Published: May 15, 2018 By

Catalogue Entry Photograph of a blue glass vessel with a pointed bottom, ovoid body, and tall, narrow neck that tapers slightly outward to a rounded mouth, from the side against a neutral background.

From the Catalogue of Ancient Glass in the University of Colorado Museum

Gift of H. Medill Sarkisian and Justine Sarkisian Rodriguez (1979)
Transferred to CU Art Museum (2008)
Height: 12.2 cm
Diameter (max.): 2.5 cm
Roman, 1st century C.E.

Classification: Isings Form 9; Harden Fabric 7

Description: Rounded rim folded in. Tall cylindrical neck with smooth transition to rounded shoulder. Body tapers conically downward and ends in rounded boss at bottom. Dark blue. Large bubbles in fabric. Opaque due to dirt encrustation, especially on neck. Solid lip of dirt or grit inside that rattles when shaken. Blown.

Comment: Most other examples of this type have rounded bodies that taper downward (e.g., Isings’ line-drawing), so this piece could be a slightly later development or a regional variation. The closest parallels (all of which have rounded bodies) are Simonett 1941, fig. 62, no. 16a; Hayes 1975, nos. 102 and 103; Fleming 1996, fig. 18 (which is mold blown); and Whitehouse 2001, no. 770.


The glass this unguentarium is made of has visible bubbles in its fabric. These are caused by "internal pockets of air" (1) in the ingredients used to make the glass. Poorly made glass has larger bubbles, and finer glass has smaller and fewer bubbles. Bubbles are less likely to be visible in free-blown glass, while coiled or drawn glass (such as what is used to make handles or decorations) is more likely to have lots of bigger bubbles (2).

Ancient Roman glassmakers had some control over the color of their glass. It is unknown how much they could control tints and colors, but it is apparent they understood what ingredients were needed to make colored and colorless glass. To create the deep blue that this unguentarium is made of would have required adding a natural metal to the recipe. This metal could have been either cobalt or copper, mixed in with sand and nitrate in an extremely hot kiln (3).

An unguentarium was used to hold scented oil, perfume, or body lotion used by both men and women. These cosmetics were applied as soon as one awoke, then again after they bathed during the day at the local bathhouse. The most popular scents were saffron, marjoram, and roses, according to the Pliny the Elder, a 1st century C.E. Roman author (Natural History XIII.2). Inscriptions from ancient towns such as Pozzuoli indicate that the perfume-makers were usually in the same district as the glassworkers, suggesting that craftworkers realized the efficiency of being near a business they were closely connected to (4).


  1. Donald B. Harden, Roman Glass from Karanis (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1936): 12.
  2. Harden 1936: 12.
  3. Harden 1936: 7.
  4. Stuart J. Fleming, Roman Glass: Reflections of Everyday Life (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum, 1997): 28-31.


  • Fleming, S. J. “Early Imperial Roman Glass at the University of Pennsylvania Museum,” Expedition 38.2 (1996): 13-37.
  • Hayes, J. W. Roman and Pre-Roman Glass in the Royal Ontario Museum. Toronto: 1975.
  • Simonett, C. Tessiner Gräberfelder. Ausgrabungen des archä​ologischen Arbeitsdienstes in Solduno, Locarn-Muralto Minusio und Stabio, 1936 und 1937. Basel: 1941.
  • Whitehouse, D. Roman Glass in the Corning Museum of Glass, v. 2. Corning, NY: Corning Museum of Glass, 2001.