Flasks of this type were designed with a constriction on the inside of the neck. This permitted only a drop of liquid to pass through at a time, hence the term ‘sprinkler’ or ‘dropper’ flask.
Glass was often the preferred material for storing expensive oils, perfumes, and medicines because it was not porous. The small body and mouth allowed the user carefully to pour and control the amount of liquid dispensed. By the 1st century AD, the technique of glass-blowing had revolutionised the art of glass-making, allowing for the production of small medicine, incense, and perfume containers in new forms. These small glass bottles are found frequently at Hellenistic and Roman sites, especially in cemeteries, and the liquids which filled them would have been gathered from all corners of the expansive Roman Empire.
The iridescence on ancient Roman glass was unintentional, and was caused by weathering on its surface. The extent to which a glass object weathers depends mainly on the burial conditions; however, the humidity, heat, and type of soil in which the glass was buried also all affect its preservation.
The spiral pattern on this vessel is subtle, and was created when the glass was formed in a fluted mould. The artist would have removed the mould and inflated the glass slightly, before twisting the glass to achieve this beautiful pattern.
To find out more about Roman glass please see our relevant blog post: Collecting Roman Glass.