Glassworking: Craft to Industry

Emperor Augustus
Reigned, 27 B.C.-A.D. 14

Though glass was a common enough material in the eastern Mediterranean from the early 2nd century B.C, onwards, throughout the Republican era in the Roman World, pottery was the material of choice for everything domestic, from fish platters to fruit bowls, and no one seemed in any hurry to change that situation. Then emperor Augustus entered our story. Around 10 B.C., the direction of his economic policies suggest he was uncomfortable with the degree to which Roman trade was controlled by foreigners, and wanted the Italian mainland to be far more self-sufficient. So local businesses for certain crafts (most obviously, pottery- and cloth-making) were encouraged to expand. Meanwhile, the craft of glassmaking was adopted with much energy and skill.

The Romans simply enslaved hundreds of skilled craftsmen in the eastern provinces, uprooted them from their homes and re-settled them in the outskirts of rapidly-growing Roman cities. Pottery-makers were imported from Asia Minor and put to work at Arretium in northern Italy; Greek craftsmen were moved from Athens to cities in central Gaul. Glassworkers were brought from the provinces of Syria, Judaea and Aegyptus and crowded into workshops in the commercial suburbs of several Italian cities, including Rome itself.