GLASS HISTORY: Naturally occurring glass, especially the volcanic glass obsidian, has been used since the Stone Age in many localities across the globe for the production of sharp cutting tools and, due to its limited source areas, was extensively traded. With respect to man-made glass, the ancient Romans were the first to mass produce glass articles, and this included glass jewelry and gemstones. In the ancient world, glass jewelry was very costly, not only for the ancient Romans, but particular so going back another 3,000 years further to ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Sumeria. Though glass jewelry, especially gemstones and beads, have been fashioned for perhaps 5,000 years, very little is known about the production of glass in the ancient world.
Perhaps about 4,000 B.C. the ancient Egyptians started fashioning amulets, beads, and small vessels out of a material known as “faience”, an ancient precursor of glass created by crushing quartz sand and mixing it with an alkali binder and mineral oxides to provide color. The discovery of the techniques for producing glass was probably the accidental byproduct of the ancient production of faience. Ancient lumps of glass have been discovered in the area of ancient Mesopotamia, as well as ancient Syria and Egypt, dating as far back as 4,000 B.C. Written records from ancient Mesopotamia refer to the manufacture of glass, describing the manufacturing process as difficult and a closely-guarded secret. Initially ancient glass vessels were produced in with the use of molds of forms. Some of the earliest surviving examples were from the 15th century B.C. tombs of the wives of ancient Egypt’s Pharaoh Thutmose III. Glass beads dating to about 1,800 B.C. were produced by the Indus Valley Civilization.
Around 1,500 B.C. two new production techniques gave rise to more frequent manufacture of glass in Egypt and Mesopotamia, as well as in Minoan Crete and Mycenaean Greece. Both techniques involved the use of molten glass rods, either wrapped around a mud core, or placed within a mold. However the end product was still nonetheless frightfully expensive and the process both lengthy and labor-intensive. The disasters that overtook Late Bronze Age civilizations seem to have brought glass-making to a halt. It picked up again in its former sites, as well as in Syria and Cyprus, in the 9th century B.C., when the techniques for making colorless glass were discovered. The first glassmaking "manual" dates back to about 650 B.C., in cuneiform tablets discovered in the library of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal. In Egypt glass-making did not revive until it was reintroduced in third century B.C. Ptolemaic Alexandria. During the Greek Hellenistic (colonizing) period many new techniques of glass production were introduced and glass began to be used to make larger pieces, notably table wares.
The term “glass” originated in the late Roman Empire in the Roman glassmaking center at Trier, now in modern Germany. The Romans utilized glass in domestic, industrial and funerary contexts. Glass was used primarily for the production of vessels, although mosaic tiles, window glass, jewelry, beads and gemstones were also produced. Roman glass production developed from Hellenistic technical traditions, initially concentrating on the production of intensely colored cast glass vessels. However, during the 1st century AD the industry underwent rapid technical growth that saw the introduction of glass blowing techniques (introduced a century earlier in Palestine and Syria), wherein a blob of molten glass was inflated either free form or into a mold by blowing through a hollow metal blowpipe. Glass blowing became widespread during the later Roman Empire, and with it the dominance of colorless or “aqua” colored glass, and the inexpensive process created huge demand for glass products, including jewelry.
Syria became the "glass factory" of the Roman Empire and glassware came to be widely disseminated throughout the Roman Empire (if you would like to learn more about ancient Roman/Syrian glass, there are two wonderful websites to start you on your voyage here and here). Roman glass ware which had already been traded as far as China and Western Asia (Roman glass has been found in first century B.C. tombs in China as well as what was Parthian Persia) now came to be exported throughout the known world in vast quantity. Glassblowing allowed glass workers to produce vessels with considerably thinner walls, decreasing the amount of glass needed for each vessel. Glass blowing was also considerably quicker than other techniques, and vessels required considerably less finishing, representing a further saving in time, raw material and equipment. Although earlier techniques dominated during the early first century A.D., by the middle to late first century earlier production techniques had been largely abandoned in favor of blowing.
Glass making reached its peak at the beginning of the 2nd century A.D., with glass objects in domestic contexts of every kind. An eight ton glass slab uncovered by archaeologists indicates that glass was being produced in very large batches contained in tanks situated inside highly specialized furnaces. Glass was seemingly manufactured on a large scale by a limited number of workshops, and then broken into chunks for distribution to a multitude of local producers of end products. Otherwise there is only limited evidence for small-scale local glass manufacture, and only in context of window glass. The first-century A.D. Roman Naturalist and Historian “Pliny the Elder” documented the furnace-production of molten glass and the development of related production technologies.
The Roman writers Statius and Martial both indicate that recycling broken glass was an important part of the glass industry, and that quantities of broken glassware were concentrated at local sites prior to melting back into raw glass. This is supported by the fact that only rarely are glass fragments of any size recovered by archaeologists from domestic sites of this period. With respect to glass jewelry, it is well known that the Romans and their successors in the East, the Byzantines (and Eastern Europe in general), were very fond of elaborate jewelry and other personal adornments. Typical jewelry included bracelets worn both on the forearm as well as upper arm, rings, earrings, and pendants, and in the classical world, glass jewelry was just as costly its counterparts made in gold and/or gemstones.
Though introduced in first century A.D. Alexandria, the use of glass windows gained widespread popularity in the 6th and 7th centuries A.D. throughout Europe, mostly in conjunction with churches and royal structures. In the 8th century A.D. glass was described in Arab poetry, and in another 8th century book a Persian chemist recorded 46 recipes for colored glass (a later edition of the book included 12 additional recipes). By the 11th century clear glass mirrors were being produced in Islamic Spain. In Germany the 11th century saw the introduction of a technique which mass-produced thin sheet glass, and in the 12th century the use of stained glass rapidly became an important medium in Romanesque and Gothic art. However the mass-production of glass during the era of the Roman Empire was not matched by the modern world until the advent of the industrial revolution. Glass remained expensive through the 17th century, and glass gemstones though less expensive than natural gemstones, were still expensive. The “gemstones” in the least expensive “costume” jewelry were generally made from colored amber. Excepting of course genuine precious and semi-precious gemstones, glass “gemstones” were still the domain of relatively more costly pieces.
SHIPPING: These antiquities come from a number of collections which by and large originated here in Eastern Europe. As well, additional specimens are occasionally acquired from other institutions and dealers, principally in Eastern Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean. All of these artifacts are now in the United States and are available for immediate delivery via U.S. Mail. All purchases are backed by an unlimited guarantee of satisfaction and authenticity. If for any reason you are not entirely satisfied with your purchase, you may return it for a complete and immediate refund of your entire purchase price. A certificate of authenticity (COA) is available upon request.
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