A Roman Emerald Glass Amphoriskos, 1st Century AD

Many ancient objects made of glass carry signs of weathering or damage. This vessel is an amphoriskos (miniature amphora) that belongs to the category of vessels used in everyday life by the ancient Romans as small perfume bottles. Although a utilitarian object this vessel is richly decorated. It is made with two small handles of deep cobalt blue, as compared to the emerald green of the rest of the vessel. The handles are positioned vertically and follow the lines of the cylindrical neck. 

This vessel was made in the mold-blowing technique with concentric horizontal ridges of two parts, using either a wood or a terracotta mold of two symmetrical halves of the desired finished shape. Thereafter the halves were assembled together; the seam is clearly visible on the bottom and on the sides of the vessel. The handles were then shaped on each side extending from the top of the neck to the shoulder. They had little practical use, owing to their size, and the vessel was most probably held by its body. Also noted is that the narrow bottom crossed by the seam does not allow the vessel to rest in a steady upright position. This was probably not considered as a defect: a surviving example of a completely analogical shape shows the remains of the bronze chain attached to one handle. We can conclude that such amphoriskoi were not intended to be placed on the top of a toilet table but rather to be worn as attached to a belt and they did not contain the perfumes but rather oils used to protect and clean the skin after exercise.

Background: Amphoriskos, such as this example, belong to a very specific group of brilliantly colored fine ware that was produced in Italy and the Northwestern provinces in the 2nd quarter of the first century CE. Four specific colors can be associated with this class of vessels, including emerald green, cobalt blue, aquamarine and “peacock” blue. Contemporaneous ceramic and metal forms likely influenced the form of this vessel. A number of similar bottles have been found at both Pompeii and Herculaneum. Grose suggests that this is a testament to their high value since production seems to have stopped by 60 CE (Grose 1991, “Early Imperial Roman Cast Glass,” 9). By the Flavian era, this demand for bright color gave way to colorless vessels that dominated glass production until the fall of the Roman Empire.

Dimensions: Height: 4 inches (10 cm)

Condition: The vessel is preserved in its entirety with the exception for the partial loss to one handle, and small hole where handle attached at the neck. There is also a small hairline crack to body that does not detract. Otherwise the amphoriskos is intact and in very good condition overall. The custom stand was made by the Corcoran museum, Washington DC in the 1980's.

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. Exhibited:  Workhouse Art Center, Virginia, Glass National 2016, October, 2016- January 2017.


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