A Roman Glass Ungentarium, ca. 1st century CE




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of pale green glass, a small tear-bottle style ungentarium with bulbous body and very narrow neck with folded and flattened rim.

Reference:  Susan H. Auth, "Ancient Glass at the Neward Museum from the Eugene Schaefer Collection" (1976), p. 211, #404-406 50.1679.

Background: Roman glass, in its mass production and mimicry of luxury items, actually held a relatively lowly position in the hierarchy of Roman material goods. However, as the glassmaking industry developed, glass -- like pottery -- came to be used in everyday life for all manner of domestic storage vessels and tableware, and for the small bottles that held the medicines, perfumes, and spices which were so much a part of the Roman affluent life.  Therefore, it was not until around 31 B.C. that glass started to become fashionable.  Although lacking the intrinsic value of rock crystal and precious metal, it was attractive and, while some looked down on glass because it was cheap, others admired it.  The Romans ambivalence about glass is neatly summed up in Petronius Satyricon, where Trimalchio, the quintessential parvenu, remarks to his guests at dinner, "You will excuse me for what I am about to say: I prefer glass vessels. Certainly, they do not smell and, if they were not so fragile, I would prefer them to gold. These days, however, they are cheap." Glass had several practical advantages over other materials. As Trimalchio observed, glass vessels do not impart a taste or smell to substances they contain, and for this reason they were frequently used for food, perfumes, and medicines; indeed, the physician Scribonius Largus (active about A.D. 50) insisted that certain medical preparations should only be kept in glass containers.

Condition: The bottle is intact and in very good condition overall, with pale iridescence in some areas. 

Dimensions: Height: 6.8 cm (2 2/3 inches) 

Provenance:  Forming part of the James Stephan Snr. collection, assembled in the 1960's and then by descent.  Dr. Stephan was a US intelligence officer who also held a degree in archaeology.  He was posted in the Anatolian region of Turkey with the US government during this time, and acquired his collection from dealers and villagers throughout the region.