History Podcasts

Roman Two-handled Glass cup

Roman Two-handled Glass cup


Ancient Glass Blog of The Allaire Collection

The glass blowing revolutionized the Roman glass industry of the first century. It allowed, for the first-time, glass to be sold to the average Roman. Also with blowing an object could be made much larger as well as quickly. Before this glass was only a luxury item as rare as gold or precious stones. This was mainly caused by the time it took to make core-formed objects (45 minutes) or casting or cutting techniques (several days) and size and technology of furnaces. Glass blowing is a process of forming an object quickly and in many different sizes and shape. Simply, it is blowing air through a metal tube (blow pipe) into a mass of molten glass. This short clip from Corning Museum of Glass by Bill Gudenrath explains it clearly (active link). Glass blowing was developed probably by Romans in Syria or Phoenicia (now the region of modern Lebanon) in 50 to 75 B.C. If not discovered by the Romans it was certainly exploited by them throughout the Empire.

Below are some examples of blown glass objects of the first century from the Allaire collection and the collections of our contributors.


The History of Roman Glass

To appreciate this type of glass and how it's presented today in modern jewelry -- it's best to understand its history .

Let's take a trip through time.

Some 2,000+ years ago the Romans tapped into their skills and techniques behind metalworking, gem cutting, and pottery to begin creating glass.

These glass items were often valued more than similar productions using precious metals such as silver and gold.

Glass pre-dates Romans by over 1,500 years though through a stroke of luck and positioning in the world.

Ancient Roman glassmakers benefited from the rich lime deposits around the Belarus and Voltrunus River(s) which added small pebbles and shells which changed and affected the design.

Ancient glass objects included:

And many other common containers while also including windows, mirrors, and jewelry in its own form. It stemmed from a mixture of intaglio and relief cutting.


The Lycurgus Cup—Nanotechnology in Ancient Rome

When my daughter and I and friends were in Budapest some years ago, my Kathy bought some beautiful Hungarian hand-made, etched-glass goblets with forest animals on them.

19th century Ludwig Moser gold goblets

Did you ever want to buy beautiful goblets? How about goblets that when held up to the light changed from one color to another? Who ever heard of that? We in the 21st century AD don’t have those type of goblets. If you were a wealthy Roman in c. 300 AD, 1,700 years ago, you could have bought them. In fact, the Roman Emperor Hadrian who reigned from 117-138 AD sent his sister and brother-in-law Servianus two such amazing goblets in the 100’s AD!

“I am sending you over some (goblets), changing color and variegated, presented to me by the priest of a temple and now dedicated particularly to you and my sister. I should like you to use them at banquets on feast-days. Take good care, however, that our dear Africanus does not use them too freely.” Historia Augusta: Lives of Firmus, Saturninus, Proclus and Bonusus 8:10

The Lycurgus Cup with light from both sides. The rim is mounted with a silver-gilt band of leaf ornament. Its silver-gilt foot has open-work vine leaves—British Museum

The Lycurgus Cup is the only intact example we have of what is now called “dichroic glass.” “Di-chroic” means “two-colors” in Greek. The Romans had mastered the art of making one color appear on a goblet when in a certain light and another color appear on the same goblet in another light. The glass goblet known as the Lycurgus Cup appears jade green when lit from the front and appears red when lit from behind the cup.

Video of Lycurgus Cup changing colors in the British Museum

Until the Lycurgus Cup was acquired by the British Museum in the 1950’s (from the Rothschilds, meaning “red shield”), scientists had not examined it. When they did, they were puzzled by its changing colors. It was not until the 1990’s when broken pieces of the same variegated glass from ancient Rome were examined that they discovered Roman glass-makers were experts in our relatively new field of nanotechnology, technology specializing in very teeny, nano particles.

Nanotechnology affects us in almost unlimited ways and is all around us UCLA researchers developed an electrolyte the size of a grain of salt (left) to be used in batteries

The Romans had permeated the Lycurgus glass chalice with silver and gold particles that had been ground up so finely they were only 50 nanometers in diameter, less than one thousandth the size of a grain of salt. Roman glassmakers knew that when light hit their glass, something, now called electrons, in the nano fragments of metal would alter the color of the glass. It is sure ancient glassmakers had words for what they did, but those words are lost and we must speak in modern nomenclature.

Movement of treated and untreated gold particles around silver annulus on the gold surface

The glass chalice, known as the Lycurgus Cup, is so-called because it images a myth involving King Lycurgus of Thrace (Balkan Peninsula). A man of violent temper, Lycurgus attacked the god of wine Dionysius and one of his female followers, Ambrosia. Ambrosia called out to Mother Earth who transformed her into a vine. She then coiled herself about the king and held him captive, the scene captured on the Lycurgus Cup. The change from green to red on the vase could symbolize the red blood of Ambrosia or the red wine of the wine god Dionysius. The green could symbolize the ultimate triumph of Ambrosia by being turned into a green vine by Nature that imprisoned the red-wrathful Lycurgus. The vase below shows the moment when Mother Earth has arrived and will save Ambrosia from Lycurgus and his evil behavior.

c. 400 BC red-figure vase depicting an episode from the myth of Lycurgus, King of the Thracians—Staatliche Antikensammlungen Museum, Munich

The Lycurgus Cup is a “cage cup” which consists of an outer cage (hence “cage cup”) and an inner glass. The artist either blew or cast a thick blank glass. He cut and ground it until the figures were in high relief. In order to make the changing colors on the cup, the artist would have had to grind up gold and silver into nano grains finer than sand and fuse them proportionally into the glass in order to produce the subatomic effects we are now so many millennia later just beginning to fathom. Scientists are still not sure how that was accomplished.

Thermochromic—Color shows temperature

It is, also, believed that it is a hyper color chalice, meaning that it would change color when different substances were poured in it and could detect temperatures by changing colors. The possibilities of this ancient technology excite nano technicians. Could ancient Roman technology be used, for instance, to detect substances in water better than our current modern sensors?

Nanotechnology, as all medical and technological advances, can be used for man’s good or for evil. If, as some fear, it leads to abortion and euthanasia, it is evil. If nanotechnology is used to cure diseases or to help identify microbes and clean up water sources, etc., it is good.

The Romans certainly used their unique technique to create lasting wonder and beauty. When Rome died, we entered the Dark Ages. Not only did cement and indoor toilets with running water go away for over 1,400 years, but the Lycurgus Cup demonstrates that more than we could have imagined died with the Eternal City.

Hugh of St. Victor—Decorated manuscript of Ecclesiastes in Latin. Spain, c. 1175-1200

The Biblical Solomon held the Throne of Wisdom more than a thousand years before Rome burst into the world. He sums it all up:
“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9. Not even nanotechnology.—Sandra Sweeny Silver


1,600-Year-Old Goblet Shows that the Romans Used Nanotechnology

The Lycurgus Cup, as it is known due to its depiction of a scene involving King Lycurgus of Thrace, is a 1,600-year-old jade green Roman chalice that changes colour depending on the direction of the light upon it. It baffled scientists ever since the glass chalice was acquired by the British Museum in the 1950s. They could not work out why the cup appeared jade green when lit from the front but blood red when lit from behind.

The mystery was solved in 1990, when researchers in England scrutinized broken fragments under a microscope and discovered that the Roman artisans were nanotechnology pioneers: They had impregnated the glass with particles of silver and gold, ground down until they were as small as 50 nanometres in diameter, less than one-thousandth the size of a grain of table salt.

The work was so precise that there is no way that the resulting effect was an accident. In fact, the exact mixture of the previous metals suggests that the Romans had perfected the use of nanoparticles – “an amazing feat,” according to archaeologist Ian Freestone of University College London. When hit with light, electrons belonging to the metal flecks vibrate in ways that alter the colour depending on the observer’s position.

Now it seems that this technology, once used by the Romans to produce beautiful art, may have many more applications - the super-sensitive technology used by the Romans might help diagnose human disease or pinpoint biohazards at security checkpoints. Gang Logan Liu, an engineer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who has long focused on using nanotechnology to diagnose disease, and his colleagues, realized that this effect offered untapped potential.

They conducted a study last year in which they created a plastic plate filled with gold or silver nanoparticles, essentially creating an array that was equivalent to the Lycurgus Cup. When they applied different solutions to the plate, such as water, oil, sugar and salt, the colours changed. The proto­type was 100 times more sensitive to altered levels of salt in solution than current commercial sensors using similar techniques. It may one day make its way into handheld devices for detecting pathogens in samples of saliva or urine, or for thwarting terrorists trying to carry dangerous liquids onto airplanes.

This is not the first time that Roman technology has exceeded that of our modern day. Scientists studying the composition of Roman concrete , submerged under the Mediterranean Sea for the last 2,000 years, discovered that it was superior to modern-day concrete in terms of durability and being less environmentally damaging. The knowledge gained is now being used to improve the concrete we use today. Isn’t it ironic that scientists now turn to the works of our so-called ‘primitive’ ancestors for help in developing new technologies?


The Lycurgus Cup is a mysterious ancient relic from the late Roman era. The cup was made of a dichroic glass, which shows a different colour depending on whether or not light is passing through it. It baffled scientists ever since the glass chalice was acquired by the British Museum in the 1950s.

Cool cup but really just a video about Romans addiing metal dust ro the mixture during the glass manufacturering process. I think it is more remarkable that a glass cup has survived for so long.

I know a guy whoɽ love one of these!

Its not mysterious. It doesnt baffled scientsts.

Saying. 'Its unkown how its made.' is not the same thing as, ➾ing totally clueless to how its made.'

Roman glass making is well understood, as is the construction of cage glass cups.

Whats fantastic is that this is the best preserve example of these cage glass cups which also happen to have this wonderful dichroic coloring.

The best understanding, is the dichroic roman glass, is that roman glass makers were not sure how the process is done. As this is shown, with roman Dichroic glass not having any uniformority in color or composition.

They may have added jewerly dust to the glass making process on purpose, or it may have been accidental. Roman silver often has gold in it. And the silver dust may have been just from the workshop surfaces as they rolled the glass. Thats whats unknown about it. When the dust was added and how the dust was added.

This is like if you have a full setence but you're not sure what font or what size of the font they used.

There is in fact a great deal we don't understand about roman glass making. Anthropologists have a general idea how it was done in that time and place it was more or less the same where you look, but the specifics is where it gets real fuzzy real fast. There is a type of Roman glass that exhibits much odder qualities than changing color, at least from a chemistry standpoint. There are examples of Roman glass which is nigh unbreakable even after thousands of years. The story goes that the emporer heard of a school of blacksmiths who could make this miraculous glass and wanted to see for himself and after seeing it was indeed real he had them all killed to keep this rare and valuable secret. Most likely a fable meant to explain why the knowledge has been lost but the glass itself DOES exist though very few examples have been found. But the bottom line is we have exactly zero idea how they did it, glassblowing was a borderline mystical talent back then much like a blacksmith being able to take a raw material and create tools and weapon and art from them must have seem like alchemy, and like alchemists in later centuries their secrets were extremely well guarded and passed on mostly from master to student, and as such were lost over time.


About the R.S. Prussia Company

Throughout its history, the R.S. Prussia company manufactured a wide range of china pieces and sets, including teapots, cups and saucers, plates, sugar bowls, and even chocolate sets. Most pieces were decorated with imitation opals, gold, or iridescent finishes and feature paintings of flowers, portraits, or scenes from nature which were applied through lithographic transfers. Later pitchers and vases pieces, influenced by Art Nouveau, had arms and handles with designs similar to the borders on posters by Alphonse Mucha.

According to the International Association of R.S. Prussia Collectors website, most of the historical information on this type of porcelain published prior to 1994 appears to be largely inaccurate. This includes large chunks of text in a few well-known book titles. Reinhold and Erdmann Schlegelmilch were long thought to be brothers jointly operating one factory, but they actually ran two different factories located in Suhl, Germany, in direct competition with one another.


Adjuncts of the chalice

These are the corporal, the purificator, the pall, the burse, and the chalice veil.

The corporal will be considered separately.

The purificator (purificatorium or more anciently emunctorium) now consists of a rectangular piece of linen usually folded twice lengthwise and laid across the top of the chalice. It is used for wiping and drying the chalice, or the paten, or the priest's lips, e.g. after the ablutions. Unlike the corporal and the pall, it requires no special blessing. In the Middles Age it was not customary, as it is nowadays, for each priest to have a purificator of his own, frequently renewed, but it seems that a cloth of this kind was kept at the altar which was used in common by all.

The pall is a small square of stiffened linen ornamented with a cross, which is laid upon the orifice of the chalice to protect its contents from flies or dust. The word pallium, or palla, was originally used of all kinds of coverings, notably of what we now call the altar-cloths, and also of the corporal. Even in St. Gregory of Tours (Hist. Franc., VII, xxii) we read of the sacred gifts being veiled by a pallium, which was probably some sort of corporal. But about the time of St. Anselm (c. 1100) the custom seems to have grown up in some places of using two corporals at the altar. One was spread out, and upon it the chalice and host were laid. The other, folded into smaller compass, served only to cover the chalice (sce Giorgi, Liturgia Rom. Pont., II, 220, III, 79-81). This folded corporal is now represented by the little disk of linen which we call the pall. At one time it was forbidden to cover the pall with silk or rich embroidery now the upper surface may be of silk and embroidered, but the under-side, which is in contact with the chalice, must still be linen. The original identity of the pall and the corporal is further illustrated by the fact that both alike require to be specially blessed before use.

The chalice veil and the burse are of comparatively recent introduction. Even Burchard, the compiler of the "Ordo Missae" (1502), now represented by the rubricae generales of the Roman Missal, supposes that the chalice and paten were brought by the priest to the altar in a sacculum or lintheum, which seems to have been the ancestor of the present veil. The burse, which is simply a cover used to keep the corporal from being soiled, and which for that reason was known in Old English as a "corporas-case", is somewhat older. Several medieval burses are still preserved in the collection at Danzig. Nowadays both burse and veil are usually made of the same material as that of the set of vestments to which they belong, and they are similarly ornamented.


Doric Depression Glass Pattern

Jeannette Glass Company also made a similar pattern called Doric and Pansy, which includes a set of children's dishes.

Most often found in pink and green, but also made in Delphite (opaque blue). Ultramarine (light teal) and yellow can be found occasionally in this pattern.


Roman Two-handled Glass cup - History

Replica of a Viking cup from Birka.

FLOWER VASE high

FLOWER VASE high.

Beer Tankard with a tin lid

Beer Tankard with a tin lid.

CANDLEHOLDER - ceramic

MAPLE LEAF bowl

  • a real leaf was used for this bowl
  • diameter 13.5 cm
  • height: 6.5 cm
  • made in Bohemia

OAK LEAF bowl

  • a real leaf was used for this bowl
  • diameter 13.5 cm
  • height: 6.5 cm
  • made in Bohemia

Green MEDIEVAL BOWL 10 cm

Ceramic Jug 1 liter

CERAMIC WINE GOBLET high

Wine goblet.

BEER PITCHER blue

CERAMIC APPLE BAKER for a tealight

Fermentation vessel

Fermentation vessel.

CERAMIC APPLE BAKER for a tealight

Ceramic Apple Baker with a beautiful finish. Made in South Bohemia.

BLUE Ceramic Kettle 0.5 L

Ceramic Kettle with a beautiful finish. Made in South Bohemia.

BLUE Mug 0.35 L

Ceramic mug with a beautiful finish. Made in South Bohemia.

MOSS Mug 0.35 L

Ceramic mug with a beautiful finish. Made in South Bohemia.

BLUE Mug 0.5 L

Ceramic mug with a beautiful finish. Made in South Bohemia.

MOSS Mug 0.5 L

Ceramic mug with a beautiful finish. Made in South Bohemia.

BLUE Cup Presso 0.1 L

Ceramic mug with a beautiful finish. Made in South Bohemia.

MOSS Cup Presso 0.1 L

Ceramic mug with a beautiful finish. Made in South Bohemia.