. Once perfected, the practicality of the method and the ease of fabrication made the baking cover a popular cooking aid found across the Mediterranean world.





Panis sub testo coctus, a miniature from the illuminated manuscript Tacuinum sanitatis, late 14th century.






The earliest known baking covers appear in the late Bronze Age Urnfield culture. In Croatia they have been found at sites such as Erdut, Kiringrad and Bregana. From there they spread along the western Balkans and the eastern shores of the Adriatic into central Italy. In the mid-eighth century BCE, at the time of the great ethnic migrations, the baking cover is adopted from its Pannonian progenitors by the Illyrians, who introduce it as a novelty to the Balkans. Histrian baking covers found at Nezakcij (Nesactium) are differentiated from the then common campaniform type withone top handle by their calotte-shaped configuration with two side handles. Finds of baking platters together with baking covers are dated as far back as the Iron Age.

In Roman sources baking covers are known as testum and clibanus—they were an integral part of the cooking ware of all social strata. Antiquity period baking covers are characterised by the prominent, often decorated flange that served to hold the coals and hot ash, which may also have served as the handle that Italic specimens otherwise lack. Some later specimens also have a plugged hole at the top with which to regulate the cooking temperature. These were all thrown on a fast potter’s wheel, while their later medieval counterparts were either hand moulded or thrown on a slow wheel. And while metal baking covers are mentioned in the sources there have been no finds, likely on account of the high recycling value of metal in the antiquity period.

Late Roman and early Byzantine specimens found in Istria, like those from the Betiga site near Barbariga or the Brijuni Castrum site, are similar to their north Italic counterparts, while baking covers from the broader Balkan area exhibit great typological diversity and the repetition of numerous forms from earlier periods.

While the traditional use of the baking cover in the Italian peninsula in the early medieval period continues the late antiquity practice, it appears to have been unknown to barbarian peoples such as the Avars, Hungarians and Slavs, who adopted it from local populations.
In the medieval period we find the baking cover under many names: the testo, tegamo or tigello in modern Italy, the tian in southern France, and as the klibanos (κλιβανος), gastra (γαστρα) or gastrion (γαστριον) in the Byzantine world. In the late medieval period the ceramic baking cover is increasingly displaced by its metal counterpart, primarily due to the greater ease of heating and maintaining heat. And while in some regions the traditional use of the baking cover is slowly lost, it sees a resurgence during the Ottoman conquests. This period also sees the spread of the iron baking cover, known under the Arabic-derived name sač, in our broader neighbourhood.




A mural detail with a depiction of bread. The House of Julia Felix, Pompeii, 1st century, National Archaeological Museum in Naples.

(by Carlo Raso) (7.11.2019)






Having seen very little change over millennia, the baking cover has retained its archaic appearance. Determining their age based on typology is thus fraught with challenges, and they can often only be dated on the basis of other finds within a closed archaeological context.

The contexts in which baking covers are found indicate that they are usually of local manufacture, rather than objects of specialised production for long-distance trade. In Slavonia baking covers are thus often classified in the category of “women’s pottery” as products that women crafted using clay moulds for their own household use. At the Bronze Age Stična site in Slovenia, a baking cover was found in situ on a hearth, likely where it was used for the last time, while at the medieval Békés-Ditér site in Hungary one was found standing on two bricks on which it would have been pre-heated prior to cooking.

And while, as an item of daily use, they are found, as a rule, in settlements, one baking cover was found at the Ruše urn burial necropolis near Maribor in the role of an urn lid which, as proposed by K. Vinski Gasparini, is “likely a reflection of a burial custom in which the baking cover as a symbol of bread, i.e. grain and fertility, had a certain significance.”
In some regions, such as north Africa and Iraq, baking covers are associated with a nomadic way of life. It comes as no surprise then, that they were also used by Roman and Byzantine soldiers as portable ovens.

In the antiquity period the urban bakeries (pistrinae) satisfied the requirements of the urban poor for bread, such that baking covers appear predominantly in the more prosperous households, and in the rural areas where there was greater need for self-sufficiency. The frequent appearance of baking covers in the late Roman and the early medieval periods can thus be interpreted as an indicator of diminished urban life.

The baking cover was never abandoned, however. It has been retained in use in Croatia, Slovenia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Italy, wherever the use of the open hearth remained a part of the culture. Thus, in the pottery tradition in Istria, baking covers were thrown on potter’s wheel in the area around Rakalj and Čukarija (near Hum), where one of their functions was to be used to shut closed potter’s kilns during the firing of terracotta ware.





Carbonised bread, panis quadratus. Villa Regina, Pompeii, 1st century, Boscoreale Museum.
(by Jebulon) (7.11.2019)






The term clibanus is of Greek origin and appears to have been adopted into Latin in the third to second century BCE, at a time of intensive contact with the Hellenistic world and the growing impact of Greek culture on the Romans. It was in this period that the cook, previously a lowly slave, was increasingly regarded with respect, and culinary work as a form of art.

Antiquity period sources mention various dishes prepared sub testu. Varro thus speaks of bread known as testuacium, while Cato mentions a cake with cheese known as the libum and a sweet cake called the placenta. Apicius mentions meat, Ovid vegetables, and Pliny various unusual ingredients that had magical/medicinal uses. The Greek writer Herodotus recommends preparing the papyrus plant under a scalding hot baking cover, while Aristophanes in his satirical work The Clouds compares people with embers placed under the great baking cover of the firmament (the celestial dome). Unleavened “pita” bread baked under a baking cover is known as klibanites (κλιβανιτες), and we also see the names torte and focaccia. The baking cover was also used to keep bread warm before serving, and is mentioned in the Bible.

The advantage of the baking cover is that it retained moisture, making the dough fresher and the bread softer than that baked uncovered. It also allowed for a more precise regulation of the temperature and uniform heating from all sides, which was very useful in preparing particularly delicate dishes. Symeon Seth, a Byzantine physician of the eleventh century, noted that bread thus prepared was best for the digestion.

The baking cover, however, could hardly have satisfied the bread requirements of large numbers of people. It was from this need that the brick or stone oven (furnus) was born on the larger landholdings and later introduced to the cities where it was developed in urban bakeries. The two were not, however, mutually exclusive, as seen from finds where ovens share the same room as a hearth with a baking cover. This simultaneous use of the two baking methods bears witness to the specialised purpose of the baking cover that has seen it retained in use right up to the modern era, where we see it today both in households and in the contemporary hospitality industry.





Sale of bread in the market. The House of Julia Felix, Pompeii, 1st century, National Archaeological Museum in Naples.

(by Wolfgang Rieger) (8.11.2019)







1. Iron Age Histrian baking cover decorated with moulded wavy line.
Inventory code: P-42120; P-42186
Site: AMI, Pula
Dimensions: height 11.5 cm; diameter 33.5 cm





2. Part of an Iron Age Histrian baking cover with a vertical handle and horizontal rib decorated with finger impressions.
Inventory code: P-42160
Site: AMI, Pula
Dimensions: length 9.5 cm; width 8.5 cm; thickness 1.4 cm





3. Part of an Iron Age Histrian baking cover with moulded rib and fingerprints along and under the upper brim.
Inventory code: P-2597
Site: Nezakcij (Nesactium)
Dimensions: height 7.4 cm; width 10.4 cm; length 1.1 cm





4. Part of the body of an antiquity period baking cover with a small hole and concentric grooves on the surface. Visible traces of burning.
Inventory code: P-42422
Site: Kandlerova ulica, Pula
Dimensions: height 9.8 cm; width 22 cm; thickness 0.8 cm





5. Part of an antiquity period baking cover with flat top, tab handle and traces of burning.
Inventory code: P-46463
Site: Kandlerova ulica, Pula
Dimensions: length 12.4 cm; width 7 cm; thickness 1 cm





6. Early Byzantine baking cover of the sixth to seventh century, with two tab handles, decorated with a single wavy line near the rim, inside and outside.
Inventory code: S-8051
Site: Betiga near Barbariga
Dimensions: height 7.5 cm; diameter 31 cm





7. Part of a medieval baking cover with flat top and tab handle.
Inventory code: S-7363
Site: Stari Gočan, Barban
Dimensions: length 11.2 cm; width 7.8 cm; thickness 0.6 cm






CUBBERLEY, A. L., LLOYD, J . A., ROBERTS, P. C. 1988. Testa and clibani: The Baking Covers of Classical Italy, Papers of the British School at Rome 56, 98−119.

GAVAZZI, M. 1978. Vrela i sudbine narodnih tradicija, Zagreb, 114-124.

JUROŠ-MONFARDIN, F. 1987. Pokušaj sistematizacije kasnoantičke i ranobizantske keramike grube fakture iz profanog objekta u Betigi kod Barbarige, Arheološka istraživanja u Istri i hrvatskom primorju: znanstveni skup: Pula, 15-18. rujna 1982. knj. 2, Izdanja Hrvatskog arheološkog društva, 11/2, 209-233, T. 1:1.

MIHOVILIĆ, K. 2001. Nezakcij. Prapovijesni nalazi 1900.-1953, Monografije i katalozi 11, 48, 260, T. 102: 3.

MILIĆEVIĆ, J. 1976. Istarsko pučko lončarstvo. Etnološka tribina 5-6, 89-100.

VIDA, T. 2016. Backglocken, Backdeckel und Backhauben. Archäologische Angaben zur Ernährungskultur Süd- und Mitteleuropas, Acta Archaeologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 67 (2), 361-421.

VINSKI GASPARINI, K. 1973. Kultura polja sa žarama u sjevernoj Hrvatskoj, Monografije 1, Zadar, 67.

VROOM, J. 2008. Dishing up history : early medieval ceramic finds from the Triconch Palace in Butrint, Mélanges de l’ École française de Rome: Moyen-Age 120-2, 291-305, Fig. 19.




Baking Covers: Tradition Under Embers

 Carrarina 4, Pula
Window to the Past
3. 12. 2019. – 3. 2. 2020.

 Exhibition and text author:
Veseljko Bašić

Organizer and publisher: Archaeological Museum of Istria

For the organizer and publisher:
Darko Komšo

 Editorial Board:
Darko Komšo, Adriana Gri Štorga, Katarina Zenzerović

Set up & graphic design:
Vjeran Juhas

Vjeran Juhas

Ivo Juričić

 Exhibition coordinator:
Monika Petrović

 Translation in Italian:
Elis Barbalich-Geromella

 English translation:
Neven Ferenčić

Irena Buršić, Adriana Gri Štorga,
Milena Špigić, Katarina Zenzerović

Print: MPS Pula

 Print run: 500

 Pula, 2019.

Typo3 site by Ulisys d.o.o. , 2010.