15.05.06, Keller, Price, and Jackson, eds., Neighbours and Successors of Rome

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Stephanie Smith

The Medieval Review 15.05.06

Keller, Daniel, Jennifer Price, and Caroline Jackson, eds. Neighbours and Successors of Rome: Traditions of Glass Production and Use in Europe and the Middle East in the Later First Millennium AD. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2014. pp. 231. ISBN: 9781782973973 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Stephanie Smith
Youngstown State University

The present volume is the result of a conference of the same name sponsored by The Association for the History of Glass, held 19-20 May 2011. The twenty essays that make up the volume cover a wide geographic range of Europe and the Middle East from Scotland to Sasanian Mesopotamia. The studies are not systematically linked but share a common impetus in that they all deal with aspects of glass production, trade, and consumption spanning from late antiquity through the end of the millennium. The studies represent both archaeological and archaeometric approaches and are focused on both specific sites as well as broad geographic surveys. While not easily digested by the non-specialist, the strength of the volume lay in the abundant archaeometric data that is presented and the clear indicators of where the research needs to go in order to best serve a more complete understanding of glass production and vessel manufacture in the late antique world. By spanning late Roman and early medieval glass of Europe to Byzantine, Sasanian, and early Islamic glass of the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, glass is shown to be the gift that keeps on giving as advances in archaeological science elucidate continuity and change with earlier glass traditions.

The editors' introductory remarks include a brief overview of the advances in the scientific study of glass, its importance, and growth in the last half-century. As enhanced technological capabilities have allowed greater attention to composition, the importance of the chemical fingerprint of glass has opened up new and remarkable avenues for research. The essays in this volume approach glass from spatial, typological, and compositional perspectives. Many of the studies dealing with the latter, however, would have been unimaginable thirty years ago. As the editors point out, not only are we able to consider the connections between glass composition and vessel forms, we are also able to map vessel forms and compositions across geographical space and better understand the manner in which recycling impacts our understanding of industry practice and trade.

Three of the four papers deal with glass finds in Britain from the late Roman and early medieval periods, and focus on the scientific analysis of glass. Caroline Jackson and Harriet Foster look at glass recycling during the period of transition from the Roman to the early Saxon. Their database, published more fully elsewhere, of nineteen British sites from the third to fifth centuries considers vessel type and composition with the conclusion that Britain has yielded compositional distinctions that are variants on well-known compositional types as a result of recycling. James Peake and Ian Freestone address the microstructural and compositional features of a particular class of opaque yellow glass waste from ninth century Scotland and fifth to seventh century opaque yellow glass beads from Anglo-Saxon Suffolk. Through the use of a scanning electron microscope they were able to discern similarities to material produced elsewhere in Europe. Because the production of this color is specialized, the compositional data begs the question of whether the British material is evidence of continuity of Celtic tradition or a new technology learned from a southeastern source in the Mediterranean basin, the answer to which would aid our understanding of how the glass industry was organized, trade in glass, and the spread of technology. Sarah Paynter, the late Sarah Jennings, and Jennifer Price address the presence of bichrome and polychrome glass rods in two North Yorkshire sites. Chemical analysis of the glass supports their contention that glass was being worked near one of the sites. Rose Broadly addresses the relationship between West Heslerton in North Yorkshire and Anglo-Saxon sites through comparison to a national corpus of twenty-two Anglo-Saxon sites that she has assembled. Her interest lay in understanding the relationship between sites based on glass presence, color, and vessel forms within the framework of understanding the status of glass as a commodity that signals a particular socio-economic status. Her study indicates the continued importance of typological approaches to the study of glass.

Five essays address late Roman and early medieval glass of continental Europe. Martin Grünewald and Sonngard Hartmann address the distribution of glass workshops in northern Gaul and the Rhineland in the first millennium with an interest in identifying changes in land use related to the demand for production materials and fuel. They catalog more than seventy glass workshops between the Rhine and the English Channel spanning the first to the tenth centuries. Mário da Cruz examines glass production in late Roman Gallaecia in order to identify secondary glass production in a part of the late-Roman world that has hitherto received little attention. He focuses on the popular late antique form, the campanulate bowl, and identifies local alterations in the morphology that represents a regional style to the northern and central Iberian Peninsula. Susan Walker discusses the gold-glass fragments that form an important core of the Ashmolean Museum's Wilshire Collection. Although without firm provenance, the material is believed to have originated in Rome in the fourth century. Walker indicates that further chemical analysis is planned with the hopes of understanding more about the clientele for the original vessels to which the gold leaf decorated medallions and bases were affixed. The late David Whitehouse addresses the so-called proto-history of Venetian glass that focuses on continuity of tradition from second century evidence for glass working in the broader Veneto region, to the earliest documentary evidence for the presence of glassworkers in Venice in the tenth century, to the glass working accomplishments of the fifteenth century Venetian Golden Age. Whitehouse suggests that it was the commercial and political power of Venice from early in its development that enabled such unprecedented growth and development of production. Mia Leljak's brief comments address the origin of late Roman glass from southern Pannonia, modern-day northern Croatia, in what could be considered a call for greater attention to the region where, although there have been two moderately promising furnace excavations, glass vessel production remains unclear.

A range of essays address glass vessel finds and glass working in the late Roman and Byzantine East. Thilo Rehren and Anastasia Cholakova address glass supply and consumption in Dichin, a late Roman and early Byzantine site in northern Bulgaria. The site enjoys a tight dating sequence over two centuries of settlement and chemical analysis has yielded a picture of changing glass composition over that period with the possibility of connecting different glass composition with specific vessel forms. Anastassios Antonaras addresses the first archeologically investigated glass workshop active in the city of Thessalonike during the sixth and seventh centuries. The workshop structure and furnace arrangement demonstrates that contrary to legal prohibition, glass working was occurring within the city center. Sylvia Fünfschilling presents a preliminary examination of the glass from the Byzantine palace at Ephesus in Turkey where, while difficult to establish a firm chronology for the wide-ranging glass assemblage, further study of the ceramic finds may offer promising results. Hanna Hamel and Susanne Greiff report on the late Roman and early Byzantine glass finds from Heliopolis (modern Baalbek) in Lebanon where some limited chemical analysis was conducted to aid in dating. Glass from the first through seventh centuries are illustrated and discussed and a noted increase in both quality and quantity is observed for the fourth and fifth centuries, consistent with contemporary sites in the eastern Mediterranean. Susanne Greiff and Daniel Keller address changes in glass supply in southern Jordan in the later first millennium AD. They present the glass finds from the monastery of St. Aaron at Jabal Harun as a case study for both chemical analysis and the general chronological progression. The scientific analysis revealed a lack of expected glass compositional types, notably the so-called HIMT (high in iron, manganese, and titanium) glass, and suggests implications for glass trade routes in the area or the special status of this compositional formula.

Monumental wall mosaic from the Byzantine period is the subject of two studies. Nadine Schibille and Judith McKenzie report on the scientific study of mosaic tesserae from the sixth century church of Hagios Polyeuktos in Istanbul. They address the question of how the chemical composition of the mosaic tesserae compares to other contemporary mosaics. Scientific analysis of the tesserae indicate areas that likely received later restoration and also suggest that there was a central production center for much of the contemporary Byzantine mosaic glass. Liz James explores continuity between early Christian and Byzantine mosaic through comparison of the mid-fourth century mausoleum of Constantina in Rome and the so-called mausoleum of Galla Placidia in fifth century Ravenna. She reviews the development of monumental wall mosaic as an art form that significantly predates the mausoleum of Constantina, and addresses the practicality of at least some phase of tesserae manufacture occurring on any given site.

Marie-Dominique Nenna addresses the point of origin and the market for the so-called HIMT glass. Driven by the suggestion that HIMT glass originated in Egypt, Nenna presents an important summarization of the current state of research dealing with this compositional type and a cautionary warning moving forward with regard to responsible sampling. She brings together those sites where scientific analysis has revealed the presence of HIMT glass, providing the reader with a useful step in the study of this material. While it is not yet possible to explain the appearance of this compositional type during the fourth century, she is able to identify certain patterns of likely primary production in Sinai and Egypt. This is undoubtedly one of the more important studies within this volume because it addresses both historiographic issues and presents careful consideration of issues affecting research of this type moving forward.

The final two essays in the collection address late Byzantine, Islamic, and Sasanian glass in the eastern Mediterranean and Mesopotamia. Daniel Keller examines continuity and change in glass working in Upper Egypt with a focus on Byzantine/Umayyad stemmed goblets and early Islamic, Abbasid, cylindrical cups with tonged decoration that appear to replace the former in the late eighth/ninth century not only in Upper Egypt but also attested on sites throughout the eastern Mediterranean. Continuity in the color and fabric between the two vessel types suggests change in dining habits that may have been influenced by the Abbasid court's adoption of Sasanian culinary culture. St. John Simpson presents an overview of glass presence and production in the Sasanian period where unguentaria, bottles, bowls, and beakers predominate with an absence of large utilitarian vessels of the Roman tradition. Mould-blown, trailed, and facet-cut decorative methods are all well attested. Simpson points to the need for additional archeological investigation in order to gain a more complete understanding of the Sasanian glass industry and its subsequent influence on early Islamic glass working.

While not comprehensive in nature, this well edited and illustrated volume does represent, as described by its editors, a "cross-section of the current state of research on glass from the later first millennium AD in Europe and the Middle East..." (4). This assemblage of spatial, typological, and compositional approaches to the study of man-made glass demonstrates the distinct importance of each approach and the way in which knowledge grows incrementally as new areas are investigated and new methods of analysis are applied.

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