How the Romans Created a Mass Glass Production Industry
The Roman Empire cultivated a mass glass production industry that went unmatched for almost a thousand years. This allowed the Romans to craft a wide range of ornate and everyday glassware, examples of which you can buy from Artemission.
Early glass making
The first examples of man-made glass date back to 15th Century B.C. Egypt and Mesopotamia. Early civilisations such as the city-states of Greece increasingly developed the craft of glass making over hundreds of years. In time, a thriving glass trade grew up around the ancient world, eventually reaching the early Roman Republic.
At this point in history, glass was considered a luxury item. Early glass making techniques such as ‘casting’ (pouring molten glass directly into a mould) were time-consuming and expensive. This limited the scale of glass making in the days of the Republic, ensuring that the material couldn’t be utilised by the vast majority of ordinary Roman citizens.
Glass making was revolutionised by the invention of ‘glass blowing’ in Syria-Palestine, early in the 1st Century B.C. This technique involves blowing glass whilst still hot through a hollow iron rod. It streamlined the glass making process, allowing craftsmen to produce a greater quality of glass for a fraction of the cost of casting.
The Roman Empire conquered Syria-Palestine in 64 B.C. As the legions spirited craftsmen and slaves from Syria-Palestine away to Rome, they brought glass blowing with them. As Roman philosopher Seneca explained in Epistulae Morales, this allowed a glass maker “by his breath alone, (to) fashion glass into numerous shapes which could scarcely be accomplished by the most skilful hand.”
Creating an industry
This, along with advancing glass decoration techniques and the arrival clear or ‘aqua’ glass in the 1st Century A.D., allowed the early Empire to create a large scale glass manufacturing industry. The evolution of mass glass production across the Empire, primarily in Alexandria, turned glass into a readily available material across the Mediterranean world by the close the 1st Century A.D.
According to philosopher Strabo’s landmark tome Geography, you could buy a glass bottle, with nothing more than a single copper coin, throughout the Roman world by the 1st Century A.D. The glassblowers of the age developed the technique even further, creating highly decorated glass items such as vessels, mosaic tiles, jewellery, game pieces and magnifying glasses that became commonplace fixtures in homes across the Empire.
The demise of the Roman Empire ended a glass making culture that wouldn’t be matched until the Venetian glass making boom of the 15th Century A.D. A wide range of Roman glass objects have survived to this day, and you can buy some stunning examples of Roman glassware from the Roman Antiquities section of Artemission.com.
Artemission.com (Atticart Ltd.) is the leading antiquities gallery online. Starting the very first internet site dealing with authentic antiquities, Artemission specialise in ancient art from Egypt, the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia, as well as Islamic Art and Ancient Coins.