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Everyday Art

Common Goods
Roman/Near Eastern<br><i>Jar</i>, 1st-5th century A.D.<br>Glass<br>Minneapolis Institute of Arts<br>Gift of Mr. and Mrs. I. D. Fink
zoom Roman/Near Eastern
Jar, 1st-5th century A.D.
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. I. D. Fink


How long do you suppose people have been using glass? Over four thousand years ago, the amazing art of glass making got its start in Mesopotamia and Egypt. From there, it spread westward. The ancient Romans loved glass for its beauty and usefulness. As glass became more and more popular, the Romans discovered ways to make more of it, such as glass blowing.

Glass blowing began in Syria early in the 1st century. A person blowing air through a tube could form molten (hot liquid) glass into a bubble and then into all sorts of different shapes and sizes. Blown glass objects were quick to make and inexpensive to buy. Soon, people of all social classes could afford glass items. By the 1st century, glassware was found in households throughout the Roman Empire.

Although fragile, glass had many uses in daily life. Meals were prepared in and eaten from glassware; spices, oils, perfumes, cosmetics, and medicines were stored in glass vessels; merchants and traders packed goods in glass containers for transport and sale. Unlike the pottery the Romans had used before, glass did not keep the smell or taste of its contents, but it preserved flavor. And you could easily see whatever was inside a glass jar or bottle.

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1. This small jar could have held a variety of household supplies.
2. This intricate bottle was for perfume.
Roman, Perfume vessel, 1st-5th century A.D., glass, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, gift of Mr. and Mrs. I. D. Fink
3. This large bowl would have held food for a meal.
Roman, Shallow bowl, 2nd-3rd century, blown glass, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The Classical Art Fund


September 2008