For many travelers the first thing that comes to mind when they hear the word “Roman” is the iconic Coliseum in Rome, a jumble of columns shining in the Mediterranean sun, or a time-polished amphitheater.
“Art is long, life is short. “
Roman cities were built to last, and their legacy of stone is spread from one end of their empire to the other. But they left behind something that’s infinitely more fragile, but equally as informative about their lifestyle: glassware.
In our world, we’re literally surrounded by glass, and it’s hard to imagine it as new technology, but 5000 years ago it was. In the ancient world, glass was exceptionally rare. Only the extremely wealthy could afford it. But during the 1st century BC, glassblowing was discovered in the Syrian/Judean region, and an industry was born.
Suddenly, lighter weight, more functional glass vessels were less expensive than clay pottery. And even though those clever Romans didn’t invent glass, after its discovery they did their part to spread this attractive and useful commodity around the known world.
In Roman times manufacturing glass involved two groups: the glass makers and glass workers. Glass making required large amounts of sand, lime, soda, and heat … lots of heat. So glass makers had to be close to a hefty wood supply as well as all the other heavy, hard to transport raw materials. But once the raw glass was produced, the temperatures needed to melt the chunks were much lower, so working the glass could be done by artisans closer to the markets where it was needed.
Cologne, in northwestern Germany, was established as a regional Roman capital in 50 A.D. and became a major glass manufacturer and supplier for aristocrats and commoners alike; which explains why the Roman-Germanic Museum (Römisch-Germanisches Museum) has such an extensive and impressive collection of 2000 year-old glassware.
Even though glass became more common over time, the fact that most of these exquisite pieces were found in situ as part of burial sites indicates the value Romans placed on them.
Glass in all its forms and uses is such a huge part of our daily lives it’s easy to take it for granted, not noticing or thinking about it. But The Atlantic opined that,
“Glass has shaped the world more than any other substance, and in many sneaky ways, it’s the defining material of the human era.”
Yes, it’s ubiquitous today, but the Romans and their artistic glass are a reminder of how special it can be on a personal level and why it’s maintained its appeal through the ages.
Good health and Happy Trails,
James & Terri
Photo Credits: 11. Carole Raddato