This Week’s Featured Object: Medieval Islamic Glass Bangle

Our featured object this week is a fine example of a type of personal adornment that was popular in the Near East, particularly in Egypt, the Levantine coastal region (today’s Israel / Palestine and Lebanon), and greater Syria, including what is now southwestern Turkey, from the Hellenistic period right through the Roman, early Byzantine and Islamic periods. This glass bangle was made during the 13th to 15th Century, probably in what is now Syria or Israel / Palestine. This was an era in which Islamic glass artists dominated, with their products being highly sought after both in Europe and in the East. Their technical achievements would not be surpassed for a few centuries more, with the Venetian revival of glass making techniques from classical antiquity. This example is of rather more humble origins than the elaborate vessels and mosque lamps made in Medieval Islamic Syria and Egypt, but is still beautiful.

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Simple monochrome glass bangles first became common in the region during the later part of the Hellenistic period. During the Roman era, particularly in Egypt, these came to be made from multiple colors of glass. With only minor interruption, these continued into the early Byzantine period. They became really widespread during the Islamic era and were still being made at the small glass workshops in Hebron right up through the end of Ottoman rule in 1918. Bangles were fast and easy to make: a few chips of different colors of glass could be melted into a thick cane that would form the background or base color. The cane would then be stretched and one end attached to the other, before polishing the surface in the flame and evening out any irregularities. In later examples, from the 17th Century through to the early modern era, an additional cane of one or more colors twisted together in a spiral would often be added to the outside of the bangle or to both the inside and outside edges. This additional component is a sure sign of a very late date for Islamic bangles.

As a cautionary note to readers, there are many “low end” antiquities dealers, particularly online, who occasionally offer objects of this type and invariably refer to them as Roman, rather than Islamic. This is simple intellectual laziness and indifference to the objects themselves. There is a considerable body of published work available to assist anyone with an interest in ancient or medieval glass with distinguishing glass bangles and other objects from one time period to another. But lazy or dishonest sellers will simply label glass bangles as Roman, when the great majority of those on the market are in fact Islamic.

One printed resource that we highly recommend is the following:

Maud Spaer, Ancient Glass in the Israel Museum, Beads and Other Small Objects, The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 2001.

Within this work, see catalog number 471 for a very similar example (also illustrated in color on Plate 35), and Figure 85 for a group of similar examples of the 14th-15th
Century from the Islamic cemetery at Tel Dan.

This outstanding volume not only addresses ancient, medieval and post-medieval glass bangles in detail but is also an invaluable reference for dealing with items such as coin weights, amulets and beads. Beads can be especially difficult to date and Spaer’s work provides valuable technical data, particularly with regard to visible evidence of manufacturing techniques, to help the reader distinguish very similar types from one another.

This object is available on our eBay store here – http://www.ebay.com/itm/Medieval-Islamic-Multi-Colored-Glass-Bangle-/132036706096?hash=item1ebe003f30:g:CMoAAOSwBLlVYku~

and on our Etsy store here – https://www.etsy.com/listing/261524237/medieval-islamic-multi-colored-glass?ref=shop_home_active_18

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Object of the Week: A Roman Glass Juglet Pendant

This week’s featured antiquity is a remarkable late Roman glass pendant in the shape of a vase or juglet. It belongs to a class of decorative pendants and related objects that first appear in the Eastern Mediterranean in the mid-Third Century AD and evolve into a variety of types and forms into the Fifth Century AD.

Dating to the Fourth Century AD, this example measures just over one inch in height. It is an especially uncommon form of glass pendant featuring two handles. One handle is broken away in this example but the connection points are visible. In addition, this piece is shaped like a slender glass vessel rather than the more typically jug form. The body of this object is formed of a very dark brown or purple glass, appearing black, with a fine applied rim trail of light brown. The surviving handle appears to be formed of the same color glass as the body. A disc base has been separately applied. Incorporated into the body are slices from at least four glass beads or canes, including two eye beads in red and yellow and two composite slices featuring canes of alternating colors.

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Objects of this type were made not be glass blowers but by bead makers. In fact, if one were to remove the small handle and open the foot of this object it would become a bead. The strong dark colors are typical of the revival of that palette among Roman glass makers beginning in the mid to late Third Century, as seen on both glass beads and glass vessels in the late Roman world.

While it has been suggested that this type of glass pendant may have had a Christian religious significance, there is no real evidence one way or the other. Another theory is that these were miniature scent bottles worn on the body. While finds of these objects seem to be concentrated in the Levantine region, with another substantial grouping in Egypt, suggesting they may have been manufactured in both locations, examples have been found in Southern and Central Europe and in Rome itself.

An excellent reference on this class of objects is Maud Spaer, “Ancient Glass in the Israel Museum, Beads and Other Small Objects” catalog #s 343-354 for several similar examples, and pages 170-173 for a detailed description of the general type.

Readers interested in acquiring this item may find it in our Etsy store here – https://www.etsy.com/listing/479831410/late-roman-glass-juglet-pendant-4th?ref=shop_home_active_1

and our eBay store here – http://www.ebay.com/itm/Late-Roman-Glass-Juglet-Pendant-4th-Century-AD-/132009555359?hash=item1ebc61f59f:g:RsMAAOSwj85YMjZk

A Large Late Roman Trail Decorated Barrel Shaped Glass Bead 4th-5th Century AD

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Our featured item of the week is a large and impressive example of a Late Roman to Early Byzantine barrel shaped glass bead, appearing black, decorated in both red and yellow trails. A set of four double trails of applied red divide the bead into a series of registers, each with a thick zig-zag trail of applied yellow. The surfaces are overall well preserved, with some surface weathering, particularly to the yellow trails; it is otherwise intact. This antiquity was formerly in a Canadian private collection.

The Roman glass industry was remarkably prolific and the remains of workshops or other tangible evidence of the industry’s presence have been found in every modern nation the Roman Empire once encompassed. Most Roman glass vessels are easy to categorize and date but glass beads can be more difficult. Glass beads, pendants and other small items seem to have been made by a separate set of craftsman operating in workshops distinct from those of glass blowers. Many bead types continued unchanged for centuries. This type of bead is typical of glass from the later Roman period and into the early Byzantine period, with a preference for very strong colors, and was widespread in Egypt, Israel / Palestine, Syria, Lebanon and beyond.

An excellent resource for readers with an interest in ancient glass beads is Maud Spaer, “Ancient Glass in the Israel Museum, Beads and Other Small Objects,” The Israel Museum, Jerusalem, 2001

Readers interested in purchasing this antiquity may find it on our eBay site here: http://www.ebay.com/itm/A-Large-Late-Roman-Trail-Decorated-Barrel-Shaped-Glass-Bead-4th-5th-Century-AD-/131894108807?hash=item1eb5806287:g:RwgAAOSwH3NXnPRG

And in our Etsy store here: https://www.etsy.com/listing/273956844/a-large-late-roman-trail-decorated?ref=shop_home_active_7

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NEWS ITEM: Danish Bronze Age glass beads traced to Egypt

This is a truly amazing piece of research with broad implications. The international team involved plans next to determine if these trade routes for valued materials continued into the later Bronze Age and beyond. Here is the article in the online journal ScienceNordic.com, including a link to the original research in Danish (opens in a new window or tab): http://sciencenordic.com/danish-bronze-age-glass-beads-traced-egypt