Glass unguentarium, Alexandria, 1-100 AD

Glass unguentarium, Alexandria, 1-100 AD
Dating:1 AD–100 AD
Origin:Egypt, Lower Egypt, Alexandria
Material:Glass (all types)
Physical:5.8cm. (2.3 in.) - 15 g. (.5 oz.)

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  This elegant glass unguentarium was crafted from amber transparent glass, on which trails of opaque white glass were applied, tooled, and melted flush. The bottom is convex and smooth, the body is hemispherical, with a delicate tapering neck ending in a flaring mouth with a small infolded lip. Exquisite proportions. Flawless execution. Egypt, Alexandria, Roman Period, first century AD.

The white glass of the trails seems to have degraded faster than the base glass, leaving behind slight grooves here and there.

“Flask with white threading. Ht. 7.8 cm. Transparent deep blue glass. A very fine trail of white glass was applied at the center of the bottom and wound up to the base of the neck. Roman, 1st century AD” (Fortuna 1991:41 #61).

“Perfume bottles, glass, Eretz Israel (Palestine), 1st century AD” (Dayagi-Mendels 1989:99).

“Flask. Roman Empire, probably Eastern Mediterranean or Alexandria, Egypt, Late 1st century BC” (Merrill 1989:17 #6).

“The earliest shape to be blown, the bulbous bottle with a tubular neck, was made throughout the Roman empire… This general purpose bottle, probably known as ampulla in antiquity, was made in a wide range of sizes. Small ampullae are called unguentaria or balsamaria in modern terminology after the contents which were often unguents or ointments, but the bottles were also used for scented oils, cosmetics, pigments, salves, medicines, and even dried herbs. The bulbous bottle was simply the simplest shape to blow because it needed very little tooling. The glassblower could make a spherical, piriform, or tubular bottle without touching the glass. The rim could be finished by reheating: the simple action of rotation caused the rim to flare outward and the edge to fold over” (Stern 2001:43).

“A small receptacle for toilet preparations (e.g.: oil, scent, kohl). They were made of glass in numerous sizes (usually from 3 to 16 cm. high) and forms. Some examples made of core glass are in the form of various types of Greek vases (e.g. aryballlos, alabastron, lekythos, ampulla) and have combed decoration. Others of the Roman period were of coloured or colorless glass and were of spherical or conical shape, with a slender neck… Many such objects were deposited in Roman tombs, mistakenly thought to have been used to hold tears of the mourners, and were sometimes called ‘tear bottles’ or ‘lachrymatories’… also called a balsamarium.” (Newman 1977)

Bibliography (for this item)

Dayagi-Mendels, Michal
1989 Perfumes and Cosmetics in the Ancient World. The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel. (99)

Fortuna Fine Arts, Ltd.,
1991 Shining Vessels: Ancient Glass from Greek, Roman, and Islamic Times. Fortuna Fine Arts, Ltd., New York, NY. (41 # 61)

Merrill, Nancy O.
1989 A Concise History of Glass Represented in the Chrysler Museum Glass Collection. The Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, VA. (17 # 6)

Bibliography (on Unguentarium)

Newman, Harold
1977 An Illustrated Dictionary of Glass. Thames and Hudson, London, UK.

Stern, E. Marianne
2001 Roman, Byzantine, and Early Medieval Glass; 10 BCE-700 CE; Ernesto Wolf Collection. Hatje Cantz Publishers, Ostfildern-Ruit, Germany.

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