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The glassware from the Antikythera shipwreck

There can be no doubt that the exceptionally rare and beautiful glass vessels from the Antikythera shipwreck were not part of the ship’s equipment, but rather of its cargo: they were luxury wares which, like the other works of art the ship was transporting, were probably destined for the markets of Rome.

Apart from the excellence of their construction and vibrant polychromy, one is also impressed by their superb state of preservation despite the great depth at which they were found and the adverse conditions under which they were hoisted from the sea.

Most of the glass vessels from the shipwreck, whether preserved wholly or in part, were raised from the depths during the investigations of 1900-1901. Cousteau’s excavations in 1976 added some more, as well as fragments belonging to vessels that had come to light early in the century. In many cases, the newly-discovered fragments were joined with the first finds.

The best-known and most impressive glassworking techniques of the Hellenistic age are represented among the Antikythera shipwreck finds. Our knowledge concerning the circulation and trade in glass (whether unprocessed or in the form of vessels or as pieces destined for recycling) is continually expanding with the discovery of shipwrecks throughout the Mediterranean. However, the importance of the Antikythera shipwreck lies not only in the fact that it provides a secure dating in the 2nd quarter of the 1st c. BC, but also a complete sampler of Syro-Palestinian and perhaps also Egyptian production of glass vessels in the 1st half of the 1st c. BC, while simultaneously offering the first reliable evidence concerning glass trade between East and West.

Τhe luxury glassware from the shipwreck does not manage to shed light on the ship’s port of origin or its route. Independently of whether or not Delos was the ship’s point of departure or a station on the way from coastal Αsia Minor, the island’s role as an international centre for transit trade makes especially attractive the hypothesis that the glass wares, which had probably originated from Syro-Palestinian (the monochrome vessels) and Egyptian (the polychrome ones) workshops, were also loaded onto the ship at the port of Delos. Furthermore, the glass vessels found in excavations on Delos, most of which are of types similar to those from the wreck, have themselves been hypothesized as imports from Egypt or Syro-Palestine.

The underwater investigations carried out in the area of the Antikythera shipwreck have to date yielded a group of twenty glass vessels, wholly or fragmentarily preserved. This number, however, should not be considered the final count, since the ship’s entire cargo has not been retrieved. Future excavation is sure to bring more objects to light, enriching our knowledge and illuminating previously unknown facets of research on glass and glass artifacts.

Βibliography: Ch. Avronidaki, The Glassware, in: Ν. Kaltsas (ed.), The Shipwreck off Antikythera Catalogue of the Exhibition, National Archaeological Museum, Athens 2012 (in print).

Mosaic bowl

Material: Glass
Dimensions: H. 0.048 m. D. of rim 0.089 m. D. of base 0.056 m.
Provenance: Antikythera shipwreck. From the material retrieved in 1900-1901
Date: Second quarter of the 1st c. BC
Exhibition place: Room 63, Case 5, inv. no: 23718

The rim is finished with an added twisted coil of colorless, yellow, and white glass. Mosaic pattern formed from cane sections of purple with white spirals having blue centers within yellow circles. Randomly inserted among them are irregularly shaped tesserae of opaque white. Applied conical base-ring made of blue glass mixed with yellow and white trails.

Production place: It is difficult to determine the production locale of mosaic and network mosaic vessels, which have been found through the entire eastern Mediterranean, though it is probable they originated in Egypt, more specifically in Alexandrian workshops, in the late 3rd c. BC.

Production technique: According to recent research, there were two phases in the manufacturing process of mosaic bowls: initially, the cane sections, i.e. the transverse parts of one or more composite mosaic canes, were assembled and melted together in the kiln at a high temperature until a disk-shaped blank was formed. Frequently, monochrome pieces of glass or even sections of glass trails were melted down with these. This “disk” was then placed over a convex former mold of the desired vessel shape, and went back into the kiln. Upon the heating of the disk-shaped blank, the glass sagged under its own weight, covering the mold and assuming its shape. The twisted trail that formed the rim was placed either around the disk during the first phase, i.e. that of the preparatory gathering of elements, or directly on the maximum diameter of the mold.

Βibliography: Τα ευρήματα του ναυαγίου των Αντικυθήρων, ΑΕ 1902, 168-167, inserted plate πίν. Η,30. G.D. Weinberg, The Glass Vessels from the Antikythera Wreck, TAPhS 55.3 (1965), 34, 37 no. 7, fig. 15-16. G.D. Weinberg – M.C. McClellan, Glass Vessels in Ancient Greece. Their History Illustrated from the Collection of the National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Athens 1992, 108 no. 69. E.M. Stern – B. Schlick-Nolte, Early Glass of the Ancient World, 1600 B.C. – A.D. 50. Ernesto Wolf Collection, Ostfildern 1994, 299. Ν. Kaltsas (ed.), The Shipwreck off Antikythera, Catalogue of the Exhibition, National Archaeological Museum, Athens 2012 [Ch. Avronidaki, in print].

Striped mosaic bowl

Material: Glass
Dimensions: H. 0.043 m. D. of rim 0.093 m. D. of base 0.053 m.
Provenance: Antikythera shipwreck. From the material retrieved in 1976
Date: Second quarter of the 1st c. BC
Exhibition place: Room 63, Case 5, inv. no: 23723

Mosaic pattern formed from long, narrow yellow bands, twisted trails of colorless and yellow glass, as well as randomly inserted irregularly shaped tesserae of yellow, purple (some of these purple tesserae have a narrow white stripe), and white. The rim is finished with an added twisted coil of colorless and yellow glass. At one point below the rim, a small twisted trail of colorless and yellow glass approximately 3 cm. in length occupies an intervening space between rim and body. Applied conical base-ring made of light green glass with violet, white, and yellow trails.

Production place: Particularly rare in Greece, striped mosaic bowls appeared after mosaic and network mosaic bowls at the end of the 2nd c. BC. They were probably manufactured in Alexandria and, a little later, in Rome (the applied base-rings found in the early examples are absent in the Roman ones).

Production technique: Two methods were used for their making, one of which was similar to the manufacturing process for mosaic vessels: trails of glass were shaped into elongated bands lined with colorless glass, then gathered together and fused in the kiln at a high temperature to create a disk-shaped blank. This “disk” was then placed over a convex former mold of the desired vessel shape, and went back into the kiln. With the heating of the disk-shaped blank, the glass sagged under its own weight, covering the mold and acquiring its shape. However, it was also possible to place the trails of glass on a disk-shaped blank of colorless glass, which was then sagged. The presence of such a colorless layer is apparent in the vessel under examination.

Βibliography: Τα ευρήματα του ναυαγίου των Αντικυθήρων, ΑΕ 1902, 168-167, inserted plate πίν. Η,31. G.D. Weinberg, The Glass Vessels from the Antikythera Wreck, TAPhS 55.3 (1965), 37-38 no. 9, fig. 18-19. G.D. Weinberg – M.C. McClellan, Glass Vessels in Ancient Greece. Their History Illustrated from the Collection of the National Archaeological Museum, Athens, Athens 1992, 110-112 no. 75. E.M. Stern – B. Schlick-Nolte, Early Glass of the Ancient World, 1600 B.C. – A.D. 50. Ernesto Wolf Collection, Ostfildern 1994, 299. M.-D. Nenna, Les Verres, Delos XXXVII, Paris 1999, 41 and note 18. V. Arveiller-Dulong – M.-D. Nenna, Musee du Louvre, Departement des Antiquites grecques, etrusques et romaines. Les verres antiques, I. Contenants a parfum en verre moule sur noyau et vaiselle moulee. VIIe siecle avant J.-C. -1er siecle apres J.-C., Paris 2000, 140 and note 15. Ν. Kaltsas (ed.), The Shipwreck off Antikythera, Catalogue of Exhibition, Athens 2012 [Cr. Avronidaki, in print].


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