October 30, 2007

Glass work (Flash)inspired by that of ancient Rome is on display at the Getty. You can actually buy real Roman glass here.

The Romans were slow starters with glass, and apparently didn't even have a word for it until about 60 BC. Augustus changed all that, importing skills and craftsmen wholesale: soon they were producing extraordinary stuff like cage cups, cameo glass and gold-band glass. Genuine ancient glass often acquires an attractive iridescent patina, which can now be reproduced without burying the glass for hundreds of years.

  • (If I can follow up on one of Pleg's links a bit, the Corning Museum of Glass is perhaps one of the best 'single-subject' museums in the world, and highly deserves a visit if you're in the area, or even if you're not. You can also make your own glass, although Roman bottles don't seem to be on the list just now. But please, continue.)
  • I was delighted and informed! Whom should I sue?
  • Amazing to think that some of the intricate and delicate cage cups have survived for centuries. Cheers, Pleggy! *clinks glasses* *crunch* *tinkle* oops
  • Lovely stuff. I especially loved those cage cups and mosaics. Thanks, Plegmund! )))))
  • Glass was very difficult to make for the ancients, and the larger the pieces, the more technically prohibitive was their production. Roman industry was almost all in-house, cottage-style industry that never became larger, factory-style manufacturing in the sense that we know it today, or even equivalent to medieval manufacturing (a 'factory' for the Romans was a group of slaves trained to work together producing various goods, not a location where said goods were produced). Exceptions to this rule existed mainly in food production, eg, garum. Rome, the city state itself, did not export manufactured stuff to the outlands, for instance, but rare & valuable stuff was imported in mass quantities; it never occurred to the Romans to create more wealth in this manner. Things were made individually, by hand, mostly by or close to the people who would eventually use them. This is why glasswear manufacture, while much more common in Egypt & other places, took a long time to manifest in Rome. Flat panes of glass were almost totally beyond the technological ability of the Romans, and I think it wasn't entirely figured out until the middle ages, depending on which culture we're talking about (some were cannier than others). Guess what the Romans used instead of glass in windows? Talc. That is, the mineral form that talc powder is derived from, similar to soapstone. They would slice it very, very thin and put it in window frames, or more rarely, in the sides of palanquins or enclosed litters. This was for the rich, mind. It was translucent enough to let in light, but you couldn't see thru it, obviously. This was also one of the background prop details that the BBC/HBO series Rome got correct, among many others, and which continues to make the series a delight for the historically inclined.