The First Golden Age of Glass

Glass Manufacture in the Roman Empire

Following the development of the blowpipe and glass blowing, glass manufacture increased dramatically during the period 25 AD to 400 AD with the Roman empire setting up glass making centres across the Mediterranean and Western Europe.  Alexandria remained the most important glass making centre in the East of the Roman Empire with the German city of Koln (Cologne) being the hub of the Western Empire's glass making.  During this time techniques were developed to produce transparent glass, plus the ability to build up layers of different coloured glass and cut out designs (Cameo).  The famous Portland Vase being the best example of the art at this time.  The use of manganese oxide to produce clear glass led to it being used for the first time in important buildings in major Roman cities.

Map Showing Extenet of Roman Empire in 117AD

   The Romans spread glassmaking techniques throughout   Western Europe, Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa


Islamic Glass Cup made using the Lustre Technique

Islamic Influence in Glass Making

The Islamic influence in glass making came to the fore folowing the decline and fall of the Roman Empire.  Glass making declined in Western Europe and even the German glass making industry lost it decorative skills and began creating merely functional objects with little ornamentation.

However, perhaps using the knowledge gained by the Persians when conquering Alexandria in the early 600's AD, decorative glass making spread rapidly across Islamic lands with many glass making centres in the Middle East.  

The Islamic development of lustre painting on glass using copper and silver pigments with a specific firing technique to produce a metallic sheen  chemically bound to the glass became popular and prevalent among Islamic glass makers.

Islamic control of the Middle East, North Africa and most of Spain and Portugal brought Islamic glass into Western Europe mainly in the Iberian peninsular where the Moors ruled for many hundreds of years.  Islamic decorative glass can be found in many places throughout Spain and Portugual, particularly in religious buildings.  Its distinctive designs being mainly due to Islamic teachings prohibiting the use of any images other than geometric shapes or plants.


Early Islamic Glass Beaker Islamic Stained Glass Window