Glass in the Roman world

Glass in the Roman world

Ancient cups and bottles on display at the prehistoric museum in Qibutz "Maayan baruch," Israel. Photo by tomkidron from

Around 3,000 BC, people in the Middle East discovered how to make glass by melting sand. Early glass workers produced their objects by a process known as core forming.

They would build a core of clay mixed with sand in the shape of the inside of a vessel. Next, they attached the core to the end of a stick and dipped the core into molten glass. The workers then rolled the glass on a flat surface to smooth it out. Once the glass cooled, they scraped out the used core. Glass produced in this fashion was fairly thick and not transparent.

Around 100 BC, the Romans invented glass blowing. Craftsmen placed a lump of molten glass on the end of a long, hollow pole. Next they blew air through the tube, creating a bubble in the glass—kind of like blowing up a balloon. The blower could then shape the glass with tools, or blow the glass into a mold to easily create complex shapes.

Glass blowing uses less glass than earlier methods, is more versatile, and is relatively quick. The Romans spread glass throughout their empire, making it common from Spain to Syria.

King Herod the Great founded Caesarea

Caesaria was built on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean in what is now Israel. Map from

Herod the Great (73 BC – 4 BC), king of Judea, founded the port city of Caesarea Maritimas in what is now northwest Israel. Built between 22 BC – 10 BC, the city was entirely Roman. Caesarea had a full bath complex, an amphitheater, a gymnasium and a huge temple dedicated to Emperor Augustus and the goddess Roma. Herod even named the port Sebastos, the Greek equivalent of Augustus.

Herod built Caesarea largely because he needed a port. The last leg of the rich oriental trading route, the silk road, passed just north of his kingdom and ended in the port of Tyre (today called Sur in southern Lebanon). Similarly, sea trade from Egypt to the south sailed right up the coast, past Judea. If he was going to be rich and powerful, Herod needed a port of his own to divert some of this trade.

Furthermore, founding cities and sponsoring building projects was a traditional way for a king to show his power, wealth and generosity. Caesarea is only one of several cities Herod founded. He also sponsored many building projects, including the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem.

An overview of the ruins at Caesaria. It was founded in 22 BC, one hundred years before the destruction of Pompeii (several hundred miles west, on the Italian peninsula). Photo courtesy of Kate Larson.

An inscription found in Caesarea is one of the few non-biblical references to Pontius Pilate. (This is a replica. The original is housed in a museum.) It reads "Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea, gave and dedicated this temple of Tiberius" (the Roman emperor from 14 AD to 37 AD). Photo courtesy of Kate Larson.