Roman Glass Fragment - 2.03"
Roman Glass Fragment - 2.03"
This specimen is a piece of a Roman glass which is over 1,700 years old. Glass from this era is one of the earliest examples of glassblowing known in human history, and was a popular way to create jewelry, containers, and art work in the Roman empire.
The fragment measures 2.03". Weathering over time has softened the pieces edges, but it is still glass and can be fragile so please use care while handling it.
The Romans were a diverse group of people with many ways of artistically expressing themselves. One such way was in the use of personal jewelry. Metalworking and colored gemstones were common pieces, but a new source of jewelry was found in the form of glassblowing.
Glassblowing emerged in the Roman Empire around the first century CE. Artisans would inflate long pieces of molten glass and then shape them into specific forms. Glass inlay pieces as well as glass rings, bracelets, and earrings were all quite common to be seen at this time.
This specimen is a fragment of Roman era glass which dates between 200 and 300 CE. Glass fragments like this show us how the Romans lived, dressed, and decorated. It is also an indicator of how industrialized their society once was.
The colorful shine found on pieces like this actually comes from the age of the material. Due to chemical weathering over time, alkalis from the glass are drawn to the surface and form into thin flaking layers that create a prism effect.
Please note: The coloring on these specimens are quite fragile. Some minor flaking of the exterior is normal, though it is best to handle the pieces very gently to avoid damaging them.
Specimens are shipped in a sturdy shipping box along with a small information card and a certificate of authenticity.
📸 The Judgement of Paris glass mosaic from the Early Second Century CE
More about Ancient Glass
📸 Layers of iridescence on a piece of glass
The Origins of Glass Making
Glass has been known to humans since prehistory, when our ancestors first fashioned tools out of volcanic obsidian or meteorite-spawned tektites. Its sharp edges were excellent for making efficient tools and the colors and textures captivated the eye. However, natural sources like this are certainly not the only way to create glass objects.
When exactly humans invented the processes of glassmaking from scratch is still debated. A Mesoptamian cuneiform tablet detailing a glass recipe has been dated to at least 1200 BCE, though this may have been an imitation of an earlier method. This ancient method heated sand, soda, and lime inside molds to create luxury pieces of art and containers.
This basic technique for glassmaking remained much unchanged until the rise of the glassblowing method. This innovation, originating around in the first century CE, ran in parallel with the ascendant Roman Empire, who adopted the technique and spread advanced glassmaking across the known world.
Glassblowing is the process of inflating molten glass with a blow tube, allowing the glassmaker to shape the material into precise forms. Like mold glassmaking, where this technique began is unknown, but the earliest examples have been found in Syria and Palestine on the outer range of the Roman empire.
From this beginning, blown glass spread across the Mediterranean world, a decoration for the elite of the empire. Those that could not procure this advanced glass for themselves might settle for a painting of a clear glass bowl filled with fruit, as found in sites in Pompeii and Herculaneum.
📸 A large piece of Roman glass
Roman glass came in an assortment of colors based on whatever minerals were added to the process and was used to make bowls, cups, jugs, bottles or decorative pieces that served no utilitarian purpose. Oftentimes the main body of the piece would be blown, with decorative handles fashioned and attached later.
Some pieces would be enameled with metal to depict different scenes like past battles or gladiatorial contests. Specifics in glassmaking styles varied considerably by region across the empire. With the advent of glassblowing molds, the process was industrialized, with pieces bearing the maker’s name. Through this, archeologists can track the use of glass across the entire Roman empire.
Aside from household decorations, Roman glass also found its way into jewelry. These earrings, bracelets, and necklaces were often inlaid with precious stones, but if one could not afford an emerald or sapphire, they might settle for a bit of glass. These pieces were considered indulgent in the earlier republic era. A third century law, Lex Oppia, even forbade women from wearing more than a half ounce of gold in public, but as the empire expanded, such taboos lessened.
Because of these social mores, there are few recovered pieces from the republic, and most of what survives now comes from the more indulgent imperial era. These pieces were usually made of gold, silver, or electrum, an alloy of the two metals. As today, practices varied by gender, with men more likely to wear conservative crowns or wreaths and women more likely to wear a greater amount of bracelets and necklaces.
Front of the Specimen Card
Back of the Specimen Card
Haspeslagh MN, Painter KS. Roman glass: Two Centuries of Art and Invention. Society of Antiquaries of London; 1991.
Higgins R. Greek and Roman Jewellery. 2nd ed. Methuen; 1980.
Tait, Hugh. Five Thousand Years of Glass / Edited by Hugh Tait. Rev. ed., University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.
Tait H. Seven Thousand Years of Jewellery. Published for the Trustees of the British Museum by British Museum Publications; 1986.