Glassway - vetro verre glass
italiano · français · english
Home Events Project Partners Links
THE BRONZE AGE Home Artistic Glass and Glass Handicraft The history of glass The Bronze Age
Artistic Glass and Glass Handicraft
The history of glass
The Bronze Age
The Iron Age
From The Augustus Era to the Late Antiquity
The Middle Ages
The Renaissance
The Baroque Period
The 19th Century
Industrial Glass
Glass and Environment
Site Map


by Rosanna Mollo and Patrizia Framarin
Mosaic glass
Corning Museum of Glass, New York
Corning Museum of Glass, New York.
From the 6th millennium BC, man begins to use obsidian (photo 1), a siliceous rock of volcanic origin, found in abundance on the Eolie islands, Pontine, Pantelleria e Sardinia (Monte Arci) to make sharp and resistant objects. This material is traded over long distances, giving rise to the first Mediterranean trade routes (map A).
The discovery of the actual vitreous material, in the form of faïence (photo 2) or a glassy paste, dates back to the middle of the 3rd millennium BC in Mesopotamia (Iraq and Syria), and is preceded only by the use of glazing. Semi-finished glass, in the shape of a bar or block, dating back to the 23rd century BC, was discovered in Eshnunna and, back a few centuries, in Eridu.
The first shaped and moulded glass objects were necessarily very small. From the appearance of the first containers, apart from buttons, almost only ornamental or ritual-type objects are produced, in particular pearls of various dimensions, small plates and inlay work (photo 3).
This production reaches the eastern Mediterranean and the European coasts as testimony to a series of trans-ocean relationships between the communities at the beginning of the Bronze Age and the Aegean environment. The oldest occurrence of pearls in a glassy material were found in French Languedoc between 2400 and 200 BC (hypogeum from Roaix). In Italy the oldest discovery dates back to the 19th-18th century BC and is a necklace from the Caverna dell'acqua in Finale Ligure. On the continent, following contacts with the Carpathian-Danubian regions, the Lago di Garda region gave us many discoveries of biconical pearls.
The first containers made of lass seem to have been produced over the 16th-11th centuries BC, initially in the ancient Alalakh (in the Antiochia plain, North Syria) and the High Mesopotamia, in Nuzi, Assur, Tell al-Rimah, that is to say, in the Hurritan-Mitannic area. They are small ceramic objects, shaped like chalices, cups, small pear-shaped bottles tapered downprevalently in blue glass, decorated with different coloured filaments, especially yellow.
Technically speaking, these objects were made by fusion on friable core which conditioned the size of the object.
About a century later, glass production developed in Egypt too, with an ever-increasing independent style, probably as a consequence of the military successes of Thutmosis III (1479-1425 BC) in Mesopotamia. Egyptian production is characterised mainly by cosmetics containers (photo 4), ritual vase (photo 5) and shaped vases of bright polychrome.
Shortly after the introduction of the friable core technique, over 15th-14th century BC, production of polychrome mosaic vases were experimented, again from the northern Mesopotamia area, which will be the site of wide successive developments.
At the same time, mosaic glass is discovered also in Egypt, as the numerous fragments found in Malkata testify, which probably belong to the Amenofi III reign (1390-1352 BC). From this moment on, Egyptian glass production experiences a period of notable splendour for the variety of shapes and the chromatic wealth (Table I - photos 7-8-9-10).
The spread of Egyptian products reached Mycenaean Greece, while in Cyprus, the production of pomegranate containers began (photo 11).
In Mycenaean Greece, lace elements were almost exclusively the only thing made (photo 12), blue in colour, shiny and translucent and decorative plaques for the inlay of palatial furnishings. These were secondary, as seems to be demonstrated by the findings of ingots at the Ulu Burum relict, on the southern coast of Turkey, belonging to a boat from the 14th century BC, probably directed towards the Hellenic peninsular.
In the western Mediterranean, along the Tyrrhenian and Adriatic coasts open to Aegean traffic, in the initial phase of the Middle Bronze period (c. 15th cent. BC), there are globe-shaped and disc-shaped pearls in molten glass, which can be compared to similar Mycenaean materials. These ornamental objects, a sort of status symbol, are found in houses and coeval funerary contexts in centre-south Italy, like the Punta d'Alaca settlement on the island of Vivara (Naples), and Grotta Manaccora in Puglia, in Sicily (Castelluccio, Fogliuta di Adrano, Monte Grande, Thapsos) and the Eolie Islands (Acropoli di Lipari, Capo Graziano).
In the middle Bronze era, vitreous material even reaches the Padana plains: we know of particular conical and disc-shaped buttons like the examples from Poviglio and Quingento in the Parma area and the pilework in Mercurago (Novara).
Around 1200 BC, coinciding with the events which would determine the end of the Bronze Age, there is a reduction of the production of vitreous objects (photo 13), as a consequence of the decline of the Mycenaean civilisation of southern Greece, Crete and the Ittita reign in centre-eastern Anatolia, which determined the flowering of luxury goods' production and the conditions for their commercialisation.
In the decline of Egyptian production, there are few archaeological sites that, between 1200 and 900 BC, have given us vitreous discoveries: they are mainly necklace pendants and small sconces.
Lastly, in the late European Bronze era (6th-9th cent. BC), local production (photos 14-15) is activated in the north-east of Italy, in Frattesina di Fratta Polesine (Rovigo).
We are talking about various types of pearls (photo 16) in bright colours, in blue sky-blue and red, presumably obtained by coating or wrapping the molten glass around a rod, decorated with the addition of some molten glass threads (photo 17).
At the end of the 2nd millennium BC (11th cent. BC), a necklace of polychrome pearls in molten glass from Lipari (Piazza Monfalcone Necropolis) (photo 18) documents the continuation of the long glass 'ornamental' tradition which persists even in the changed political and economical situation of the Mediterranean, which has a negative effect on production.
O.Williams-Thorpe, Review article. Obsidian in the Mediterranean and the Near East: a provenancing success story, in 'Archaeometry' 37, 2, 1995, pp. 217-248.
Barag 1970
D. Barag, Mesopotamian Core-formed Glass Vessels (1500-500 B.C.), Corning 1970.
Barag 1985
D. Barag, Catalogue of Western Asiatic Glass in the British Museum I. Late third millenium B.C. to c. A.D. 200, London 1985.
Bellintani 1997
P. Bellintani, Frattesina: l'ambra e la produzione vitrea nel contesto delle relazioni transalpine, in L. Endrizzi, L. Marzatico (sous la direction de), Ori delle Alpi, Catalogo esposizione, Trento 1997, pp. 117-129.
Bellintani 2000
P. Bellentani, I bottoni conici ed altri materiali vetrosi delle fasi non avanzate della media età del Bronzo dell'Italia settentrionale e centrale, in 'Padusa', XXXVI, 2000, pp. 95-116.
Bellintani-Biavati 1997
P. Bellentani, A. Biavati, Ornamenti in materiale vetroso, in 'Le Terra mare. La più antica civiltà padana', Catalogo mostra Modena, pp. 610-613.
Bellintani-Biavati-Verità 1998
P. Bellentani, A. Biavati, M.Verità, Alcune considerazioni su materiali vetrosi da constesti dell'età del Bronzo media e recente dell'Italia settentrionale in 'Il vetro dall'antichità all'età contemporanea: aspetti tecnologici, funzionali e commerciali', in 'Atti 2e Giornate Nazionali di Studio AIHV' , Milano 1998.
Bergonzi-Cardarelli 1992
G. Bergonzi, A. Cardarelli, Status symbol e oggetti d'ornamento nella media età del Bronzo dell'Italia settentrionale: ambra, fayence, pasta vitrea, metalli preziosi, in 'L'Età del Bronzo, in Italia nei secoli dal XVI al XIV secolo a.C.', in Rassegna di Archeologia, 10, 1991-92, pp. 217-220.
Biavati-Verità 1989
A. Biavati, M. Verità, The glass from Frattesina, a glass making center in the late bronze age, in 'Rivista della stazione sperimentale del vetro', 4, pp. 295-303.
Bietti Sestieri 1981
A. M. Bietti Sestieri, Lo scavo dell'abitato protostorico di Frattesina di Fratta Polesine (Rovigo). I La sequenza stratigrafica del quadrato U6, in 'Bollettino Paleontologico Italiano', 1975-80-81, pp. 221 e sgg.
Brill 1970
R. H. Brill, The chemical Interpretation of the Texts, in 'Glass and Glassmaking in Ancient Mesopotamia', Corning 1970.
Cann-Renfrew 1964
J.R. Cann, C. Renfrew, The characterization of Obsidian and Its Application to the Mediterranean Regione, in proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 30, 1964, pp. 111-131.
Castiglioni-Fussi-D'Agnolo 1962
O. C. Castiglioni, F. Fussi, G. D'Agnolo, Indagini sulla provenienza dell'ossidiana in uso nelle industrie preistoriche italiane. Parte prima problematiche tecniche di indagine, in 'Atti della Società Italiana di Scienze Naturali' 101, 1962, pp. 12-19.
Del Lucchese 1984
A. Del Lucchese, Resti della sepoltura dell'antica età del Bronzo nella Caverna dell'Acqua o del Morto (Finale Ligure - SV), in 'Preistoria Alpina', 20, pp. 155-168.
Ghirshman 1966
R. Ghirshman, Tchoga Zanbil, I, Paris 1966.
Glassway 2004
Glassway, Il vetro: fragilità attraverso il tempo, Palermo 2004.
Goldstein 1979
S. M. Goldstein, Pre-Roman and Early Roman Glass in the Corning Museum of Glass, Corning (New York) 1979.
Grose 1989
D. F. Grose, Early ancient Glass, The Toledo Museum of Art, New York 1989.
Harden 1968
D. B. Harden, Ancient Glass, I: Pre-Roman, in the 'Archeological Journal', CXXV, 1968, pp. 46-72.
Harden 1981
D. B. Harden, Catalogue of Greek and Roman Glass in the British Museum, vol. I, London 1981.
Harding 1984
A. F. Harding, The Myceneans and Europe, in Academic Press, London 1984.
Henderson-Towle-Bellintani-Gambacurta 2001
J. Henderson, A. Towle, P. Bellintani, G. Gambacurta, Frattesina and Beyond Part I : Preliminary Report of Scientific Analyses of Early Glass from the Veneto, in 'Padusa', XXXVII, 2001.
Nicoletti 1997
F. Nicoletti, Il Commercio Preistorico dell'ossidiana nel Mediterraneo ed il ruolo di Lipari e Pantelleria nel più antico sistema di scambio, in S. Tusa (ed.) Prima Sicilia, Ediprint 1997, pp. 259-269.
Oppenheim 1970
A.L. Oppenheim, The cuneiform texts, in Glass and Glass-making in Ancient Mesopotamia, Corning 1970.
Negro Ponzi Mancini 1985
M. M. Negro Ponzi Mancini, Il vetro in Mesopotamia, in 'La Terra tra i due fiumi', Alessandria 1985, p. 287-288.
Piccioli-Sogliani 1999
C. Piccioli, F. Sogliani, (a cura di) Il vetro in Italia meridionale e insulare, Napoli 1999.
Saldern 1989
A. Saldern ET ALII, Glass and glassmaking in ancient Mesopotamia, Corning-London-Toronto 1989.
Setti-Zanini 1996
B. Setti, A. Zanini, La faïence nel Bronzo antico in Italia, in 'L'antica età del Bronzo', Atti del Congresso (Viareggio 1995), 1996, pp. 618-619.
Stern-Nolte 1994
E. M. Stern, B. Schlick Nolte, Early Glass of the Ancient World (1660 B.C. - 50 A.D.). Ernesto Wolf Collection, Ostfildern 1994.
Sternini 1995
M. Sternini, La fenice di sabbia, Bari 1995.
Tait 1991
H. Tait (a cura di), Cinquemila anni di vetro, Silvana Editoriale, Milano 1991.
Tykot 2002
R.H. Tykot, New approaches to the characterization and Interpretation of Obsidian from the Mediterranean Island sources, in P.B. Vandiver, M. Goodway, J.R. Druzik e J.L. Mass, Materials issues in art and archaeology, VI, Warrendale. P.A: Materials research society proceedings 712, pp. 143-157.
Vetro 1998
AA.VV., Il vetro dall'antichità all'età contemporanea: aspetti tecnologici, funzionali e commerciali, in 'Atti 2e Giornate Nazionali di Studio AIHV' - Comitato Nazionale Italiano, 14-15 dicembre 1996, Milano 1998.
Voza 1984-85
G. Voza, L'attività della Soprintendenza alle Antichità della Sicilia Orientale, in 'Kokalos', XXX-XXXI, II, 1, 1984-85.
Washington 1917
H. S. Washington, Chemical Analyses of Igneous Rocks, in 'U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper' 99, 1917, p. 1201.
1 2 3 4 5 The Iron Age
© 2022 Regione Autonoma Valle d'Aosta - c.f. 80002270074 - Credits