ANCIENT ROMANS CRAFTS: POTTERY, GLASS AND STUFF IN THE SECRET CABINET

ROMAN POTTERY

20120227-lamp  bbbr.jpg
ceramic lamp
Roman pottery included red earthenware known as Samian ware and black pottery known as Etruscan ware, which was different than the pottery actually made by the Etruscans. The Roman pioneered the use of ceramics for things like bathtubs and drainage pipes.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “For nearly 300 years, Greek cities along the coasts of southern Italy and Sicily regularly imported their fine ware from Corinth and, later, Athens. By the third quarter of the fifth century B.C., however, they were acquiring red-figured pottery of local manufacture. As many of the craftsmen were trained immigrants from Athens, these early South Italian vases were closely modeled after Attic prototypes in both shape and design. [Source: Colette Hemingway, Independent Scholar, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004, metmuseum.org \^/]

“By the end of the fifth century B.C., Attic imports ceased as Athens struggled in the aftermath of the Peloponnesian War in 404 B.C. The regional schools of South Italian vase painting—Apulian, Lucanian, Campanian, Paestan—flourished between 440 and 300 B.C. In general, the fired clay shows much greater variation in color and texture than that which is found in Attic pottery. A distinct preference for added color, especially white, yellow, and red, is characteristic of South Italian vases in the fourth century B.C. Compositions, especially those on Apulian vases, tend to be grandiose, with statuesque figures shown in several tiers. There is also a fondness for depicting architecture, with the perspective not always successfully rendered. \^/

“Almost from the beginning, South Italian vase painters tended to favor elaborate scenes from daily life, mythology, and Greek theater. Many of the paintings bring to life stage practices and costumes. A particular fondness for the plays of Euripides testifies to the continued popularity of Attic tragedy in the fourth century B.C. in Magna Graecia. In general, the images often show one or two highlights of a play, several of its characters, and often a selection of divinities, some of which may or may not be directly relevant. Some of the liveliest products of South Italian vase painting in the fourth century B.C. are the so-called phlyax vases, which depict comics performing a scene from a phlyax, a type of farce play that developed in southern Italy. These painted scenes bring to life the boisterous characters with grotesque masks and padded costumes.”

Websites on Ancient Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” forumromanum.org; “The Private Life of the Romans” forumromanum.org|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; Lacus Curtius penelope.uchicago.edu; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org The Roman Empire in the 1st Century pbs.org/empires/romans; The Internet Classics Archive classics.mit.edu ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review bmcr.brynmawr.edu; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors roman-emperors.org; British Museum ancientgreece.co.uk; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive beazley.ox.ac.uk ; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/greek-and-roman-art; The Internet Classics Archive kchanson.com ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources web.archive.org/web; Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy iep.utm.edu; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy plato.stanford.edu; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library web.archive.org ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame /web.archive.org ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History unrv.com

Funerary Vases in Southern Italy and Sicily

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Most extant South Italian vases have been discovered in funerary contexts, and a significant number of these vases were likely produced solely as grave goods. This function is demonstrated by the vases of various shapes and sizes that are open at the bottom, rendering them useless for the living. Often the vases with open bottoms are monumentalized shapes, particularly volute-kraters, amphorae, and loutrophoroi, which began to be produced in the second quarter of the fourth century B.C. The perforation at the bottom prevented damage during firing and also allowed them to serve as grave markers. Liquid libations offered to the dead were poured through the containers into the soil containing the deceased's remains. Evidence for this practice exists in the cemeteries of Tarentum (modern Taranto), the only significant Greek colony in the region of Apulia (modern Puglia).


amphorae, common and used for storing food, wine and other things

“Most surviving examples of these monumental vases are not found in Greek settlements, but in chamber tombs of their Italic neighbors in northern Apulia. In fact, the high demand for large-scale vases among the native peoples of the region seems to have spurred Tarentine émigrés to establish vase painting workshops by the mid-fourth century B.C. at Italic sites such as Ruvo, Canosa, and Ceglie del Campo. \^/

“The imagery painted on these vases, rather than their physical structure, best reflects their intended sepulchral function. The most common scenes of daily life on South Italian vases are depictions of funerary monuments, usually flanked by women and nude youths bearing a variety of offerings to the grave site such as fillets, boxes, perfume vessels (alabastra), libation bowls (phialai), fans, bunches of grapes, and rosette chains. When the funerary monument includes a representation of the deceased, there is not necessarily a strict correlation between the types of offerings and the gender of the commemorated individual(s). For instance, mirrors, traditionally considered a female grave good in excavation contexts, are brought to monuments depicting individuals of both genders. \^/

“The preferred type of funerary monument painted on vases varies from region to region within southern Italy. On rare occasions, the funerary monument may consist of a statue, presumably of the deceased, standing on a simple base. Within Campania, the grave monument of choice on vases is a simple stone slab (stele) on a stepped base. In Apulia, vases are decorated with memorials in the form of a small templelike shrine called a naiskos. The naiskoi usually contain within them one or more figures, understood as sculptural depictions of the deceased and their companions. The figures and their architectural setting are usually painted in added white, presumably to identify the material as stone. Added white to represent a statue may also be seen on an Apulian column-krater where an artist applied colored pigment to a marble statue of Herakles. Furthermore, painting figures within naiskoi in added white differentiates them from the living figures around the monument who are rendered in red-figure. There are exceptions to this practice—red-figure figures within naiskoi may represent terracotta statuary. As South Italy lacks indigenous marble sources, the Greek colonists became highly skilled coroplasts, able to render even lifesized figures in clay. \^/

“By the mid-fourth century B.C., monumental Apulian vases typically presented a naiskos on one side of the vase and a stele, similar to those on Campanian vases, on the other. It was also popular to pair a naiskos scene with a complex, multifigured mythological scene, many of which were inspired by tragic and epic subjects. Around 330 B.C., a strong Apulianizing influence became evident in Campanian and Paestan vase painting, and naiskos scenes began appearing on Campanian vases. The spread of Apulian iconography may be connected to the military activity of Alexander the Molossian, uncle of Alexander the Great and king of Epirus, who was summoned by the city of Tarentum to lead the Italiote League in efforts to reconquer former Greek colonies in Lucania and Campania. \^/

“In many naiskoi, vase painters attempted to render the architectural elements in three-dimensional perspective, and archaeological evidence suggests that such monuments existed in the cemeteries of Tarentum, the last of which stood until the late nineteenth century. The surviving evidence is fragmentary, as modern Taranto covers much of the ancient burial grounds, but architectural elements and sculptures of local limestone are known. The dating of these objects is controversial; some scholars place them as early as 330 B.C., while others date them all during the second century B.C. Both hypotheses postdate most, if not all, of their counterparts on vases. On a fragmentary piece in the Museum's collection, which decorated either the base or back wall of a funerary monument, a pilos helmet, sword, cloak, and cuirass are suspended on the background. Similar objects hang within the painted naiskoi. Vases that show naiskoi with architectural sculpture, such as patterned bases and figured metopes, have parallels in the remains of limestone monuments. \^/


southern Italian vase painting of athletes

“Above the funerary monuments on monumental vases there is frequently an isolated head, painted on the neck or shoulder. The heads may rise from a bell-flower or acanthus leaves and are set within a lush surround of flowering vines or palmettes. Heads within foliage appear with the earliest funerary scenes on South Italian vases, beginning in the second quarter of the fourth century B.C. Typically the heads are female, but heads of youths and satyrs, as well as those with attributes such as wings, a Phrygian cap, a polos crown, or a nimbus, also appear. Identification of these heads has proven difficult, as there is only one known example, now in the British Museum, whose name is inscribed (called "Aura"—"Breeze"). No surviving literary works from ancient southern Italy illuminate their identity or their function on the vases. The female heads are drawn in the same manner as their full-length counterparts, both mortal and divine, and are usually shown wearing a patterned headdress, a radiate crown, earrings, and a necklace. Even when the heads are bestowed with attributes, their identity is indeterminate, allowing a variety of possible interpretations. More narrowly defining attributes are very rare and do little to identify the attribute-less majority. The isolated head became very popular as primary decoration on vases, particularly those of small scale, and by 340 B.C., it was the single most common motif in South Italian vase painting. The relation of these heads, set in rich vegetation, to the grave monuments below them suggests they are strongly connected to fourth-century B.C. concepts of a hereafter in southern Italy and Sicily. \^/

“Although the production of South Italian red-figure vases ceased around 300 B.C., making vases purely for funerary use continued, most notably at Centuripe, a town in eastern Sicily near Mount Etna. The numerous polychrome terracotta figurines and vases of the third century B.C. were decorated with tempera colors after firing. They were further elaborated with complex vegetal and architecturally inspired relief elements. One of the most common shapes, a footed dish called a lekanis, was often constructed of independent sections (foot, bowl, lid, lid knob, and finial), resulting in few complete pieces today. On some pieces, such as the lebes in the Museum's collection, the lid was made in one piece with the body of the vase, so that it could not function as a container. The construction and fugitive decoration of Centuripe vases indicate their intended function as grave goods. The painted imagery relates to weddings or the Dionysiac cult, whose mysteries enjoyed great popularity in southern Italy and Sicily, presumably due to the blissful afterlife promised to its initiates.

Five Wares of South Italian Vase Painting

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “South Italian vases are ceramics, mostly decorated in the red-figure technique, that were produced by Greek colonists in southern Italy and Sicily, the region often referred to as Magna Graecia or "Great Greece." Indigenous production of vases in imitation of red-figure wares of the Greek mainland occurred sporadically in the early fifth century B.C. within the region. However, around 440 B.C., a workshop of potters and painters appeared at Metapontum in Lucania and soon after at Tarentum (modern-day Taranto) in Apulia. It is unknown how the technical knowledge for producing these vases traveled to southern Italy. Theories range from Athenian participation in the founding of the colony of Thurii in 443 B.C. to the emigration of Athenian artisans, perhaps encouraged by the onset of the Peloponnesian War in 431 B.C. The war, which lasted until 404 B.C., and the resulting decline of Athenian vase exports to the west were certainly important factors in the successful continuation of red-figure vase production in Magna Graecia. The manufacture of South Italian vases reached its zenith between 350 and 320 B.C., then gradually tapered off in quality and quantity until just after the close of the fourth century B.C. [Source: Keely Heuer, Department of Greek and Roman Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, December 2010, metmuseum.org \^/]


Lucanian vase

“Modern scholars have divided South Italian vases into five wares named after the regions in which they were produced: Lucanian, Apulian, Campanian, Paestan, and Sicilian. South Italian wares, unlike Attic, were not widely exported and seem to have been intended solely for local consumption. Each fabric has its own distinct features, including preferences in shape and decoration that make them identifiable, even when exact provenance is unknown. Lucanian and Apulian are the oldest wares, established within a generation of each other. Sicilian red-figure vases appeared not long after, just before 400 B.C. By 370 B.C., potters and vase painters migrated from Sicily to both Campania and Paestum, where they founded their respective workshops. It is thought that they left Sicily due to political upheaval. After stability returned to the island around 340 B.C., both Campanian and Paestan vase painters moved to Sicily to revive its pottery industry. Unlike in Athens, almost none of the potters and vase painters in Magna Graecia signed their work, thus the majority of names are modern designations. \^/

“Lucania, corresponding to the "toe" and "instep" of the Italian peninsula, was home to the earliest of the South Italian wares, characterized by the deep red-orange color of its clay. Its most distinctive shape is the nestoris, a deep vessel adopted from a native Messapian shape with upswung side handles sometimes decorated with disks. Initially, Lucanian vase painting very closely resembled contemporary Attic vase painting, as seen on a finely drawn fragmentary skyphos attributed to the Palermo Painter. Favored iconography included pursuit scenes (mortal and divine), scenes of daily life, and images of Dionysos and his adherents. The original workshop at Metaponto, founded by the Pisticci Painter and his two chief colleagues, the Cyclops and Amykos Painters, disappeared between 380 and 370 B.C.; its leading artists moved into the Lucanian hinterland to sites such as Roccanova, Anzi, and Armento. After this point, Lucanian vase painting became increasingly provincial, reusing themes from earlier artists and motifs borrowed from Apulia. With the move to more remote parts of Lucania, the color of the clay also changed, best exemplified in the work of the Roccanova Painter, who applied a deep pink wash to heighten the light color. After the career of the Primato Painter, the last of the notable Lucanian vase painters, active between ca. 360 and 330 B.C., the ware consisted of poor imitations of his hand until the last decades of the fourth century B.C., when production ceased. \^/

“More than half of extant South Italian vases come from Apulia (modern Puglia), the "heel" of Italy. These vases were originally produced in Tarentum, the major Greek colony in the region. The demand became so great among the native peoples of the region that by the mid-fourth century B.C., satellite workshops were established in Italic communities to the north such as Ruvo, Ceglie del Campo, and Canosa. A distinctive shape of Apulia is the knob-handled patera, a low-footed, shallow dish with two handles rising from the rim. The handles and rim are elaborated with mushroom-shaped knobs. Apulia is also distinguished by its production of monumental shapes, including the volute-krater, the amphora, and the loutrophoros. These vases were primarily funerary in function. They are decorated with scenes of mourners at tombs and elaborate, multifigured mythological tableaux, a number of which are rarely, if ever, seen on the vases of the Greek mainland and are otherwise only known through literary evidence. Mythological scenes on Apulian vases are depictions of epic and tragic subjects and were likely inspired by dramatic performances. Sometimes these vases provide illustrations of tragedies whose surviving texts, other than the title, are either highly fragmentary or entirely lost. These large-scale pieces are categorized as "Ornate" in style and feature elaborate floral ornament and much added color, such as white, yellow, and red. Smaller shapes in Apulia are typically decorated in the "Plain" style, with simple compositions of one to five figures. Popular subjects include Dionysos, as both god of theater and wine, scenes of youths and women, frequently in the company of Eros, and isolated heads, usually that of a woman. Prominent, particularly on column-kraters, is the depiction of the indigenous peoples of the region, such as the Messapians and Oscans, wearing their native dress and armor. Such scenes are usually interpreted as an arrival or departure, with the offering of a libation. Counterparts in bronze of the wide belts worn by the youths on a column-krater attributed to the Rueff Painter have been found in Italic tombs. The greatest output of Apulian vases occurred between 340 and 310 B.C., despite political upheaval in the region at the time, and most of the surviving pieces can be assigned to its two leading workshops—one led by the Darius and Underworld Painters and the other by the Patera, Ganymede, and Baltimore Painters. After this floruit, Apulian vase painting declined rapidly. \^/


Lucian crater with a symposium scene attributed to Python

“Campanian vases were produced by Greeks in the cities of Capua and Cumae, which were both under native control. Capua was an Etruscan foundation that passed into the hands of Samnites in 426 B.C. Cumae, one of the earliest of the Greek colonies in Magna Graecia, was founded on the Bay of Naples by Euboeans no later than 730–720 B.C. It, too, was captured by native Campanians in 421 B.C., but Greek laws and customs were retained. The workshops of Cumae were founded slightly later than those of Capua, around the middle of the fourth century B.C. Notably absent in Campania are monumental vases, perhaps one of the reasons why there are fewer mythological and dramatic scenes. The most distinctive shape in the Campanian repertoire is the bail-amphora, a storage jar with a single handle that arches over the mouth, often pierced at its top. The color of the fired clay is a pale buff or light orange-yellow, and a pink or red wash was often painted over the entire vase before it was decorated to enhance the color. Added white was used extensively, particularly for the exposed flesh of women. While vases of the Sicilian emigrants who settled in Campania are found at a number of sites in the region, it is the Cassandra Painter, the head of a workshop in Capua between 380 and 360 B.C., who is credited as being the earliest Campanian vase painter. Close to him in style is the Spotted Rock Painter, named for an unusual feature of Campanian vases that incorporates the area's natural topography, shaped by volcanic activity. Depicting figures seated upon, leaning against, or resting a raised foot on rocks and rock piles was a common practice in South Italian vase painting. But on Campanian vases, these rocks are often spotted, representing a form of igneous breccia or agglomerate, or they take the sinuous forms of cooled lava flows, both of which were familiar geological features of the landscape. The range of subjects is relatively limited, the most characteristic being representations of women and warriors in native Osco-Samnite dress. The armor consists of a three-disk breastplate and helmet with a tall vertical feather on both sides of the head. Local dress for women consists of a short cape over the garment and a headdress of draped fabric, rather medieval in appearance. The figures participate in libations for departing or returning warriors as well as in funerary rites. These representations are comparable to those found in painted tombs of the region as well as at Paestum. Also popular in Campania are fish plates, with great detail paid to the different species of sea life painted on them. Around 330 B.C., Campanian vase painting became subject to a strong Apulianizing influence, probably due to the migration of painters from Apulia to both Campania and Paestum. In Capua, production of painted vases concluded around 320 B.C., but continued in Cumae until the end of the century. \^/

“The city of Paestum is located in the northwest corner of Lucania, but stylistically its pottery is closely connected to that of neighboring Campania. Like Cumae, it was a former Greek colony, conquered by the Lucanians around 400 B.C. While Paestan vase painting does not feature any unique shapes, it is set apart from the other wares for being the only one to preserve the signatures of vase painters: Asteas and his close colleague Python. Both were early, accomplished, and highly influential vase painters who established the ware's stylistic canons, which changed only slightly over time. Typical features include dot-stripe borders along the edges of drapery and the so-called framing palmettes typical on large- or medium-scaled vases. The bell-krater is a particularly favored shape. Scenes of Dionysos predominate; mythological compositions occur, but tend to be overcrowded, with additional busts of figures in the corners. The most successful images on Paestan vases are those of comedic performances, often termed "phlyax vases" after a type of farce developed in southern Italy. However, evidence indicates an Athenian origin for at least some of these plays, which feature stock characters in grotesque masks and exaggerated costumes. Such phlyax scenes are also painted on Apulian vases. \^/

“Sicilian vases tend to be small in scale and popular shapes include the bottle and the skyphoid pyxis. The range of subjects painted on vases is the most limited of all the South Italian wares, with most vases showing the feminine world: bridal preparations, toilet scenes, women in the company of Nike and Eros or simply by themselves, often seated and gazing expectantly upward. After 340 B.C., vase production seems to have been concentrated in the area of Syracuse, at Gela, and around Centuripe near Mount Etna. Vases were also produced on the island of Lipari, just off the Sicilian coast. Sicilian vases are striking for their ever increasing use of added colors, particularly those found on Lipari and near Centuripe, where in the third century B.C. there was a thriving manufacture of polychrome ceramics and figurines.

Praenestine Cistae


Praenestine Cistae depicting Helen of Troy and Paris

Maddalena Paggi of the The Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “Praenestine cistae are sumptuous metal boxes mostly of cylindrical shape. They have a lid, figurative handles, and feet separately manufactured and attached. Cistae are covered with incised decoration on both body and lid. Little studs are placed at equal distance at a third of the cista's height all around, regardless of the incised decoration. Small metal chains were attached to these studs and probably used to lift the cistae. [Source: Maddalena Paggi, Department of Greek and Roman Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2004, metmuseum.org \^/]

“As funerary objects, cistae were placed in the tombs of the fourth-century necropolis at Praeneste. This town, located 37 kilometers southeast of Rome in the region of Latius Vetus, was an Etruscan outpost in the seventh century B.C., as the wealth of its princely burials indicates. Excavations conducted at Praeneste in the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century were primarily aimed at the recovery of these precious-metal objects. The subsequent demand for cistae and mirrors caused the systematic plundering of the Praenestine necropolis. Cistae acquired value and importance in the antiquities market, which also encouraged the production of forgeries. \^/

“Cistae are a very heterogeneous group of objects, but vary in terms of quality, narrative, and size. Artistically, cistae are complex objects in which different techniques and styles coexist: engraved decoration and cast attachments seem to be the result of different technical expertise and traditions. Collaboration of craftsmanship was required for their two-stage manufacturing process: the decoration (casting and engraving) and the assembly. \^/

“The most famous cista and the first to be discovered is the Ficoroni presently in the Museum of Villa Giulia in Rome, named after the well-known collector Francesco de' Ficoroni (1664–1747), who first owned it. Although the cista was found at Praeneste, its dedicatory inscription indicates Rome as the place of production: NOVIOS PLVTIUS MED ROMAI FECID/ DINDIA MACOLNIA FILEAI DEDIT (Novios Plutios made me in Rome/ Dindia Macolnia gave me to her daughter). These objects have often been taken as examples of middle Republican Roman art. However, the Ficoroni inscription remains the only evidence for this theory, while there is ample evidence for a local production at Praeneste. \^/

“The high-quality Praenestine cistae often adhere to the classical ideal. The proportions, composition, and style of the figures indeed present close connections and knowledge of Greek motifs and conventions. The engraving of the Ficoroni cista portrays the myth of the Argonauts, the conflict between Pollux and Amicus, in which Pollux is victorious. The engravings on the Ficoroni cista have been viewed as a reproduction of a lost fifth-century painting by Mikon. Difficulties remain, however, in finding precise correspondences between Pausanias' description of such a painting and the cista. \^/

“The function and use of Praenestine cistae are still unresolved questions. We can safely say that they were used as funerary objects to accompany the deceased into the next world. It has also been suggested that they were used as containers for toiletries, like a beauty case. Indeed, some recovered examples contained small objects such as tweezers, make-up boxes, and sponges. The large size of the Ficoroni cista, however, excludes such a function and points toward a more ritualistic use. \^/

Glass Making


blowing glass

Modern glass blowing began in 50 B.C. with the Romans, but origins of glass making go back even further. Pliny the Elder attributed the discovery to Phoenician sailors who placed a sandy pot on some lumps of alkali embalming powder from their ship. This provided the three ingredients needed for glass making: heat, sand and lime. Although it is interesting story, it is far from true.

The oldest glass so far discovered is from site in Mesopotamia, dated to 3000 B.C., and glass in all likelihood was made before that. The ancient Egyptians produced fine pieces of glass. The eastern Mediterranean produced especially beautiful glass because the materials were of fine quality.

Around the 6th century B.C. the “core glass method” of glass making from Mesopotamia and Egypt was revived under the influence of Greek ceramics makers in Phoenicia in the eastern Mediterranean and then was widely traded by Phoenician merchants. During the Hellenistic period, high quality pieces were created using a variety of techniques, including the cast glass and mosaic glass.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Core-formed and cast glass vessels were first produced in Egypt and Mesopotamia as early as the fifteenth century B.C., but only began to be imported and, to a lesser extent, made on the Italian peninsula in the mid-first millennium B.C. Glassblowing developed in the Syro-Palestinian region in the early first century B.C. and is thought to have come to Rome with craftsmen and slaves after the area's annexation to the Roman world in 64 B.C. [Source: Rosemarie Trentinella, Department of Greek and Roman Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2003, metmuseum.org \^/]

Roman Glass Making

The Romans made drinking cups, vases, bowls, storage jars, decorative items and other object in a variety of shapes and colors. using blown glass. The Roman, wrote Seneca, read "all the books in Rome" by peering at them through a glass globe. The Romans made sheet glass but never perfected the process partly because windows weren't considered necessary in the relatively warm Mediterranean climate.

The Romans made a number of advancements, the most notable of which was mold-blown glass, a technique still used today. Developed in the eastern Mediterranean in the 1st century B.C., this new technique allowed glass to be made transparent and in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. It also allowed glass to be mass produced, making glass something that ordinary people could afford as well as the rich. The use of mold-blown glass spread throughout the Roman empire and was influenced by different cultures and arts.

20120227-Glass_amphora.jpg
Roman glass amphora
With the core-form mold-blown technique, globs of glass are heated in a furnace until they become glowing orange orbs. Glass threads are wound around a core with a handling piece of metal. Craftsmen then roll, blow and spin the glass to get the shapes they want.

With the casting technique, a mold is formed with a model. The mold is filled with crushed or powdered glass and heated. After cooling down, the plank is removed from the mold, and the interior cavity is drilled and exterior is well cut. With the mosaic glass technique, rods of glass are fused, drawn and cut into canes. These canes are arranged in a mold and heated to make a vessel.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “At the height of its popularity and usefulness in Rome, glass was present in nearly every aspect of daily life—from a lady's morning toilette to a merchant's afternoon business dealings to the evening cena, or dinner. Glass alabastra, unguentaria, and other small bottles and boxes held the various oils, perfumes, and cosmetics used by nearly every member of Roman society. Pyxides often contained jewelry with glass elements such as beads, cameos, and intaglios, made to imitate semi-precious stone like carnelian, emerald, rock crystal, sapphire, garnet, sardonyx, and amethyst. Merchants and traders routinely packed, shipped, and sold all manner of foodstuffs and other goods across the Mediterranean in glass bottles and jars of all shapes and sizes, supplying Rome with a great variety of exotic materials from far-off parts of the empire. [Source: Rosemarie Trentinella, Department of Greek and Roman Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2003, metmuseum.org \^/]

“Other applications of glass included multicolored tesserae used in elaborate floor and wall mosaics, and mirrors containing colorless glass with wax, plaster, or metal backing that provided a reflective surface. Glass windowpanes were first made in the early imperial period, and used most prominently in the public baths to prevent drafts. Because window glass in Rome was intended to provide insulation and security, rather than illumination or as a way of viewing the world outside, little, if any, attention was paid to making it perfectly transparent or of even thickness. Window glass could be either cast or blown. Cast panes were poured and rolled over flat, usually wooden molds laden with a layer of sand, and then ground or polished on one side. Blown panes were created by cutting and flattening a long cylinder of blown glass.”

Development of Roman Glass

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “ By the time of the Roman Republic (509–27 B.C.), such vessels, used as tableware or as containers for expensive oils, perfumes, and medicines, were common in Etruria (modern Tuscany) and Magna Graecia (areas of southern Italy including modern Campania, Apulia, Calabria, and Sicily). However, there is very little evidence for similar glass objects in central Italian and Roman contexts until the mid-first century B.C. The reasons for this are unclear, but it suggests that the Roman glass industry sprang from almost nothing and developed to full maturity over a couple of generations during the first half of the first century A.D. [Source: Rosemarie Trentinella, Department of Greek and Roman Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2003, metmuseum.org \^/]


glass jug

“Doubtless Rome's emergence as the dominant political, military, and economic power in the Mediterranean world was a major factor in attracting skilled craftsmen to set up workshops in the city, but equally important was the fact that the establishment of the Roman industry roughly coincided with the invention of glassblowing. This invention revolutionized ancient glass production, putting it on a par with the other major industries, such as that of pottery and metalwares. Likewise, glassblowing allowed craftsmen to make a much greater variety of shapes than before. Combined with the inherent attractiveness of glass—it is nonporous, translucent (if not transparent), and odorless—this adaptability encouraged people to change their tastes and habits, so that, for example, glass drinking cups rapidly supplanted pottery equivalents. In fact, the production of certain types of native Italian clay cups, bowls, and beakers declined through the Augustan period, and by the mid-first century A.D. had ceased altogether. \^/

“However, although blown glass came to dominate Roman glass production, it did not altogether supplant cast glass. Especially in the first half of the first century A.D., much Roman glass was made by casting, and the forms and decoration of early Roman cast vessels demonstrate a strong Hellenistic influence. The Roman glass industry owed a great deal to eastern Mediterranean glassmakers, who first developed the skills and techniques that made glass so popular that it can be found on every archaeological site, not only throughout the Roman empire but also in lands far beyond its frontiers. \^/

Cast Glass Versus Blown Glass in Ancient Rome

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Although the core-formed industry dominated glass manufacture in the Greek world, casting techniques also played an important role in the development of glass in the ninth to fourth centuries B.C. Cast glass was produced in two basic ways—through the lost-wax method and with various open and plunger molds. The most common method used by Roman glassmakers for most of the open-form cups and bowls in the first century B.C. was the Hellenistic technique of sagging glass over a convex "former" mold. However, various casting and cutting methods were continuously utilized as style and popular preference demanded. The Romans also adopted and adapted various color and design schemes from the Hellenistic glass traditions, applying such designs as network glass and gold-band glass to novel shapes and forms. [Source: Rosemarie Trentinella, Department of Greek and Roman Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2003, metmuseum.org \^/]


ribbed mosaic glass bowl

“Distinctly Roman innovations in fabric styles and colors include marbled mosaic glass, short-strip mosaic glass, and the crisp, lathe-cut profiles of a new breed of fine as monochrome and colorless tablewares of the early empire, introduced around 20 A.D. This class of glassware became one of the most prized styles because it closely resembled luxury items such as the highly valued rock crystal objects, Augustan Arretine ceramics, and bronze and silver tablewares so favored by the aristocratic and prosperous classes of Roman society. In fact, these fine wares were the only glass objects continually formed via casting, even up to the as Late Flavian, Trajanic, and Hadrianic periods (96–138 A.D.), after glassblowing superceded casting as the dominant method of glassware manufacture in the early first century A.D. \^/

“Glassblowing developed in the Syro-Palestinian region in the early first century B.C. and is thought to have come to Rome with craftsmen and slaves after the area's annexation to the Roman world in 64 B.C. The new technology revolutionized the Italian glass industry, stimulating an enormous increase in the range of shapes and designs that glassworkers could produce. A glassworker's creativity was no longer bound by the technical restrictions of the laborious casting process, as blowing allowed for previously unparalleled versatility and speed of manufacture. These advantages spurred a rapid evolution of style and form, and experimentation with the new technique led craftsmen to create novel and unique shapes; examples exist of flasks and bottles shaped like foot sandals, wine barrels, fruits, and even helmets and animals. Some combined blowing with glass-casting and pottery-molding technologies to create the so-called mold-blowing process. Further innovations and stylistic changes saw the continued use of casting and free-blowing to create a variety of open and closed forms that could then be engraved or facet-cut in any number of patterns and designs.” \^/

Roman Glass Masterpieces

The highest price ever paid for glass is $1,175,200 for a Roman glass-cup from A.D. 300, measuring seven inches in diameter and four inches in height, sold at Sotheby's in London in June 1979.

One of the most beautiful pieces of Roman art form is the Portland Vase, a near-black cobalt blue vase that is 9¾ inches tall and 7 inches in diameter. Made from glass, but originally thought to have been carved from stone, it was made by Roman craftsmen around 25 B.C., and featured lovely details reliefs made from milky-white glass. The urn is covered with figures but no one is sure who they are. It was found in a A.D. 3rd century tumulus outside of Rome.

Describing the making of a Portland vase, Israel Shenkel wrote in Smithsonian magazine: "A gifted artisan may have first dipped a partially blown globe of the blue glass into a crucible containing the molten white mass, or he may have formed a "bowl" of white glass and while it was still malleable blown the blue vase into it. When the layers contracted in cooling, the coefficients of contraction had to be compatible, otherwise the parts would separate or crack."

"Then working from a draining, or a wax or plaster model. a cameo cutter probably incised outlines on the white glass, removed the material around the outlines, and molded details of figures and objects. He most likely used a variety of tools---cutting wheels, chisels, engravers, polishing wheels polishing stones." Some believe the urn was made by Dioskourides, a gem cutter who worked under Julius Caesar and Augustus.

Roman Cameo Glass


cameo glass image of Augustus

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Some of the finest examples of ancient Roman glass are represented in cameo glass, a style of glassware that saw only two brief periods of popularity. The majority of vessels and fragments have been dated to the Augustan and Julio-Claudian periods, from 27 B.C. to 68 A.D., when the Romans made a variety of vessels, large wall plaques, and small jewelry items in cameo glass. While there was a brief revival in the fourth century A.D., examples from the later Roman period are extremely rare. In the West, cameo glass was not produced again until the eighteenth century, inspired by the discovery of ancient masterpieces such as the Portland Vase, but in the East, Islamic cameo glass vessels were produced in the ninth and tenth centuries. [Source: Rosemarie Trentinella, Department of Greek and Roman Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, metmuseum.org \^/]

“The popularity of cameo glass in early imperial times was clearly inspired by the gems and vessels carved out of sardonyx that were highly prized in the royal courts of the Hellenistic East. A highly skilled craftsman could cut down layers of overlay glass to such a degree that the background color would come through successfully duplicating the effects of sardonyx and other naturally veined stones. However, glass had a distinct advantage over semi-precious stones because craftsmen were not constrained by the random patterns of the veins of natural stone but could create layers wherever they needed for their intended subject. \^/

“It remains uncertain exactly how Roman glassworkers created large cameo vessels, though modern experimentation has suggested two possible methods of manufacture: "casing" and "flashing." Casing involves placing a globular blank of the background color into a hollow, outer blank of the overlay color, allowing the two to fuse and then blowing them together to form the final shape of the vessel. Flashing, on the other hand, requires that the inner, background blank be shaped to the desired size and form and then dipped into a vat of molten glass of the overlay color, much like a chef would dip a strawberry into melted chocolate. \^/

“The preferred color scheme for cameo glass was an opaque white layer over a dark translucent blue background, though other color combinations were used and, on very rare occasions, multiple layers were applied to give a stunning polychrome effect. Perhaps the most famous Roman cameo glass vessel is the Portland Vase, now in the British Museum, which is rightly considered one of the crowning achievements of the entire Roman glass industry. Roman cameo glass was difficult to produce; the creation of a multilayered matrix presented considerable technical challenges, and the carving of the finished glass required a great deal of skill. The process was therefore intricate, costly, and time-consuming, and it has proved extremely challenging for modern glass craftsmen to reproduce. \^/

“Although it owes much to Hellenistic gem and cameo cutting traditions, cameo glass may be seen as a purely Roman innovation. Indeed, the revitalized artistic culture of Augustus' Golden Age fostered such creative ventures, and an exquisite vessel of cameo glass would have found a ready market among the imperial family and the elite senatorial families at Rome. \^/

Roman Luxury Glass


Lycurgus color-changing cup

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “The Roman glass industry drew heavily on the skills and techniques that were used in other contemporary crafts such as metalworking, gem cutting, and pottery production. The styles and shapes of much early Roman glass were influenced by the luxury silver and gold tableware amassed by the upper strata of Roman society in the late Republican and early imperial periods, and the fine monochrome and colorless cast tablewares introduced in the early decades of the first century A.D. imitate the crisp, lathe-cut profiles of their metal counterparts. [Source: Rosemarie Trentinella, Department of Greek and Roman Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2003, metmuseum.org \^/]

“The style has been described as "aggressively Roman in character" mainly because it lacks any close stylistic ties to the Hellenistic cast glass of the late second and first centuries B.C. Demand for cast tableware continued through the second and third centuries A.D., and even into the fourth century, and craftsmen kept alive the casting tradition to fashion these high-quality and elegant objects with remarkable skill and ingenuity. Facet-cut, carved, and incised decorations could transform a simple, colorless plate, bowl, or vase into a masterwork of artistic vision. But engraving and cutting glass was not limited to cast objects alone. There are many examples of both cast and blown glass bottles, plates, bowls, and vases with cut decoration in the Metropolitan Museum's collection, and some examples are featured here. \^/

“Glass cutting was a natural progression from the tradition of gem engravers, who used two basic techniques: intaglio cutting (cutting into the material) and relief cutting (carving out a design in relief). Both methods were exploited by craftsmen working with glass; the latter was used principally and more infrequently to make cameo glass, while the former was widely used both to make simple wheel-cut decorations, mostly linear and abstract, and to carve more complex figural scenes and inscriptions. By the Flavian period (69–96 A.D.), the Romans had begun to produce the first colorless glasses with engraved patterns, figures, and scenes, and this new style required the combined skills of more than one craftsman. \^/

“A glass cutter (diatretarius) versed in the use of lathes and drills and who perhaps brought his expertise from a career as a gem cutter, would cut and decorate a vessel initially cast or blown by an experienced glassworker (vitrearius). While the technique for cutting glass was a technologically simple one, a high level of workmanship, patience, and time was required to create an engraved vessel of the detail and quality evident in these examples. This also speaks to the increased value and cost of these items. Therefore, even when the invention of glassblowing had transformed glass into a cheap and ubiquitous household object, its potential as a highly prized luxury item did not decrease. \^/

Roman Gold–Band and Mosaic-Network Glass


golden glass portrait of two young men

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Among the first glasswares to appear in significant numbers on Roman sites in Italy are the immediately recognizable and brilliantly colored mosaic glass bowls, dishes, and cups of the late first century B.C. The manufacturing processes for these objects came to Italy with Hellenistic craftsmen from the eastern Mediterranean, and these objects retain stylistic similarities with their Hellenistic counterparts. [Source: Rosemarie Trentinella, Department of Greek and Roman Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2003, metmuseum.org \^/]

“Mosaic glass objects were manufactured using a laborious and time-consuming technique. Multicolored canes of mosaic glass were created, then stretched to shrink the patterns and either cut across into small, circular pieces or lengthwise into strips. These were placed together to form a flat circle, heated until they fused, and the resulting disk was then sagged over or into a mold to give the object its shape. Almost all cast objects required polishing on their edges and interiors to smooth the imperfections caused by the manufacturing process; the exteriors usually did not require further polishing because the heat of the annealing furnace would create a shiny, "fire polished" surface. Despite the labor-intensive nature of the process, cast mosaic bowls were extremely popular and foreshadowed the appeal that blown glass was to have in Roman society.

“One of the more prominent Roman adaptations of Hellenistic styles of glassware was the transferred use of gold-band glass on shapes and forms previously unknown to the medium. This type of glass is characterized by a strip of gold glass comprised of a layer of gold leaf sandwiched between two layers of colorless glass. Typical color schemes also include green, blue, and purple glasses, usually laid side by side and marbled into an onyx pattern before being cast or blown into shape.

“While in the Hellenistic period the use of gold-band glass was mostly restricted to the creation of alabastra, the Romans adapted the medium for the creation of a variety of other shapes. Luxury items in gold-band glass include lidded pyxides, globular and carinated bottles, and other more exotic shapes such as saucepans and skyphoi (two-handled cups) of various sizes. The prosperous upper classes of Augustan Rome appreciated this glass for its stylistic value and apparent opulence, and the examples shown here illustrate the elegant effects gold glass can bring to these forms.” \^/

Roman Mold–Blown Glass


molded glass cup

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “The invention of glassblowing led to an enormous increase in the range of shapes and designs that glassworkers could produce, and the mold-blowing process soon developed as an offshoot of free-blowing. A craftsman created a mold of a durable material, usually baked clay and sometimes wood or metal. The mold comprised at least two parts, so that it could be opened and the finished product inside removed safely. Although the mold could be a simple undecorated square or round form, many were in fact quite intricately shaped and decorated. The designs were usually carved into the mold in negative, so that on the glass they appeared in relief. [Source: Rosemarie Trentinella, Department of Greek and Roman Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2003, metmuseum.org \^/]

“Next, the glassblower—who may not have been the same person as the mold maker—would blow a gob of hot glass into the mold and inflate it to adopt the shape and pattern carved therein. He would then remove the vessel from the mold and continue to work the glass while still hot and malleable, forming the rim and adding handles when necessary. Meanwhile, the mold could be reassembled for reuse. A variation on this process, called "pattern molding," used "dip molds." In this process, the gob of hot glass was first partly inflated into the mold to adopt its carved pattern, and then removed from the mold and free-blown into its final shape. Pattern-molded vessels developed in the eastern Mediterranean, and are usually dated to the fourth century A.D. \^/

“While a mold could be used multiple times, it had a finite life span and could be utilized only until the decoration deteriorated or it broke and was discarded. The glassmaker could obtain a new mold in two ways: either a completely new mold would be made or a copy of the first mold would be taken from one of the existing glass vessels. Therefore, multiple copies and variations of mold series were produced, as mold makers would often create second-, third-, and even fourth-generation duplicates as the need arose, and these can be traced in surviving examples. Because clay and glass both shrink upon firing and annealing, vessels made in a later-generation mold tend to be smaller in size than their prototypes. Slight modifications in design caused by recasting or recarving can also be discerned, indicating the reuse and copying of molds. \^/

“Roman mold-blown glass vessels are particularly attractive because of the elaborate shapes and designs that could be created, and several examples are illustrated here. The makers catered to a wide variety of tastes and some of their products, such as the popular sports cups, may even be regarded as souvenir pieces. However, mold-blowing also allowed for the mass production of plain, utilitarian wares. These storage jars were of uniform size, shape, and volume, greatly benefiting merchants and consumers of foodstuffs and other goods routinely marketed in glass containers. \^/

Secret Cabinet and the National Archaeological Museum in Naples


The National Archaeological Museum in Naples is one of the largest and best archeological museums in the world. Located with a 16th century palazzo, it houses a wonderful collection of statues, wall paintings, mosaics and everyday utensils, many of them unearthed in Pompeii and Herculaneum. In fact, most of the outstanding and well-preserved pieces from Pompeii and Herculaneum are in the archeological museum.

Among the treasures are majestic equestrian statues of proconsul Marcus Nonius Balbus, who helped restore Pompeii after the A.D. 62 earthquake; the Farnese Bull, the largest known ancient sculpture; the statue of Doryphorus, the spear bearer, a Roman copy of one of classical Greece's most famous statues; and huge voluptuous statues of Venus, Apollo and Hercules that bear witness to Greco-Roman idealizations of strength, pleasure, beauty and hormones.

The most famous work in the museum is the spectacular and colorful mosaic known both as the Battle of Issus and Alexander and the Persians . Showing Alexander the Great battling King Darius and the Persians," the mosaic was made from 1.5 million different pieces, almost all of them cut individually for a specific place on the picture. Other Roman mosaics range from simple geometric designs to breathtaking complex pictures.

Also worth look are the most outstanding artifacts found at the Villa of the Papyri in Herculaneum are located here. The most unusual of these are the dark bronze statues of water carriers with spooky white eyes made of glass paste. A wall painting of peaches and a glass jar from Herculaneum could easily be mistaken for a Cezanne painting. In another colorful wall painting from Herculaneum a dour Telephus is being seduced by a naked Hercules while a lion, a cupid, a vulture and an angel look on.

Other treasures include the statue of an obscene male fertility god eying a bathing maiden four times his size; a beautiful portrait of a couple holding a papyrus scroll and a waxed tablet to show their importance; and wall paintings of Greek myths and theater scenes with comic and tragic masked actors. Make sure to check out the Farnese Cup in the Jewels collection. The Egyptian collection is often closed.


The Secret Cabinet (in National Archaeological Museum) is a couple of rooms with erotic sculptures, artifacts and frescoes from ancient Rome and Etruria that were locked away for 200 years. Unveiled in the year 2000, the two rooms contain 250 frescoes, amulets, mosaics, statues, oil laps," votive offerings, fertility symbols and talismans. The objects include a second-century marble statute of the mythological figure Pan copulating with a goat found at the Valli die Papyri in 1752. Many of the objects were found in bordellos in Pompeii and Herculaneum.

The collection began with as a royal museum for obscene antiques started by the Bourbon King Ferdinand in 1785. In 1819, the objects were moved to a new museum where they were displayed until 1827, when it was closed after complaints by a priest that descried the room as hell and a "corrupter of the morals or modest youth." The room was opened briefly after Garibaldi set up a dictatorship in southern Italy in 1860.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Forum Romanum forumromanum.org ; “Outlines of Roman History” by William C. Morey, Ph.D., D.C.L. New York, American Book Company (1901), forumromanum.org \~\; “The Private Life of the Romans” by Harold Whetstone Johnston, Revised by Mary Johnston, Scott, Foresman and Company (1903, 1932) forumromanum.org |+|; BBC Ancient Rome bbc.co.uk/history/ ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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