Marks On The Bases Of Square Glass Vessels - A Practice That Has Come Down from Antiquity

The Roman Period Collection at the Archaeological Museum of Istria stands out by the significant number of glass artefacts of various forms, many of which have rarely been publicly displayed. For this occasion we have singled out a small group of previously unpublished marks on square bases.

The marking or stamping of various products was commonplace in the antique world. Diverse glass forms such as balsamaria and cylindrical, rectangular or square bottles and jars, and Mercury and pseudo-Mercury bottles bore marks on the base. The range of motifs is diverse but the most numerous are certainly those of geometric form (concentric circles and variations thereof), followed by vegetal forms, the somewhat more rare figural forms and marks comprised of impressed initials and names in the Latin and Greek scripts. It appears that the positioning of these marks on the base was deliberate and it is hypothesised that their primary purpose was not to advertise the manufacturer of either the vessel or its contents. The simplest and most frequent motifs, for example, were geometric circles that more likely had a functional rather than decorative role. It is believed that they served to reinforce the base of the vessel or to facilitate removal from the mould. Other motifs, it is thought, served as identifiers - in other words as a trademark of sorts.

The glass fragments featured here represent square bases that most likely belonged to square bottles, or possibly rectangular jars. These bases cannot be unambiguously associated with one of these forms, but given that fact that bottles are statistically the most numerous group with marks on the base it is very likely that the museum’s artefacts came from bottles. 

The practice of impressing marks on glass vessels appeared in the Roman world as early as the second quarter of the first century and saw its zenith in the second century. Production continued into the third century, but did drop in intensity. In the Eastern Roman Empire we see examples dated to the fourth and fifth centuries.

 THE PURPOSE OF SQUARE BOTTLES

The uses of square bottles were diverse. In everyday life they were used as storage vessels for liquids (oil, wine) and solid foodstuffs, while smaller examples were used as tableware or for cosmetic purposes. Based on the wooden containers found in Pompeii, in which bottles were packed together with jars, it is believed that they were stored in rooms associated with a kitchen (such as a larder or pantry). Their form (square, robust body, a small handle not broader than the body) made them ideal as transport vessels over short distances and in retail trade. The popularity of glass bottles as a packaging material was also contributed to by the positive characteristics of the material itself. The glass, namely, does not take on the odours of the contents stored in it and can therefore be re-used or recycled. Glass bottles used for transport were at times protected with handwoven wicker or straw, as can be seen on pictorial depictions (e.g. the triclinia mosaics at Thysdrus, now El Jem in Tunisia). Large specimens saw secondary use as urns, as evidenced by the finds of the burned remains of the deceased in them

A mosaic with a depiction of a goblet and bottle protected by woven straw, kept at the Bardo National Museum in Tunis. Date: late 2nd century.

By Dennis Jarvis - Flickr: Tunisia-4781 - Bottle and Cup, CC BY-SA 2.0, https:// commons.wikimedia.org/w/ index.php?curid=22531327 (11.04.2018.)

Replica of the sarcophagus from Simpelveld. The carving in high relief shows the deceased and details of the interior of a Roman period house. The replica is kept at the Thermenmuseum in Heerlen (the Netherlands).

By Kleon3 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index. php?curid=45212132 - (11.04.2018.)

A detail of the replica of the Simpelveld sarcophagus showing square bottles; date: 175-250 CE.

A 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45212145 - (11.04.2018.)

THE MANUFACTURING TECHNIQUE

Marks and the square bottles that bore them were manufactured using a technique that involved glassblowing into a multi-section mould, with the upper section of the vessel (the neck and rim) reworked by subsequent re-heating in a furnace, after which the handle was attached to the still hot object.

The base of the mould was made of firm, durable materials such as stone, marble or ceramic. It could also be used for other forms of glassware into which a mark was to be impressed. The motif was carved into the base of the mould as a negative image of the future mark. The sides of the mould were formed in a number of ways, as is attested to by finds at various sites. Moulds for square bottles have been found at a number of sites, including those at Cologne and Bonn (Germany), Lyon, Aoste, Saintes (France) and Augst (Switzerland).

Drawing of the mould after the model found in Bonn (Germany); (1) Bird's-eye view and cross-section of the base, (2) side view and bird's-eye view of the assembled sides, (3) other side view and bird's-eye view of the assembled mould.

 

AN OVERVIEW OF SELECTED MARKS AT THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL MUSEUM OF ISTRIA

The simplest group of marks on square bottles from across the Roman Empire are those with geometric motifs, the most frequent of which are those with one or more concentric circles in relief. A specimen from the Archaeological Museum of Istria (Cat. No. 1) with two impressed concentric circles belongs to this group. Given the frequency of these motifs we find close analogies for our museum specimen from across the whole of the Empire.

Geometric motifs are also present on another fragment kept at the Archaeological Museum of Istria (Cat. No. 2). This is a circle in relief surrounding a rhombus with a dot at the centre and four dots around it and a preserved petal at the corner of the base. We know of a direct analogy to this mark from the fragment of a vessel found at a shipwreck near Grado (northern Italy). The glass material found at the shipwreck site represents the earliest recorded trade in waste glass, transported as material for recycling.

We also see geometric motifs on a base (Cat. No. 3) with a centrally placed square of drawn-out edges, surrounded to four sides with three concentric semi-circles in relief. The closest and only parallel is found in two marks from a site in Roman Liburnia without a find context. The difference in the marks is in the central motif. The Liburnian specimens have a rosette motif at the centre, while the Istrian specimen is decorated with a square with drawn-out edges.

Frequent on square bottles are marks with impressed vegetal motifs that appear in various variants, including rosettes (four to nine leaves), or petals, wreaths, branches and in combination with geometric patterns.

Numbered among the vegetal motifs are two bases (Cat. No. 4 and Cat. No. 5) for which we have no suitable direct parallels. Both marks are decorated with various executions of quatrefoil reliefs set in circles. The petal motif is common and has been found at numerous sites in the western and eastern parts of the Empire.

The last of the marks (Cat. No. 6) has two impressed rhombi with relief circles at their centres, with two arrows, one above the other, between the rhombi. In one of the circles we see a quatrefoil rosette. We know of two analogous specimens from the Roman province of Raetia (present day Germany) in the towns of Sorviodurum (Straubing) and Cambodunum (Kempten). Both marks were found out of a datable context.

Six marks have been selected for this exhibition. For four of these the circumstances and 

the site of their discovery remain unknown, while the other two come from the Ribarska koliba site in Pula (Cat. No. 2 and Cat. No. 6) but the context of the find is unknown. Based on the confirmed analogies from other parts of the Roman Empire they can all be dated to the broader period from the late first to the third century.

Given the fragmented state of the artefacts and the fact that the motifs depicted are fairly common, the typological and morphological characteristics are impossible to define, which leaves us with a broad and insufficiently precise range of possibilities in attempting to determine the manufacturing site.  Taking into account all previously published vessels with marks originating in the Istrian area, the production centers should possibly be sought somewhere in the west of the Roman Empire (Raetia, northern Italy).

From all of the above it is clear that during the period of the intensive manufacture of products with impressed marks on their bases, the Istrian peninsula maintained a sustained commercial relationship with the western provinces of the Roman Empire.

 Cat. No. 1                                    Cat. No. 2        

 

Cat. No. 3                                   Cat. No. 4

 

 

Cat. No. 5                                        Cat. No. 6

 

 

CATALOGUE

 

 

1. Base of a square bottle, green-blue glass. Maker's mark in the form of two concentric circles. Visible pontil mark. Inv. no. A-49570 Site: unknown Dimensions: width of base 5.9 x 5.9 cm Date: late 1st to 3rd century

 

2. Fragment of the base of a square bottle, greenish glass. A circle in relief frames a rhombus with a dot at the centre and four dots around it. Petal preserved in the corner. Inv. no.  A-49571 Site: Pula, Ribarska koliba Dimensions: width of base 7.3 x 7.0 cm Date: late 1st to 3rd century

 

3. Base of a square bottle, pale greenish glass. Central square with drawn-out edges surrounded on four sides by three concentric semi-circles. Visible pontil mark. Inv. no.  A-49572 Site: unknown Dimensions: width of base 8.3 x 8.1 cm Date: late 1st to 3rd century

 

 

4. Base and part of the walls of a square bottle, greenish glass. Maker's mark in the form of four petals linked by a central point, framed by a circle in relief. Inv. no.  A-49573 Site: unknown Dimensions: width of base 5.8 x 5.8 cm; height 3.5 cm Date: late 1st to 3rd century

 

 

5. Base and part of the walls of a square bottle, greenish glass. Maker's mark in the form of four petals with a dot at the centre, framed by a circle in relief. Inv. no.  A-49574 Site: unknown Dimensions: width of base 6.6 x 6.5 cm; height 6.0 cm Date: late 1st to 3rd century

 

6. Fragment of the base and walls of a square bottle, pale greenish glass. Two rhombi, each with a circle in relief at the centre. A quatrefoil rosette in one of the circles. Two arrows between the rhombi, one above the other. Inv. no. A-49575 Site: Pula, Ribarska koliba Dimensions: width of base 7.6 x 7.5 cm; height 4.5 cm Date: late 1st to 3rd century

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MARKS ON THE BASES OF SQUARE GLASS VESSELS A Practice That Has Come Down from Antiquity

 Exhibition 

Carrarina ul. 4, Pula

 Window to the Past 

30.5. – 30.7. 2018.

Exhibition and text author: Aska Šopar

Organizer and publisher: Archaeological Museum of Istria

 For the organizer and publisher: Darko Komšo

Editorial Board: Darko Komšo, Adriana Gri Štorga, Katarina Zenzerović

Set up & graphic design: Vjeran Juhas

Photographer: Tanja Draškić Savić

 Drawings: Ivo Juričić

Exhibition coordinator: Monika Petrović

 Translation in Italian: Elis Barbalich-Geromella

 English translation: Neven Ferenčić

 Proofs: Adriana Gri Štorga, Milena Špigić, Katarina Zenzerović

Print: MPS Pula

 No. of copies: 700

Pula, 2018.

© Arheološki muzej Istre 2010. Proizvodnja Ulisys d.o.o. Bazirano na Typo3 CMS sustavu.