The Ancient World & Glass Making

27 Jan

Since publishing a bit about the telescopic like piece of glass found by S. Martinos on Thera, I became curious as to how extensive glass making was in the ancient world. Turns out that their end product could rival modern glass makers’ productions. Here are some links and blurbs on ancient glass making.


Glassmaking originated in the Syro-Palestine area around the third millennium BC and was developed in Egypt in 1500 BC. The Phoenicians became the greatest glassmakers and exporters of the ancient world. This was because of the rich deposits of silica-based sand, which contained a substantial amount of lime, found along the coast of Lebanon (James 464 and Fleming 138).

Glass was rare. It was used in artistic pieces and given the same status as semi-precious stones by artisans. Beautiful bright red and yellow opaque glass and cobalt-blue glass ingots were used as beads for jewelry and in figurines and decorative vessels like the ones shown to the right.

Ancient people probably discovered the technique for making glass when firing faience. Faience is a type of ceramic pottery glazed with a sodium alkaline flux. If the glaze was mixed with the crushed silicon clay before firing, a glassy substance would have been produced in the body of the clay (Bowman 33).

Ancient glass vessels were produced in molds. The earliest datable example of molded glass was found in the tomb of Thutmose III’s three foreign wives. The tomb yielded a molded glass vessel and a large number of glass beads and inlays, as well as two more unusual vitreous vessels. This has led some archaeologists to speculate that glassmaking came to Egypt from the Syro-Palestine area during the reign of Thutmose III (Lilyquist 194).


There is still some doubt as to when and where glass was invented. The tradition passed on by Pliny locates the event on the Phoenician coast, in modem Lebanon, where there later grew one of the most important glass-making centers.

In Egypt, the first glass we know of, as a component of faience ware, dates from as far back as the Neolithic Badarian culture at the turn of the 5th and 4th millennia BC. Glass is produced from a mixture of silica-sand, lime and soda, colored with the copper ore malachite and fused at a high temperature.

In the oldest Egyptian faience ware a skin of this substance was applied to a core made of silica-sand and clay, or of the stone steatite. This was used at first only for beads, but later on for amulets, shawabtis (the little figurines of the attendants of the deceased), other figures and inlays (shapes inserted into the sides of vessels, wooden objects, or into plaster). Particularly in the Middle and New Kingdoms a faience glaze was often applied to complete vessels and statuettes.

It is not surprising that the ancient authorities thought of Phoenicia as the birthplace of glass, for theSyro-Palestine region did indeed become a major center of glass production in antiquity, along with Egypt. However, glass seems actually to have been “discovered” not in Phoenicia, but in Mesopotamia. Archaeological researchnow places the first evidence of true glass there at around 2500 B.C. At first it was used for beads, seals, and architectural decoration. Some 1,000 years elapsed before glass vessels are known to have been produced. Vessels of glass quickly became widespread in the second half of the second millennium B.C. They were popular not only in Mesopotamia but also in Egypt and the Aegean. The earliest vessels were core-formed. Opaque, dark glass in its molten state was wound around a clay core attached to a metal rod. The skin of hot glass was fashioned with tools in order to shape its external features. Lighter colored strands of hot glass were then trailed on the surface and often “dragged” to produce festoon patterns. The pot surface wasmarvered (that is, rolled on a smooth, flat surface to produce a level finish). Finally, it was cooled slowly before the clay core was scraped out of the hardened vessel. This glassware typically imitated forms originally established for ceramic, metal, and stone vessels .Somewhat later, the molding technique was developed, whereby glass chips or molten glass were packed or forced into a mold and then fused. After a molded vessel was annealed (cooled slowly in a special chamber of the glass furnace), it was often ground and polished in order to refine the rim and any other rough edges. One typical shape for molded vessels of the late Hellenistic and early Roman periods (c. 150 -50 B.C.) was the so-called pillar-molded bowl. Here exterior ribs radiate up from the base, stopping abruptly near the rim to allow a smooth margin around the circumference. This type is ubiquitous; and it attests to the free and rapid exchange of ideas in glass-making throughout the Greater Mediterranean sphere. Fragmentary examples in the collections of the Kelsey Museum range from Seleucia, to Karanis, to Puteoli. The site of Tel Anafa in Israel (recently excavated jointly by the Universities of Michigan and Missouri) has provided critical information on the chronological limits of these bowls within the Roman period.


The name of man who discovered glass is lost in history records. No matter who did it and how it happened, there is evidence which suggests that glass was already in use as far back as the 14th century BC.

Beside Phoenicians, ancient Egyptians also knew the secrets of glass production and they used glass like materials long before the production of glass itself. Little glass beads, which people used for necklaces was the first glass.

Decorative glass was very difficult to produce and was quite rare. In ancient time glass was made from sand quartz and the ancients were using some very complex chemistry to both create and color the glass. They simply whetted beads, figures or bottles of any shape since they couldn’t blow spherical forms…

The technique of core forming was developed in both Egypt and Mesopotamia in about 1500BC. This new method by which glass vessels were produced in variety of shapes was important breakthrough in glass making and remained in use for over a thousand years.


Although the core-forming technique was the first process
to be used for the manufacture of glass vessels, several
casting techniques followed shortly thereafter, with early ex-
amples from the Near East and Egypt dating to the fifteenth
 Despite the early date of their invention, casting
techniques received only limited use until the Hellenistic
period, with the explosive expansion of demand for luxury
goods centered around the royal courts of the new king-
doms founded by the successors of Alexander the Great.
The rise of cast glass to a position of greater prominence
beginning in the third century paralleled the dwindling
popularity of the core-forming technique, which was obso-
lete by the early first century

I did not realize at first that, irridescence proves nothing. I have some glass that was dug up in Germany and in the states, from within closed glass factories, dug-up in the remaining grounds, artifacts,  that displays the best irridescence you could want. Except this glass is less than 100 years old.. Yes it grows on glass in a little as 50 years..

The other thing most do not realize is that, ancient glass techniques are primitive..  What does this mean? There are so-called experts who sell this stuff telling you about lost techniques, it is a bunch of garbage. Primitive techniques are simple, in fact, most glass blowers learn primitive glass blowing equal to or better than what is dug-up..  Primitive means, it is easy, simple to recreate, I.E. primitive,  A child creating art in grade school is primitive..


The next evidence came in January 1892, when Petrie was joined by Howard Carter, then on his first visit to Egypt. Petrie’s initial impression of Carter was as ‘a good-natured lad, whose interest is entirely in painting and natural history …and it is of no use to me to work him up as an excavator’ (Petrie Journal). This was to prove premature, as later journal letters make clear. The two men made an excellent team, and Carter’s arrival coincided with the discovery of what were described as ‘amulet factories’, places where faience was produced. His time at the site also encompassed the excavation of other glass and glaze workshops, one of them discovered by local children. The sum total of Petrie and Carter’s finds of glass and faience led Petrie to attempt a reconstruction of the processes of glass and faience production at Amarna. This was the first time such a feat had been attempted. It has been the standard account of ancient glass production ever since.

It is not just glass making that I am interested in but my curiosity is pointing me to see if the ancients could produce telescopic-like glass so that ancient astronomers could see the heavens a lot easier and clearer. Knowing that the ancients were fine craftsmen in other areas of life, i.e. construction, it stands to reason that there would be a few perfectionists in the glass industry who would push themselves to see what they could accomplish.

I could also wonder about ancient eye wear as well but that is not as interesting to me as telescope lenses.  Though now that I mention it

It is unlikely that instruments for visual aid were used in ancient Egypt, Greece or Rome. Although Nero used an emerald to watch the gladiator games, he probably used it for the green color (which blocked out the sunlight). The ancient Chinese are often thought to have developed spectacles 2,000 years ago, but those lenses were only used to protect eyes from evil forces.

That website seems to be a very biased and uninformed piece of work The next link may be more honest but it is based upon very weak evidence

Apparently no visual instruments existed at the time of the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, or Romans. At least this view is supported by a letter written by a prominent Roman about 100 B.C . in which he stressed his resignation to old age and his complaint that he could no longer read for himself, having instead to rely on his slaves. The Roman tragedian Seneca, born in about 4 B.C., is alleged to have read “all the books in Rome” by peering at them through a glass globe of water to produce magnification. Nero used an emerald held up to his eye while he watched gladiators fight. This is not proof that the Romans had any idea about lenses, since it is likely that Nero used the emerald because of its green color, which filtered the sunlight. Ptolemy mentions the general principle of magnification; but the lenses then available were unsuitable for use in precise magnification.

It is hard to say because so many written records have been lost to time. I do not like or go to wikipedia but they seem to have the best information this time out

But I would not put it past the ancient people to have invented and used eye glasses and like other inventions, they had to be re-discovered in later epochs. Anyways it is food for thought.

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Posted by on January 27, 2015 in academics, archaeology, history, science


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