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Glazed objects were first made in the Near East in the 5th millennium
BC. The glaze was applied as a powder on the surface of the object to
induce a self-glazing process, becoming vitrified by the fire or mixed
with materials. The first examples of man-made glass, however, seem to
date only to the last quarter of the 3rd millennium BC when glass beads
were first made in Mesopotamia and Egypt. Glass
vessels were rare in eastern Mediterrranean in the Late Bronze Age. Only
princes and the very rich could afford them. Some vessels were dedicated
to temples and shrines. Others were found in tombs. The
process of casting glass in moulds was also invented in the mid-2nd millennium
BC. A homogenous group of blue glass pendants in the shape of a nude female
(possibly a fertility goddess) is represented in such widely separated
sites as Nuzi, Alalakh, Beth-Shean, Megiddo and Lachish. Others have been
found in Cyprus, in the Aegean and a very few in Egypt. During the 14-13th
centuries BC, a flourishing Mycenaean industry of cast glass jewelry developed.
Phoenicians Unintentionally Discover Glass
The earliest historian
to write about the history of glass making was Pliny the Elder. He
an unintentional discovery. On
a long-forgotten evening after landing on the coast of eastern
Mediterranean near the mouth of the Belus River, the Phoenicians
about the task of preparing their evening meal. Being unable to
which to set their pots, they obtained some cakes of saltpeter
from their ship's cargo and placed their cooking vessels on them
a fire. The heat from the flames caused the saltpeter and quartz
sand on the shore to melt. These combined into streams of an unknown
which hardened into a translucent substance later known as glass.
Here is a quote of his exact words:
A ship belonging to traders in soda once called here, so
the story goes, and they spread out along the shore to make a meal.
There were no stones to support their cooking-pots, so they placed
lumps of soda from their ship under them. When these became hot and
fused with the sand on the beach, streams of an unknown liquid flowed,
and this was the origin of glass. (Pliny, 362)
Evolved Craftsmanship of Glass
Excavations in the palaces of the kings of Assyria at
Nimrud revealed glass vessels that are richly moulded and cut. Glass
vessels formed around a core also reappear in this period in Mesopotamia.
The moulded and cut glass were apparently made by Phoenician craftsmen.
A few moulded and cut cosmetic palettes were discovered at Megiddo and
near Samaria. Fragments of a bowl of this type were uncovered at Aroer.
In the 8th century BC Phoenician glassmakers also produced monochrome
and mosaic-glass inlays which were used in making exquisite furniture
(mainly banquet beds) or were inlaid in ivories (also for furniture).
Remains of such ivories were also found in the palaces of the kings of
Israel at Samaria. Phoenician glass inlays also embellished cosmetic
stone palettes, numerous examples of which have been found at Megiddo.
amphoriskoi, aryballoi, alabastra and juglets were produced on a
large scale from the 6th to
the 4th century BC. The center for this production seems to have
been on the island of Rhodes. Vessels of this type, common all over
area, have been found in Athlit, Achzib, Hazor, Gibeah, En-Gedi
and Meqabelein (near Amman). Alexandria may have been a center of
glass-making in the Hellenistic period but very few of its luxury
drinking bowls became fashionable in Phoenicia during the 2nd
century and increasingly so in the 1st century
BC. Fragments of such bowls have been found in Ashdod, Jerusalem,
Samaria, Tel-Anafa and other sites. They originate from a local glass-producing
centers along the Phoenician coast. On the whole, all through
the 2nd and 1st millennia BC, glass was a highly prized material
for making receptacles for precious ointments and drinking vessels.
This is reflected in the equation of glass with gold in Job (28.17).
epoch-making advance occurred in the 2nd half of the 1st century
BC with the discovery of glass blowing.
This quick and inexpensive method of glass-making seems to have
been invented in in Phoenicia. Remains from a mid-1st century BC
workshop's refuse dump were found in the excavations Jerusalem.
Among the finds were fragments of the earliest blown glass vessels
In the course of the 1st century AD, glass blowing was introduced
into many parts of the Roman Empire. Alexandria led in the production
of luxury moulded and cut glass until the early 3rd century AD.
glass-blowers maintained a high standard in blowing techniques
all through the Roman period. Their mould-blown vessels of the 1st
and 2nd centuries
AD have remarkable decorations in relief bearing Greek inscriptions
and often of beautiful colors.
were made by an ingenious method involving moulding on a core.
Since glass-blowing was unknown in this early period, a core was
made in the shape of the desired vessel from a material strong
enough to withstand heating and fireable enough to be removed from
the finished article. Viscous glass was applied to this core. The
surface of the vessel was then decorated with threads of colored
glass combed into ornamental patterns. The vessel was afterwards
rolled on a flat surface and a handle and a base were added. This
method required a high degree of skill. The colors of the glass
used in this period indicate that the makers tried to imitate precious
stones such as lapis-lazuli and turquoise.
finest mould-blown glass vessels of antiquity are signed by their
maker, Ennion of Sidon in the
Tibero-Claudian era. Other glass-makers working in Rome in the 1st
century AD signed
their names in Greek and
Latin and boasted of their Sidonian origin. In
the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, glass vessels were the most common
grave goods and reveal the large scale on which
must have been producing. The end of the Roman period in the
west was paralleled by a decline in standards of glass making
in the East. Glass of the 6th century AD is rather poor compared
Trade and Export of the Skill
Along with other goods,
Phoenician merchants and sailors began disseminating glassmaking
craft and finished glass
objects along the coasts of the Mediterranean. That was
a new journey in the evolution of glass art and technology.
With plenty of silica and
soda naturally available, the Egyptians nurtured a glass industry
of enameled and gilded glass works
into a very successful
venture. Egyptian and Phoenician glass works traveled the Mediterranean
via Phoenician ships and stirred local artisans
around the Mediterranean into
art and technology with vigor.
In the reign of the first
Roman emperor, Augustus (27 B.C.-A.D. 14), glassmakers established
themselves in Rome and other parts of Italy." They
were still using the older method of forming glass at this time, casting
it in pre-made "blank" molds, very similar to the "terra sigillata" technique
used in pottery. Many examples of this are thought to have come from
Adria, near the northeastern coast of Italy. There is one cast green "boat" vessel
that was found in Pompeii that is believed to come from the second
quarter of the 1st century AD. (Newby, 4) This is important because
it can be
specifically dated to within about 100 years because Pompeii was buried
in ash in 79 AD..
There are not many sites of ancient glass blowing houses, but there
have been partial remains found in Eigelstein, near Cologne, and in Phiadius
in Greece dating from the 5th century B.C.. Pieces of glass from half
of a mold, partial remains of a glass furnace and a crucible in which
the glass was heated to a molten state, are all artifacts found at these
sites. (Price, 118) Along with sites we have a multitude of glass objects,
and although many cannot be placed, we have a few carinated bowls from
Pompeii which can definitely be dated before 79 A.D.. (Newby, 11) Another
famous piece of evidence dated to the 1st century B.C. is a wall-painting
in the House of Oplontis, in the Bay of Naples, which depicts a clear
blown glass bowl filled with fruit. (Tait, 64) Probably with time more
sites of ancient glass blowing houses will come to light, and possibly
give the world some manuscripts to help us better understand the actual
process of glass blowing.
Phoenician glass blowers
of Malta have been known for thousands of years and the Maltese of
today use skills and materials that differ
little from those of the Phoenician traders who first
introduced it around the Mediterranean. Modern Maltese glass is valued
for its beauty and color.
- Daumas, Maurice. A History of Technological Invention. New
York: Crown Publishers, 1969
- Edwards, Charleen K. A Survey of Glassmaking- From Ancient Egypt
to the Present. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1974
- Harden, Donald B. Glass of the Caesars. Milan: Olivetti, 1987
- Harden, Donald B. Greek and Roman Glass I. London: British
Museum Publications Ltd., 1981
- Hayes, John W. Roman and Pre-Roman Glass- in the Royal Ontario Museum. Toronto:
Hunter Rose Co., 1975
- Merrill, Nancy O. A Concise History of Glass. Princeton: Village
Craftsmen, 1989 |
- Newby, Martine and Kenneth Painter, Roman Glass - Two Centuries
of Art and Invention. London: Burlington House, 1991
- Tait, Hugh. Glass 5,000 Years. New York: Harry N Abrams Inc.,
- Robertson, R. A. Chats on Old Glass. New York: Dover Publications,
- Whitehouse, David. Glass of the Roman Empire. New York: Corning,
- Zerwick, Chloe. A Short History of Glass. New York: Corning,
- Hampton, Susan. Glassmaking
in Antiquity. Website.