Roman Glass By Nicole Gragg Roman City Dig Session #3 2010
History The Romans did not invent glass—that event occurred around 2200 B.C. in what is now northwestern Iran. It was in the last decade of the first century BC that glass production was introduced in Rome. Glassworkers from Syria, Judaea, and Egypt were imported as slaves with experience in both traditional Hellenistic glass-casting techniques and the then novel idea of glass-blowing. The Romans were the first to use glass for architectural purposes, with the discovery of clear glass.
Techniques Casting produced some visually striking tablewares Free-blowing offered many kinds of low-cost domestic wares that soon replaced similar wares of pottery.
Techniques (continued) Mold-blowing allowed the rapid reproduction of bottles and jars of fixed size and a new aestheic for vessel decoration that eventually found its strongest expression in religious imagery They refined and mastered almost every decorative technique that the medium would allow.
Uses Uses in everyday life Uses in funerary practices
Everyday Uses Henna hair dye, ocher cheek rouge, and galena eye-shadow, perfumed body lotions, salves that would hide blemishes and bites, all were skillfully applied, before the mistress set out on her social rounds. All these cosmetics were stored either dry in glass jars, or wet (when blended with olive or behen-nut oil) in glass bottles that we call unguentaria. After bathing the wealthy were rubbed down with oil from flasks of lightly perfumed massage oil hung on every wall glass was popular with the poor and middle class for the entire range of tableware, from serving platters to wine beakers. Romans ate with their fingers so there were always several glass bowls and pitchers around the dining area, so that household slaves could wash everyone's hands between each course.
Funerary Uses Those who could not afford a marble or stone chest used either a discarded wine amphora or, from the mid-1st century A.D. onwards, some household glass jars or bottles. These makeshift urns would be placed among the various items, including glass and pottery food platters, wine jugs and beakers, unguentaria, pottery lamps, and coinage—indeed, any furnishings that could provide some additional comfort in the Afterlife. Even after the late 4th century A.D., when Christianity was fully established as the State religion, many Romans continued this pagan practice; so much so that the bulk of Roman glassware that has survived until today came from excavations of sturdily built 4th-to-6th century A.D. tombs in both the East and the West.