The Roman Empire introduced several innovations that are now an everyday part of modern culture, from roads to concrete, to the modern calendar system and several modern laws. Some even speculate that the Romans introduced cats to the British Isles.
However, one of the lesser-known, and certainly more beautiful achievements of the Roman Empire was the creation of Roman glass. You may have heard of this before, but what is it? How does it differ from most glass, and why should anyone care?
Believe it or not, this is actually quite a fascinating material with a long and storied history. It's not just another pretty face, although it is definitely pretty, so read on to learn more.
Glassmaking is, as far as anyone can tell, at least 4,000 years old. These same estimates place earliest glass production somewhere in Mesopotamia (Modern-day Iraq, plus parts of Syria, Iran, and Turkey).
Some Roman writers claim that the Phoenicians brought glass to Rome, but ancient writers are notorious for being inaccurate. One great example of this is Virgil, who claimed that Rome was founded by the last Trojan survivor of the Trojan war. The glaring problem with this is that the Trojan war ended in the 1100's BCE, and Rome was founded in the 700's.
In this particular case, it was claimed that Phoenicians discovered glass by cooking on the beach, but this story doesn't hold up because a campfire could not reach the temperatures needed to make glass.
In any case, we do know that the craft of glass making soon reached Egypt, since a roughly 3,500-year-old glass furnace has been discovered.
Skipping ahead a bit to Rome, the craft of glass making in Ancient Rome is known to have evolved over time. Before the discovery of glass blowing, which is when the substance known as 'Roman glass' came to be, the Romans often based their glass off of Greek glass.
The big difference is that Greek glass makers largely used various metals in their jewelry. Glass and precious stones started to be used more and more after the discovery of glass blowing.
In all honesty, Roman glass is not much different than most other types of glass. It was made roughly the same way, but on a very large scale.
The main feature that makes Roman glass so attractive to modern buyers is its age. The majority of this special glass dates back to the first century or earlier. Most of it is found in excavation sites around Israel.
The reason so much of this beautiful artifact comes from Israel is because of the abundance of sand there, which made it the perfect area for glass production for the Roman empire. In fact, much of the remaining in-tact glass artifacts are owned by the Israeli government, who often studies it or displays it in museums.
This type of glass must have caught on like wildfire because it soon became a symbol of status and wealth. In fact, for the longest time, specialized artisans catering to the rich were the only ones who even knew how to make glass. This is yet another factor that was changed with the discovery and mass adoption of glass blowing.
The evidence of its incredible popularity comes from the fact that samples of Roman glass have been found as far east as Japan, and dating to maybe a century before the Roman empire collapsed entirely.
However, it's more than age that marks the material as unique. Being buried for nearly two thousand years tends to have an effect on things, and this case is no exception.
Roman Glass is similar to bronze or copper in terms of how it develops a patina as it ages. Perhaps you've seen an ancient sword or bronze vessel in a museum, and you've noticed that for some reason it was green. Maybe you thumbed through your wallet one day and noticed a penny that had become slightly green.
This is called a patina, and it's the natural result of bronze and copper aging and oxidizing. It can happen with a few other materials, but is most commonly seen in bronze.
Patinas can raise the value of an object because they are not only beautiful, but also a sign of age, thus proving that the object is an antique. One of the best examples of the sheer beauty patina can add to an object is the Statue of Liberty.
A gift from the French, Lady Liberty was originally bronze but gradually turned green over time. This may be a really good thing, since a bronze statue, to some, would look gaudy.
Overall, this may be an extension of why this glass comes in so many colors in the first place. The next paragraph will explain how it gets its coloring.
Regardless, it's a unique kind of loveliness that cannot be manufactured.
Of course, the beautiful patina is not the only reason why Roman glass is treasured. It has a chameleon-like effect of changing colors based on what it's exposed to.
The glass has been known to change color in response to light, sweat, even the air itself. In fact, this is basically how the Romans colored the glass in the first place.
Various elements tend to give off their own unique color when they burn. In America, this process is used to make fireworks, but in Rome, it was used to make glass.
Exposing the glass to different metals during the creation process could tint it a certain color. The Romans may have actually copied this idea from one of its neighbors.
The Egyptians, in particular, were known for creating an artificial color that they added to a lot of their goods. This new color became so famous in the Mediterranean that today it is known as Egyptian blue.
Roman glass is about as delicate as it is beautiful. The issue isn't breaking the glass itself, though that certainly is a concern, but damaging the colors.
Much of the signature color, as mentioned above, occurred through centuries of chemical reactions, which unfortunately means that it's easily damaged.
The good news is that a lot of jewelry manufacturers have caught on to this, and now make jewelry where the Roman glass is hidden under a thin, transparent layer of regular glass so that it doesn't get damaged.
Still, not all pieces come this way, but, thankfully, there are ways to prevent color loss, and most of it has to do with where you keep it and how you handle it, or rather don't.
This glass can be damaged by chemical exposure. One of the chemical sources that most people probably wouldn't think of is our own hands. Our bodies are designed to protect us, and one part of that process involves keeping our skin moisturized. To this end, our skin secretes oils that, while helping us, could damage more delicate items.
Though this may go without saying, you should also keep various household chemicals away from this glass, including hairspray and other aerosols.
Another potentially damaging substance is water, or really any liquid. Keep it dry. Liquids can destroy the patina, eventually turning it back into just another piece of glass.
There are a lot of Roman glass pieces in the world, and a full cup, dish or other object often sells for thousands. However, for the majority of us who don't have thousands of dollars to spend on decorations, there is jewelry.
This type of glass jewelry is largely made from fragments. Since this precious substance is two thousand years old, it is far easier to find shards than full pieces.
This is where the customer benefits. The shards are technically owned by the Israeli government, but since the government is largely interested in full pieces, shards are turned over to licensed antiquities dealers, who then sell them to jewelry makers.
Since shards have to go through this whole process, it ensures that anybody selling this kind of glass jewelry is most likely running a legitimate enterprise.
Let it never be said that this special type of jewelry can't be cleaned. There are things you can do to keep it in good shape.
Before we go too much further, it must be said that Roman glass as a substance can't, or at least shouldn't, be cleaned. However, with it being the delicate material that it is, most jewelers tend to use it as the centerpiece in otherwise gold or silver pieces.
In regards to the silver or gold part of the jewelry, it should be polished regularly. Ideally, this should be done with a certain type of cloth.
There are companies that make cleaning cloths specifically designed for polishing jewelry. Ideally, though, the goal is to keep the gold or silver from oxidizing.
This specific polishing cloth is usually stocked in jewelry stores, and in many department stores. However, if you're not in range of a jewelry store, and your local store doesn't stock these cleaning cloths, a microfiber cloth can be substituted.
Do not substitute other kinds of wipes, such as tissues, or paper towels. These may seem safe, but the microfibers can actually scratch certain types of metal.
It's not just chemicals that can destroy Roman glass jewelry. Like most glass, it can definitely break, which is why it's important to always be careful.
Even when cleaning, using too much pressure could cause a break. If somehow the piece does take a bit of a beating, such as accidentally hitting it on a table slipping on the sidewalk, it should be checked immediately for signs of damage.
Unfortunately, if a piece cracks or breaks, it can't really be fixed, which is another reason why caution is so important.
Because of their unique and ancient history, Roman glass tends to be used in a lot of religious jewelry, from crosses to menorahs, and even to Messianic symbols.
Even so, the Middle Eastern material is usually used as a background or inlet, probably because shaping it these days would likely prove next to impossible.
However, for the not-so-religious crowd, there are plenty of other designs that go perfectly with this unique material. Whether you want a teardrop shape, or a more classic circle, or even a heart, there's something in our shop for you.
Also, because of the uniqueness of the material, this glass makes a great conversation piece. It's also a great gift to pass down, should you find that you no longer need it.
The Roman empire lives on in its countless innovations, including its beautiful glass.
It's basically impossible to say when the art of glass making first came to Rome. What we do know is that Roman glass as the world knows it today was made possible by the discovery of glass blowing.
Its elegance, and its wide range of colors, made it spread from Rome through the ancient world.
Today, most of this gorgeous glass can be found in parts of Israel. Because of this, it's often used in religious jewelry.
However, the religious are not the only people who see value in this unique type of glass. Plenty of people wear it as a fashion statement, as well.
That being said, Roman glass is very easy to break or warp, so it should be treated with the utmost care.
If you have any questions or thoughts on this gorgeous glass jewelry, or even want some of your own, feel free to contact us. If you still aren't convinced to do business with us, we encourage you to read through our nearly 900 reviews.