Ancient Rome’s Finest Glass Was Actually Made in Egypt

Posted On August 12, 2020
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Researchers have long debated exactly where ancient Rome’s prized, totally transparent glass was made. Now, a new study has used chemical analysis to match the empire’s crystalline wares to the Egyptian sands from which they came, reports Katherine Kornei for the New York Times

In 301 A.D., Emperor Diocletian issued an Edict on Maximum Prices that refers to a particularly pricey, colorless glass known as “Alexandrian.” Many archaeologists have interpreted this name as a sign of the glass’ Egyptian origins.

According to Ross Pomeroy of RealClearScience, artisans made Alexandrian glass—the material of choice for high-class chalices—by adding antimony oxide during the glassmaking process. This oxidized the iron present in the sand needed to produce glass, clearing up its blue-green tint by transforming ferrous to paler ferric.

For those who wanted to see the color of their wine but were unable to afford Alexandrian vessels, clear manganese glass (then known as Judaean glass) cost about a third less. Though archaeologists have identified numerous factories in the Levant known to have produced this lower-grade glass, no definitive evidence had previously linked Alexandrian glass to Egypt.

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