4th Century A.D. Tablewares

Deep bowl; D., 15.0 cm

Shallow bowl; D., 18.5 cm

Shallow dish; D., 23.0 cm

Shallow dish; D., 29.6 cm

From early on, the size of items that each could produce set the glassworking and potterymaking industries apart from one another. The famous cameo amphora from the "House of the Mosaic Columns" at Pompeii, that stands close to 32 cm high, is massive in glassblowing terms, at least for something with so complicated a decoration. But it is dwarfed by many contemporary pottery items, such as the figures of an actor and an actress (each about 113 cm high) that were found near the theater in the same ancient city. Nor do we have any glassmaking project recorded in ancient literature that rivals the following:

“Vitellius, when emperor, had a [pottery] dish made that cost a million sestertii, for which a special furnace was constructed in the open country, since luxury now has reached a point when even earthenware costs more than vessels of fluorspar.” (Pliny, Natural History XXXV.46)

Early in the 2nd century A.D. glassblowers were able to create large storage jars with capacities in the 10 liter range, but with nothing like the ease with which potters turned out amphorae with capacity of 25 liters, and vats sometimes ten times that size.

So it is quite surprising that in the 4th century A.D. glassblowers began to produce appreciable numbers of large glass platters and dishes that clearly were intended to compete in the marketplace with their pottery equivalents. The rim and base forms of the pottery tablewares were ingeniously mimicked in glass by various folds, rolls, and pinches. Novel ring-base forms were created by joining the dish section to a separately blown cylinder that was then sheared to the required depth.



  1. Fleming, S.J., 1999: Roman Glass: Reflections on Cultural Change, figures E.38 and 44 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum).
  2. Harden, D.B., 1987: Glass of the Caesars, entries 40 and 41 (Milan: Olivetti).