The globalised world of the Roman Empire 2 – Glass

Glass objects are known from the 2nd millennium BC. They were first formed around a sand core (1–2); a technique of casting even larger vessels developed later (3). Similarly to precious stone vessels (6–7), glass was considered luxury, but this changed by the 1st century AD.

Around 50 BC, the technique of glass blowing was invented in the Middle East (6–22), and glass objects appeared almost immediately in everyday life. The change was catalysed by the centralised organisation of the commerce of raw glass, and the invention of the recycling of broken glass. The trends were set by Syrian artisans (6–8, 10). Similar to plastic today, glass offered a simple way of imitating objects made in other materials. Glass was as common in the Roman period as in the modern age. It was used for tableware (3, 19–22), containers (17–18), perfume bottles (13–14), and window glass.

Roman merchants had intense contacts with the tribes of Southern Arabia, whose alabaster statuary is illustrated with a few examples (23–25). They chiefly purchased spices and perfumes, especially the frankincense that was cultivated only there. The fertile lands of “Fortunate Arabia” (Arabia Felix) were primarily reached by camel caravans. The ports were important stations for trading ships on their way to India.