Ancient Glass


The use of glass evolved over the ancient periods through techniques, styles, colours and uses. The ancient Egyptians are thought to be one of the first to manufacture glass by producing small glass beads for necklaces. Originally faience was a main material used by the Egyptians for decorating and making amulets and jewellery. This was created by mixing sand quartz with different alkalines and other substances to create the different colours. This process evolved into the creation of glass which involved mixing two substances; silica and soda.

 The sand quartz (silica) would have been melted down by using soda, during this period natron was used, which was found in dry lake beds. Mentioned by Pliny the Elder, glass had been melted over fires of dry and light wood or successful furnaces with soda The Natural Histories, Book 36.193-195.  Natron was later imported from Egypt to other areas, such as Rome, for glassmakers to use and then glass manufacture spread across the Roman Empire.

Glass techniques

Sand Core technique

Sand core is one of the earliest known glass techniques, the molten glass was wound around a central core, of sand, mud or clay, supported by a rod until a vessel like shape was formed. The threads may have been dragged and moved to form a decorative pattern. The rod is then removed and the vase is heated at a high temperature. After annealing, the core is removed by scraping.


Blown glass

Blown glass revolutionised the glass industry, the process allowed for a variety of shapes to be constructed ranging from simple to intricate designs. It became the favoured technique across the Roman Empire during the 1st century AD, not only could it be manipulated more easily, the production rate increased dramatically. The glass mixture would have been heated up and placed on the end of a rod, the glass blower would have then blown down the rod and inflated the molten glass. As a result, the glass became more translucent rather than thick and heavily coloured which was highly desired.

Moulded glass

The molten glass would have been cast directly into a mould in which the item would solidify into the desired shape. Alternatively, shards of glass may have been placed in the mould and then heated up to conjoin into one piece. Across the Roman Empire, the popularity of this process reduced during the 1st century AD but did continue through to the late 2nd century AD.



Iridescence was an unintentional reaction from the weathering on the glass creating beautiful glistening colours. This was primarily due to the burial conditions; the heat, soil and humidity but also the raw materials. It was discovered that glass from the Eastern Mediterranean, containing natron, displayed more iridescence than those created with potash, a different type of soda. The word iridescence comes from the Greek goddess Iris, the personification of the rainbow. The effect is caused by the reflection of light on the weathered layers built up over time.


Ancient Glass Antiquities

At Ancient & Oriental, we stock a wide range of artefacts from most ancient cultures and time periods. If you’re looking to buy Ancient Glass antiquities from the UK’s leading dealer, with our own certification and authenticity guaranteed, please look around our online shop or call +44 (0)20 8364 4565 if you’d like us to source a specific item.

By Leia Dowding,

  Filed under: Ancient Rome, Buying & Collecting   Tags: , , ,
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