Around the southern and eastern Mediterranean coastlines, even today, date palms prosper, the sweet, succulent fruit a popular treat to all who come. Under the rule of Claudius and then Nero, the Roman Empire's budding glass industry seized upon this familiar shape to produce mold blown glass copies, filled with cosmetic oils or medicinal salves. The coastlines were ideal for its production, using a mix of the plentiful beach sands and natron from the dry lake beds of Wadi El Natrun in Egypt (the same material used in the solemn mummification process for the great Pharaohs). The rich, amber coloring was added through powdered iron and sulphur to the viscous mix. Then, using a clay blowpipe and, in the case of the present example, a three part mold with seams carefully hidden within the folds, the flask was blown. The top neck and lip were made separately and attached onto the vessel, then all carefully cooled, filled and stoppered with formed dried clay. Displayed alongside its brethren in a noisy alley at one of the small, dusty stands shaded by a lazy tarp, these little golden colored jewels attracted much attention from passers-by. Costing perhaps a few copper coins, the popularity of these wondrous souvenirs blossomed, with cherished examples traveling to distant lands within the empire of Rome. This carefully preserved, perfect example, unearthed many decades ago in the Middle East, still carries the residue of the ancient clay stopper along its lip and interior.


The Times and the People

The life under the Roman banner that surrounded this tiny flask was a hard one. Most lived in simple, clay structures, visiting the neighborhood well to fetch the daily water in the mornings. Food was scarce, meat even scarcer. Merchants did somewhat better than many, affording slightly better clothes and more frequent vessels of wine. Their noisy shouts along the busy streets of makeshift shops brought copper and the occasional silver coin in trade for their dusty goods.  
 
Roman Gass Date Flask
1st Century A.D.
     
The times were unstable and full of uncertainty in the middle of the first century. The crucifixion of Christ had occurred perhaps 20 years prior. Nero's tyranny oppressed much of the populace, and the Jews of Jerusalem were frustrated, preparing a revolt against harsh Roman rule that would end 20 years hence with the destruction of their city and holy temple. Within 30 years, a violent Vesuvius would claim thousands of choked lives around Italy and the northern Mediterranean. And a parade of Roman emperors would exact their tributes - some righteous, some not, including Nero, Vespasian, Titus, Domitian, and Trajian.  
 
Ancient Marketplace
1st Century A.D.
     

   
Collecting glass can be an accumulation of items or the intensive study of a single vessel. Taking the time to allow a vivid story to be told by a beautiful piece of glass adds a fantastic dimension to its acquisition and caretaking.
     
Date-shaped Cosmetic Flask
Date: 1st Century A.D.
Medium: Roman Glass
Location: Eastern Mediterranean
Dimensions: 7.1 cm long
Provenance: Superior Galleries-Beverly Hills auction
   

References: Roman Mold Blown Glass - Stern - 1995

 
         
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