Among the more intriguing and beautiful glass antiquities available on our website are three examples of vase amulets dating from the later Roman era. These come in a variety of forms and colors, and first appear in the archaeological record around the mid-3rd Century AD (or CE, if one prefers). Production seems to have begun in the broader Syria / Palestine area, though examples have been found over a very wide area, including western Europe. It is thought that as they spread beyond their initial point of manufacture they were copied by glass artisans elsewhere.
The purpose or symbolism of these objects remains obscure. It has been suggested that their appearance and diffusion is somehow directly connected to the spread of Christianity but there is very little evidence to support this.
These remarkable objects were created by bead makers, not glass blowers. Their structure is basically that of a short tubular bead, closed at one end, tooled to create a neck or mouth, and enhanced with a tiny loop handle and either trailed and marvered decoration in a contrasting color or a contrasting latticework applied to the body. the first example shown below is an example of the latticework type, while the second and third examples illustrate the trailed decoration.
Links to these objects on our site and “clickable” images –
E. Marianne Stern, Roman, Byzantine, and Early Medieval Glass, 10 BCE – 700 CE, Ernesto Wolf Collection, Osfildern-Ruit, 2001,
Maud Spaer, Ed., Ancient Glass in the Israel Museum, Beads and Other Small Objects, Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 2001.