Jewelry In The Making: Ancient Glass Beads

glass beads

The Phoenicians (who resided in present-day Lebanon) became highly skilled at making glass beads by 1200 B.C. They “borrowed many stylistic concepts from those with whom they traded, while developing their own technologies. The Phoenicians buried their dead with great care, interring unique core-formed glass pendants and beads with the deceased (Dubin, 1995:21).

The Greek Hellenistic period gave rise to Rome’s artistic heritage, including beads and jewelry. Persian, Phoenician, Egyptian, and northern Indian traditions heavily influenced the Greek Hellenistic craftsmen. As a result, Roman beads are comprised of a cross-cultural combination of materials, styles, and technology (Dubin, 1995).

The three great periods of glassmaking include The Roman Period, New Kingdom Egypt, and the era of Islamic dominance in the Mediterranean (C. A.D. 600-1400). As a matter of fact, the Romans brought glass beads with them everywhere they went to use them for trade. Glass beads handcrafted by Romans were highly coveted and they were developed in a wide range of colors, patterns, and techniques. “Exchanged as far north as Scandinavia, and as far east and south as China, Korea, Iran, Syria, Mali, and Ethiopia, quantities of Roman-period glass beads have been found in each of these countries, frequently raising the question of where they were originally manufactured because of their similar patterns and manufacturing techniques” (Dubin, 1995:22).

Core forming is a glass manufacturing technique that has been in use for a long time. It went out of style, however, during the first century B.C. Bigger furnaces with hotter fires that had been invented were able to create glass that was more fluid, which affected bead shapes and patterns. In addition, the constituents of glass (sand, alkali, and coloring agents) were refined, which developed more pure glass than ever before in history. The glass industry was then completely modified and modernized by the invention of the blowpipe! The invention of the blowpipe paved the way for new techniques, forms, and styles of glass beads! Since most glass beads were not blown, the blowpipe was not directly related to the making of glass beads. However, the combined result of all of these Roman innovations, including winding and drawing techniques to make glass beads, was the birth of a large-scale glassmaking industry! “More glass was made in the first century A.D. than in the previous fifteen hundred years” (Dubin, 1995:22). Beads were no longer restricted to the wealthy because everybody was able to afford and wear them now, since the materials were easily available and relatively cheap!

Beads manufactured later in the Roman period were poorer in quality than those produced in earlier times. The last great period of ancient glass bead making occurred along the east coast of the Mediterranean and within the Byzantine and Sassanian empires, which continued to develop well crafted, stylish beads, and which provided a connection between Rome and the Islamic era (Dubin, 1995).

If you would like to give wearable art gifts that are natural, handmade, unique, and incorporate glass beads and/or stones that are meaningful to you or the beautiful women in your life, please visit my shop page at WirednTwistednStoned.com/shop, or contact me for a private jewelry consultation at elizabeth@WirednTwistednStoned.com or (919) 649-2123.

Dubin, Lois Sherr. 1995. The History of Beads: From 30,000 B.C. to the Present, Concise Edition. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Incorporated.

Glass Beads

2 thoughts on “Jewelry In The Making: Ancient Glass Beads

  1. Kody Loveless says:

    I had no idea that glass beads had such a rich history. It really brings more value to beaded jewelry. I have always like beaded bracelets, but had no idea the accent Egyptians were using them as well. I think it is amazing that the tradition of beads in jewelry has lasted all this time, and through many different cultures.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you, Kody, for taking the time to comment on our blog post and for appreciating the historical and cultural significance of beads and beaded bracelets!

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