Sarcophagus Fragment, Roman, ca. 240-250 CE, The Art Institute of Chicago

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Roman Bowl Found in London

There is something magical about the shapes and colors of Roman glass that has always fascinated me. Blown glass, and especially mould-blown glass, allowed the Romans to manufacture glass vessels in some very unique shapes. Glass blowing was invented in Phoenicia in the 1st century BCE, and it was quickly realized that the new technique presented an unlimited range of potential designs (see photos below). Glass products spread throughout the Roman Empire and became extremely popular. The variety of shapes and colors probably helped make glass ware fashionable, but it was glass that imitated rock crystal that was most widely sought. One beautiful technique employed by Roman glass makers was millefiori. This technique used multi-colored glass rods from which cross sections were cut and placed side by side, creating designs that resembled flowers, hence the name.

Archaeologists at a Roman graveyard in London have unearthed an amazing find, a magnificent Roman millefiori bowl found in the grave of a wealthy Londinium resident. The bowl, which dates from the 3rd century CE, was found broken, but complete. It has recently been pieced back together and the final result is beautiful. The bowl is of a typical Roman shape and is made of hundreds of glass rod sections pieced together. This is apparently the first such artifact to be found in Western Europe, so this find is quite important. Roman period archaeology in London is rare, since the city has been continuously occupied since antiquity. The site were the bowl was found was once covered by Victorian houses, which were leveled in WWII, giving archaeologists a unique opportunity to dig in London. This bowl gives us only a hint of what treasures are still buried under London and other modern European cities.