Glass alabastron (perfumebottle)

Period: Archaic

Date: ca. 625–600 B.C.

Culture: Probably Phoenician

Medium: Glass; cast and cut

Dimensions: H. 7 in. (17.8 cm)
diameter 2 5/8 in. (6.7 cm)

Classification: Glass

Credit Line: The Cesnola Collection, Purchased by subscription, 1874–76

Accession Number: 74.51.312


Although the making of glass vessels first arose in Mesopotamia and Egypt in the Late Bronze Age, during the subsequent "dark age" (1200–900 B.C.), very little, if any, glass was produced. When the glass industry revived in the later part of the eighth century B.C., new centers of manufacture emerged in Phoenicia and Assyria. Their products are markedly different from Late Bronze Age glass. One major advance was the production of naturally colored cast vessels, like this alabastron. Such glass vessels, while still luxury items, were a cheaper alternative to ones made from materials such as rock crystal or obsidian. The technique was probably developed by Phoenician craftsmen who progressed from casting inlays; their skill in carving semiprecious stone was also transferred to the working and decorating of glass. The closed forms, such as this alabastron, were cast as solid blanks, then cut down, drilled, and polished to achieve their final shapes. Although surviving examples are relatively few in number, they have been found across the ancient world from Assyria to Spain, as Phoenician merchants doubtless played a part in their wide distribution.