The Ancient Library

Scanned text contains errors.



petent judges to a very early period. (Wilkinson, Ancient Egyptians^ vol. iii. p. 88, &c.)

A story has been preserved by Pliny (//. N. xxxvi. 65), that glass was first discovered acci­dentally by some merchants who having landed on the Syrian coast at the mouth of the river Belus, find being unable to find stones to support their cooking-pots, fetched for this purpose from their ship some of the lumps of nitre which composed the cargo. This being fused by the heat of the fire, united with the sand upon which it rested and formed a stream of vitrified matter. No con­clusion can be drawn from this tale, even if true, in consequence of its vagueness ; but it probably originated in the fact recorded by Strabo (xvi. p. 758) and Josephus (B. J. ii. 9), that the sand of the district in question was esteemed peculiarly suitable for glass-making, and exported in great quantities to the workshops of Sidoii and Alexan­dria, long the most famous in the ancient world. (See Hamberger and Michaelis on the Glass of the Hebrews and Phoenicians, Commentar. Soc. Gott. vol. iv. ; Heeren, Ideen, i. 2. p. 94.) Alex­andria sustained its reputation for many centuries ; Home derived a great portion of its supplies from this source, and as late as the reign of Aurelian we find the manufacture still flourishing. (Cic. pro Habir. Post. 34; Strabo, I. c.; Martial, xi. 11, xii. 74, xiv. 115; Vopisc. Aurel. 45 ; Boudet, Sur I'Arte de la Verrerie ni en Egypte ; Description de VEgypte, vol. ix. p. 213.)

There is some difficulty in deciding by what Greek author glass is first mentioned, because the terra vaAos, like the Hebrew word used in the book of Job (xxviii. 17) and translated in the LXX. by i/aAos, unquestionably denotes not only artificial glass but rock-crystal, or indeed any transparent stone or stone-like substance. (Schol. ad Aristoph. Nub. 737.) Thus the veAos of Herodotus (iii. 24), in which the Ethiopians encased the bodies of their dead, cannot be glass, although understood in this sense by Ctesias and Diodorus (ii. 15), for we are expressly told that it was dug in abundance out of the earth ; and hence commentators have conjectured that rock-crystal or rock-salt, or amber, or oriental alabasier, or some bituminous or gummy product might be indicated. But when the same his­torian in his account of sacred crocodiles (ii. 69) states that they were decorated with ear-rings made of melted stone (apr^/jiard re XiQiva %ur« Kal xpucrea es toc wra eVfleVres), we may safely conclude that he intends to describe some vitreous ornament for which he knew no appropriate name. The (Tfypayls vaXivri and crtypayib'e vaXiva of an Athenian inscription referred to B. c. 398 (Bockh, Corp. Inscrip. n. 150. § 50), together with the passage in Aristophanes (Acharn. 74) where the envoy boasts that he had been drinking with the great king " e£ va\ivwv e'/cTn^uetTwy" decide no­thing, especially since in another comedy {Nub. 737) Strepsiades describes a ifaAos, or burning-glass, as a transparent stone sold in the shops of apothecaries, and we know that any solid dia­phanous substance ground into the form of a lens would produce the effect. Setting aside the two problems with regard to glass, attributed to Ari­stotle, as confessedly spurious, we at length find a satisfactory testimony in the works of his pupil and successor, Theophrastus, who notices the circum­stance alluded to above, of the fitness of the sand


at the mouth of the river Belus for the fabrication of glass.

Among the Latin writers Lucretius appears to be the first in whom the word mtruin occurs (iv. 604, vi. 991) ; but it must have been well known to his countrymen long before, for Cicero names it, along with paper and linen, as a common article of merchandise brought from Egypt (pro Rab, Post. 14). Scaurus, in his aedileship (jb. c. 58), made a display of it such as was never, witnessed even in after-times; for the scena of his gorgeous theatre was divided into three tiers, of which the under portion was of marble, the upper of gilded wood, and the middle compartment of glass. (Plin, H. N. xxxvi. 34. § 7.) In the poets of the Augustan age it is constantly introduced, both directly and in similes, and in such terms as to prove that it was an object with which every one must be familiar (e. g. Virg. Georg. iv. 350, Acn. vii. 759 ; Ovid. Avwr. i. 6. 55 ; Prop. iv. 8. 37 ; Hor. Carm. iii. 13. 1). Strabo declares that in his day a small drinking-cup of glass might be purchased at Home for half an as (xvi. p. 758 ; compare Martial, ix. 60), and so common was it in the time of Juvenal and Martial, that old men and women made a livelihood by trucking sulphur matches for broken fragments. (Juv. v. 48 ; Martial, i. 42, x. 3 ; Stat. Sylv. i. 6. 73 ; compare Dion Cass. Ivi. 17-) When Pliny wrote manufactories had been esta­blished not only in Italy, but in Spain and Gaul also, and glass drinking-cups had entirely super­seded those of gold and silver (H. N. xxxvi. 66', 67), and in the reign of Alexander Severus we find vitrearii ranked along with curriers, coachmakers, goldsmiths, silversmiths, and other ordinary arti­ficers whom the emperor taxed to raise money for his thermae. (Lamprid. Aleoc. Sev. 24.)

The numerous specimens transmitted to us prove that the ancients Avere well acquainted with the art of imparting a great variety of colours to their glass ; they were probably less successful in their attempts to render it perfectly pure and free from all colour, since we are told by Pliny that it was considered most valuable in this state. It was wrought according to the different methods now practised, being fashioned into the required shape by the blowpipe, cut, as we term it, although ground (teritur} is a more accurate phrase, upon a wheel, and engraved with a sharp tool, like silver (" aliud fiatu figuratur, aliud torno teritur, aliud argenti modo coelatur,'' Plin. //. Ar. xxxvi. 66). Doubts have been expressed touching the accuracy of the last part of this statement; but since we have the most positive evidence that the diamond (adamas) was employed by engravers of gems (Plin. II. N. xxxvii. 15 ; Solin. 52 ; Isidor. xvi. 13, 3), and might therefore have been applied with still greater facility to scratching the surface of glass, there is no necessity for supposing that Pliny was not himself aware of what he meant to say, nor for twisting his words into meanings which they cannot legitimately assume, especially since hieroglyphics and various others devices are now to be seen on Egyptian, vases and trinkets which have been engraved by some such process. (Wilkinson, vol. iii. p. 105.) The diatreta of Martial (xii. 70) were glass cups cut or engraved according to one or other of the above methods. The process was difficult, and accidents occurred so frequently (Mart. xiv. 115) that'the jurists found it necessary to define accurately the circumstances under which

About | First | English Index | Classified Index | Latin Index | Greek Index



page #  
Search this site
All non-public domain material, including introductions, markup, and OCR © 2005 Tim Spalding.
Ancient Library was developed and hosted by Tim Spalding of