Roman greenish glass grapes-flask, 300 A.D.

Glass was a favorite item for the Romans who supplied it by trade with the Egyptians and Phoenicians. But from the beginning of the Empire it was manufactured in the metropolis and outside it, giving it the same applications as the Egyptians and Phoenicians and perfecting the forms of their vessels that are more varied and elegant. Towards the end of the Hellenistic period, crystal definitely supplanted terracotta as a raw material for the manufacture of containers in all areas of everyday life. At the beginning of the Roman era, the invention and rapid propagation of the torch, and the conception of furnaces that resist ever higher temperatures, will be considered an important technical revolution in antiquity. With a versatility like no other material known in Roman times, the abundant availability, lightness and ease of use of glass allowed the imitation of a wide range of other materials, especially precious metals. On the other hand, the ancients certainly knew that glass is a chemically neutral substance, which makes it particularly suitable for the storage of cosmetics or pharmaceuticals, as well as food and liquids. Hardly any Roman burial is discovered that does not contain bottles of colourless or greenish glass, covered with iridescence by the action of humidity and air. These bottles, always in narrow shapes, are often called by lacrimatory and ointment collectors, but they were only used to contain oils or perfumes in graves, not to deposit tears in them. The Romans also perfected the art of producing reliefs of figures in glass vessels by adding another layer of enamel, or glass of a different colour, together with modelling and chiselling or engraving it, so that the outer surface of such vessels offers all the appearances of a cameo.


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