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The Glass industry in Palmyra

Krystyna Gawlikowska
p. 291-298

Résumés

Résumé – Bien que les fouilles à Palmyre n’aient pas fourni de fours de verrier ni de déchets de production ou des récipients déformés, quelques fragments de verre brut ont été identifiés, suggérant l’existence d’un artisanat local du verre. On peut y ajouter quelques tessères en verre estampées présentant des motifs locaux, traitées ici en détail pour la première fois.

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Entrées d’index

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Texte intégral

  • 1 Negro Ponzi 1972, p. 218-219, fig. 22, nos 55-62; 1984, fig. 3:3; Lenzen 1960, p. 56-57, pl. 28; Ga (...)
  • 2 Gawlikowska 2009; cf. Whitehouse 2005, nos 28-33.

1It seems to be silently admitted that all glass in Palmyra is imported. No furnaces were ever found and no wasters are known. There are no specifically local types of glass vessels and nearly all find very close outside parallels. The obvious direction the imports were coming from was Western Syria and especially the Phoenician coast where the blown glass was once invented and where it was produced throughout the Roman period in commercial quantities for the local market, as well as for mostly maritime export to the whole Mediterranean. The transport of glass vessels to Palmyra, whether as tableware or containers filled with oils and unguents, could be done only on camelback. The distance is relatively short: the track of 150 km from Emesa could be managed by a caravan in about a week or less. From the coast to Emesa we have 70 km in straight line, and two or three days more from an important port (Arados to the North or Tripolis to the South). All together, the land transport from the coast required about twelve days, no doubt raising the selling price considerably. On the other hand, some forms identical to Mesopotamian small jars and perfume bottles, such as are known in Abu Skhair, Choche (Veh Ardashir) and (dated later) in Warka, are also found in Palmyra. 1 It can be assumed that they were imported from that direction by regular caravans plowing the desert from Palmyra to the Gulf and back. Even later, the characteristic Sasanian bird motif appears in Palmyra on two appliqué roundels representing roosters. 2

  • 3 Jäger 2003.
  • 4 Seland 2011, p. 402, quoting Leonard 1894, p. 204-206.
  • 5 Tchernia 1992.

2Reflecting on Roman and Sasanian glass imports in the Far East, Ulf Jäger 3 thinks that transport by sea is unlikely because of the risk of breaking, and that land transport manned by Sogdian caravans should be considered instead. He also speculated on possible packing procedures (wicker baskets filled with cotton) and of the supposed camel load. Leaving alone the Sogdian two-humped camels, it is admitted that a dromedary such as used by the Palmyrenes could normally carry not more than about 180 kg (400 lb), 4 but this would be of course limited by the volume of the charge: were it wine or oil, a camel could be laden with only four amphorae, two to each side, whatever the weight. 5 It is difficult to estimate the corresponding volume of glass, obviously depending on kinds of vessels and on the packing.

  • 6 Parker 1992, p. 221, no 530 (France, 100-25 bc), p. 274, no 691(Malta, ad 200-250), p. 439, no 1193 (...)
  • 7 Mackay 1949, p. 178 and 182.
  • 8 Ployer 2013, p. 231, no 114 (not illustrated).
  • 9 Ahmad Taha (Palmyra Museum), pers. com.

3It is known that raw glass was commonly transported in the ancient world to be used in local workshops and so eliminating the risk of breaking fragile vessels in transport. 6 “Large lumps of unworked glass” have been reported as found in Palmyra, 7 but unfortunately they could not be located. Some rare finds of raw lumps of glass have been however found in later excavations, such as a small, yellow-green one found in a 1st cent. building excavated in the southern part of the ancient city, 8 and many more pieces of blue-green from the entrance court of the so-called Annex to the Agora, most probably late. 9 Two greenish raw glass chunks were collected on surface close to two of the churches in downtown Palmyra excavated by the Polish mission, and cannot be dated (fig. 1). The presence of another such fragment in dark blue we have found in the 1st cent. tower tomb of Kitot (fig. 2) in the middle of the main chamber among the various debris from robbed burials cannot be explained convincingly.

Figure 1.

Figure 1.

Chunk of raw glass

© K. Gawlikowska

Figure 2.

Figure 2.

Raw glass fragment

© K. Gawlikowska

  • 10 Gawlikowski & Żuchowska 2010.
  • 11 G. Majcherek, unpublished pottery field report 2005.
  • 12 Baur 1938, p. 517-518 (Gerasa); Saldern 1980, p. 97, no 729, pl. 17 (Sardis); Stern 1999, p. 465-46 (...)

4Moreover, close to a room adorned with a nearly complete mosaic dated to the mid-3rd cent. 10 a broken flat cake of colourless glass turning to light green, made up of folded threads (fig. 3), has been recovered in a sounding. The cake was found together with 2nd–3rd cent. shards and lamps and so is roughly contemporary with the mosaic. 11 Such flat cakes of various colours are well known as raw material to produce mosaic cubes. 12 They are often disk-shaped and measure usually between 11 and 24 cm in diameter and 0.50 to 3 cm in thickness, but one as big as 40 cm is mentioned in Gerasa by Baur. Our piece, which is a fragment of an elongated oval cake, has 5.4 cm across and is 1.3 cm thick.

Figure 3.

Figure 3.

Fragmentary glass cake

© M. Wagner

  • 13 Stern 1977; Balty 2014.
  • 14 Expertise by I. Koss (Academy of Fine Arts, Warsaw), 2004 (unpublished).
  • 15 Cf. Stern 1977, p. 31, n. 3.
  • 16 D. Wielgosz, personal communication.
  • 17 Cf. Arveiller-Dulong & Nenna 2011, p. 407 (with ref.), p. 410, nos 692-697; for marble wall decorat (...)

5Mosaic floors are extremely rare in Palmyra (only two others are known) 13. While the richness and variety of colours cannot compete with the masterpieces from Antioch, I could observe in the Bellerophon mosaic some green, dark green, and dark blue glass cubes, with many cracks and bubbles, as mosaic glass cubes frequently are (fig. 4). 14 They have served to enhance tunics, coats and trousers of the protagonists, as dark blue glass did for the lining of Cassiopea’s cloak in one of the two mosaics known earlier. 15 We cannot show glass of similar hue as our cake in the Bellerophon mosaic, but some loose fragments found in the immediate vicinity suggest that other mosaic floors still await discovery not far away. It should be also mentioned here that some thin, small, rectangular bars of glass inlay were found in the Diocletian’s Baths. 16 They were usually used since the 1st cent. as borders separating different motifs of opus sectile marble parietal decoration. 17

Figure 4.

Figure 4.

Bellerophon mosaic, detail

© W. Jerke

  • 18 Price 2005, p. 172-174.
  • 19 Krogulska 1985.
  • 20 Clairmont 1963, p. 148.
  • 21 M. Krogulska, personal communication.

6The presence of the fragmentary glass chunks and cakes in Palmyra, were they primary raw material brought from the Phoenician coast or made locally of recycled broken glass, suggests the local production of finite products, in spite of lack of direct evidence. It should be borne in mind, however, that workshops are not to be expected, at least before the late periods, in or near monumental public buildings, such as have attracted the excavators in the first place. 18 Several pottery kilns of the 2nd cent. were discovered in the western quarter of Palmyra, the future Diocletian’s Camp. They were installed in a ruined building outside the inhabited area, 19 and we may safely assume that various crafts were located in just such marginal neighbourhoods. In a place so extensively excavated as Dura-Europos no glass workshops were found either, but Clairmont has convincingly assumed from finds of cullets, wasters and misformed vessels that glass was produced there. 20 This author also thought that the earlier manufacture of green-glazed pots, typical of Dura, might have encouraged the later glassblowing industry. The glazed pottery appears in Palmyra very sparingly, however, and is certainly imported. No trace of glaze was found in the mentioned ceramic kilns. 21

  • 22 Foy 2000.
  • 23 Jennings 2006, p. 287-289.
  • 24 Baur 1938, p. 517.

7The extensive Beirut excavations provided a large amount of glass, including a dump from a glass-blowing workshop. 22 In several locations, raw chunks for local production were found, probably brought from Tyre. Because of the easy access by sea to this main source of raw material, it is supposed that broken glass was not collected in Beirut for recycling. 23 This might have been otherwise inland, for instance in Gerasa (“Glass Court”), 24 and even more likely in Palmyra.

  • 25 Gorin-Rosen 2000.
  • 26 Jourdain 1972.
  • 27 Al-Asʿad & Stępniowski 1986, p. 220-221, fig. 8.

8A glass workshop was excavated in Bet Shean – Scythopolis in a late sūq which had intruded in the 6th–7th cent. on a colonnaded street. 25 Another example of similar intrusion in the same period is reported in Apamea, where the shops were built on a street lining the building known as triclinos26 but contained no trace of glass production or retail. A sūq dated to the 8th cent. was also discovered in Palmyra in the middle of the Great Colonnade, but none of some fifty shops excavated there provided evidence of glassmaking. The few glass fragments found in the shops 8 and 9 represent usual everyday vessels such as could be used by the shopkeepers. 27

  • 28 RTP, supplemented by Dunant 1959.
  • 29 Glass tesserae : RTP 487, 759, 836.

9There is, however, one direct proof of local manufacture in Roman times. A very common type of finds unique to Palmyra are tesserae, small moulded tokens of various shapes with two-sided decoration and short inscriptions, which were used, as commonly accepted, as invitations or tickets to sacrificial banquets offered to gods by associations or particulars. About 1,200 types are known, some in many copies, and all were made in the first three centuries ad28 Nearly all are of terracotta, but nine are of lead, one of iron, one of bronze, and three of glass. 29

  • 30 I thank M. Gawlikowski for reading these legends for me.
  • 31 Cf. Milik 1972, p. 164; Bounni 2004, p. 57, no 11 and p. 73, no 42.
  • 32 RTP 131-132.

10The latter were made by imprint of a die, the excess matter forming a thick border around it. One of them (RTP 836, our fig. 5), apparently from the 1st cent. ad, exceptionally two-sided, shows a half-figure of a priest in the characteristic Palmyrene cylindrical headgear, named on the reverse in Aramaic as Zabdʿateh Mattana; traces of a third line of text are discernible. The same motifs were used for the two sides of the terracotta tessera RTP 819 (fig. 6), where the imprint is complete with a third line of script: Zabdʿateh Mattana Anqai (recte Annaqīr). 30 The family is known from a couple of other texts. 31 There can be no doubt that tokens issued by this local notable on the occasion of some religious celebration and inscribed in Aramaic were produced locally. The use of a mould made for terracotta tesserae resulted in the glass copy in an incomplete and blurred imprint. It seems possible that workshops dealing with metal, terracotta, and glass were located in close vicinity on the city outskirts and so matrices could be easily exchanged between them. A case of the same matrix used for terracotta and bronze tesserae is also known. 32

Figure 5.

Figure 5.

Glass tessera of Zabdʿateh Mattana

© M. Puszkarski after RTP 836

Figure 6.

Figure 6.

Terracotta tessera after RTP 819

  • 33 Michałowski 1963, p. 191, no 120, pl. III. Another, from the Polish excavations in 1972, is publish (...)
  • 34 Other seal imprints in RTP, p. 127-137, pl. 46-48. I leave aside as of doubtful origin glass imprin (...)

11Other glass tesserae are one-sided, made by simple imprint. The image on one, most probably from the 3rd cent. (RTP 487), is blurred (fig. 7) but can be recognized as a well-known local motif (a deity reclining on a couch, crowned by Victory). Another tessera, RTP 759, is known only from a drawing and represents a standing man called Baida. Two more glass tesserae were found in the Polish excavations. 33 One shows an indistinct imprint which seems to represent a bust in right profile, probably made from a seal (fig. 8). 34 The other tessera features a vessel with a large neck and pointed base (fig. 9), such as can be seen on several terracotta tesserae (RTP 563-567), sometimes with an accompanying ladle; apparently, these are wine containers signifying banquets to which the tesserae invited.

Figure 7.

Figure 7.

Glass tessera with a reclining figure, after RTP 487

Figure 8.

Figure 8.

Glass tessera with a bust in right profile

© M. Puszkarski from a 1961 photograph by M. Biniewski (archives of the Polish Academy of Sciences)

Figure 9.

Figure 9.

Glass tessera featuring a vessel

© M. Puszkarski from a 1972 photograph by W. Jerke (archives of the Polish Academy of Sciences)

12Naturally, glass tesserae could be melted again and they may be so scarce simply because of this possibility. Another reason might be their relatively higher cost of production or simply their lower quality. It would be strange, however, if handling of molten glass were limited to the exceptional manufacturing of stamped tesserae and if no blown vessels were made. The large amount of glass finds in Palmyra, in tombs and residential areas alike, indicates that glass vessels were commonly used in everyday life. The prosperous city should be served by permanent glass workshops. While some bottles could be imported with their contents, such as perfumes, ointments and medicine, the bulk of everyday wares was probably produced locally.

Raw glass fragments

  • Chunk of glass, irregular, translucent, light olive-green with greyish patina. Length 65 mm, width 28 mm, thickness ca 10 mm (fig. 1).

  • Irregular chunk, translucent, green. Length 45 mm, width 30 mm. Not illustrated.

  • Irregular chunk, bubbly, translucent, dark blue. Length 50 mm, width 45 mm, thickness 20 mm (fig. 2).

  • Fragment of a cake for mosaic cubes. Inv. Ag208/05. Colourless to light green with white and yellow patina, translucent. Maximum diameter 54 mm, thickness 13 mm (fig. 3).

Glass tesserae from Palmyra

  • RTP 836. Irregular, width 20 mm. Two-sided. Frontal bust of a priest, on the reverse inscription: ZBDʿTH / MTNʾ, traces of the third line (fig. 5). The same matrix was used for the square 17 mm terracotta tessera RTP 819, where the inscription is complete: ZBDʿTH / MTNʾ / ʾNQR, “Zabdʿateh Mattana ʿAnnaqir” (fig. 6).

  • RTP 487. Oval, 28 x 30 mm, one-sided. Figure in calathos reclining on a four-legged couch, holding up a cup in his/her right hand. Behind, a Nike is extending a wreath (fig. 7). Cf. RTP 482-495 and Michałowski 1966, no 60 (all in terracotta; usually on the other side there are two figures on a couch).

  • RTP 759 (drawing only, frontispice). Oval, diam. 21 mm, one-sided. Standing figure in draped cloak, holding indeterminate objects in both hands. Inscribed: BYDʾ (proper name Baida).

  • Michałowski 1963, p. 191, no 120. Round, diam. 28 mm. One-sided. Imprint of a bust in right profile, very indistinct (fig. 8).

  • Unpublished, inv. 1230/72. Round, diam. 17 mm, one-sided. Vessel with large neck and pointed bottom, no handles. Right and left blobs (fig. 9). Cf. RTP 563 and 567.

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Bibliographie

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Al-Asʿad (Kh.) & Stępniowski (F.) 1989 « The Umayyad sūq in Palmyra », DamMitt 4, p. 205-223.

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Baur (P. V. C.) 1938 « Glassware. Other Glass Vessels », C. H. Kraeling (éd.), Gerasa. City of the Decapolis, New Haven, p. 513-546.

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Clairmont (C. W.) 1963 The Glass Vessels, Excavations at Dura-Europos (Final Report IV, 5), New Haven.

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Notes

1 Negro Ponzi 1972, p. 218-219, fig. 22, nos 55-62; 1984, fig. 3:3; Lenzen 1960, p. 56-57, pl. 28; Gawlikowska & Al-Asʿad 1994, nos 43-49, 68-69; Simpson 2014, fig. 20.19.

2 Gawlikowska 2009; cf. Whitehouse 2005, nos 28-33.

3 Jäger 2003.

4 Seland 2011, p. 402, quoting Leonard 1894, p. 204-206.

5 Tchernia 1992.

6 Parker 1992, p. 221, no 530 (France, 100-25 bc), p. 274, no 691(Malta, ad 200-250), p. 439, no 1193 (Ulu Burun, 21 blue glass ingots); Stern 1999, p. 475-476 ; Nenna 2000; Foy & Nenna 2003.

7 Mackay 1949, p. 178 and 182.

8 Ployer 2013, p. 231, no 114 (not illustrated).

9 Ahmad Taha (Palmyra Museum), pers. com.

10 Gawlikowski & Żuchowska 2010.

11 G. Majcherek, unpublished pottery field report 2005.

12 Baur 1938, p. 517-518 (Gerasa); Saldern 1980, p. 97, no 729, pl. 17 (Sardis); Stern 1999, p. 465-466; Foy 2008, p. 52, n. 6 and 7, fig. 6 and 15 (South of France); Arveiller-Dulong & Nenna 2011, p. 413-414, no 709.

13 Stern 1977; Balty 2014.

14 Expertise by I. Koss (Academy of Fine Arts, Warsaw), 2004 (unpublished).

15 Cf. Stern 1977, p. 31, n. 3.

16 D. Wielgosz, personal communication.

17 Cf. Arveiller-Dulong & Nenna 2011, p. 407 (with ref.), p. 410, nos 692-697; for marble wall decoration, cf. Wielgosz 2013, p. 321, fig. 3.

18 Price 2005, p. 172-174.

19 Krogulska 1985.

20 Clairmont 1963, p. 148.

21 M. Krogulska, personal communication.

22 Foy 2000.

23 Jennings 2006, p. 287-289.

24 Baur 1938, p. 517.

25 Gorin-Rosen 2000.

26 Jourdain 1972.

27 Al-Asʿad & Stępniowski 1986, p. 220-221, fig. 8.

28 RTP, supplemented by Dunant 1959.

29 Glass tesserae : RTP 487, 759, 836.

30 I thank M. Gawlikowski for reading these legends for me.

31 Cf. Milik 1972, p. 164; Bounni 2004, p. 57, no 11 and p. 73, no 42.

32 RTP 131-132.

33 Michałowski 1963, p. 191, no 120, pl. III. Another, from the Polish excavations in 1972, is published here for the first time. I thank Barbara Tkaczow for her assistance in locating the negatives in the archives of the Polish Academy of Sciences.

34 Other seal imprints in RTP, p. 127-137, pl. 46-48. I leave aside as of doubtful origin glass imprints of coins of Constantine, said to be acquired in Palmyra, Milne 1939, p. 100.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1.
Légende Chunk of raw glass
Crédits © K. Gawlikowska
URL http://journals.openedition.org/syria/docannexe/image/3171/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 253k
Titre Figure 2.
Légende Raw glass fragment
Crédits © K. Gawlikowska
URL http://journals.openedition.org/syria/docannexe/image/3171/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 134k
Titre Figure 3.
Légende Fragmentary glass cake
Crédits © M. Wagner
URL http://journals.openedition.org/syria/docannexe/image/3171/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 137k
Titre Figure 4.
Légende Bellerophon mosaic, detail
Crédits © W. Jerke
URL http://journals.openedition.org/syria/docannexe/image/3171/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 244k
Titre Figure 5.
Légende Glass tessera of Zabdʿateh Mattana
Crédits © M. Puszkarski after RTP 836
URL http://journals.openedition.org/syria/docannexe/image/3171/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 329k
Titre Figure 6.
Légende Terracotta tessera after RTP 819
URL http://journals.openedition.org/syria/docannexe/image/3171/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 548k
Titre Figure 7.
Légende Glass tessera with a reclining figure, after RTP 487
URL http://journals.openedition.org/syria/docannexe/image/3171/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 789k
Titre Figure 8.
Légende Glass tessera with a bust in right profile
Crédits © M. Puszkarski from a 1961 photograph by M. Biniewski (archives of the Polish Academy of Sciences)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/syria/docannexe/image/3171/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 556k
Titre Figure 9.
Légende Glass tessera featuring a vessel
Crédits © M. Puszkarski from a 1972 photograph by W. Jerke (archives of the Polish Academy of Sciences)
URL http://journals.openedition.org/syria/docannexe/image/3171/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 388k
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Krystyna Gawlikowska

Associate, Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, Warsaw University

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