A Roman Glass Ungentarium, Roman Imperial, 1st century AD


The preservation of this vessel clearly illustrates that glass is a fragile material easily affected by exterior conditions, resulting in many ancient objects, such as this example, carrying signs of weathering or damage or both. Made of semi-translucent blue-green glass, this vessel has a pear-shaped body with flattened bottom, cylindrical neck and horizontally splayed rim. It represents the most common group of ancient Roman glass vessels usually known as "toilet bottles" or unguentaria in Latin (sing. unguentarium). They served as containers for different kinds of perfumed oils used in bathing and personal grooming but also for scented powders needed in cosmetic preparations, pharmaceutical ointments and balsams. The function of the vessel is recognized in its design - the bulbous body contains an amount of liquid and the long slender neck helps dispense it.  Ungentaria are found mostly without their stoppers, for, being made of organic material they have not survived, otherwise the content would not be prevented from evaporating or spilling. These small vessels are not decorated with any additional color nor do they have handles. The thin wall highlights the main achievement of the new technique, making the glass not only lighter but more transparent which serves for better function by affording an easier view of the liquid contents to help determine when refilling may be needed.

Dimensions: Height: 3 inches (7.5 cm)

Condition: There is heavy iridescence to the neck and areas of the body, the exterior weathered with scattered iridescence and mineral accretion throughout, it is intact but for a small crack and rim chip, and in very good condition overall.

Provenance: The William R. Crawford collection of Ancient Glass and Antiquities, acquired from the European trade in the 1950's and then by descent. William R. Crawford, a retired American career diplomat and expert on the Middle East and Cyprus, was Director of Arab-Israeli Affairs at the State Department between 1959-1964, and Deputy Chief of Mission in Cyprus thereafter. In the 1970's, he was ambassador to Yemen and then to Cyprus and later became principal deputy assistant secretary of state for Near East and South Asian affairs. He donated part of his collection to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts prior to his death in 2002.

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