PIECE: Cinerary urn CULTURE: Roman PERIOD: 1st - 2nd Century AD MATERIAL: Glass DIMENSIONS: Diameter 22 cm; height 17 cm. REFERENCIA: 20141857. PRICE: 12,500 Euros. PROVENANCE: Private Spanish collection of R.G., acquired in the 1970s. CONDITION: The piece is intact despite its fragility. There are no chips, cracks or breakage. DESCRIPTION: A glass urn destined to hold the ashes of the deceased. This urn was placed within a second one of lead made in the same shape and size and with a lid, to protect and preserve the glass urn. These were then deposited in a niche of a tomb or were buried.
The urn in question is of transparent blue glass. It has a globular form with the neck of the vessel in the form of a disc, and with a convex base. The mouth of the urn is appreciably wide. Originally it was most surely closed with a lid, also of glass. The surface exhibits some calcareous incrustations.
A large number of such urns have been found in the western provinces of the Roman Empire, but very rarely in the Eastern ones. Examples which have been described have been found in Italy, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Spain, Algeria, Egypt and Austria.
The most ancient examples of this type of urn, type ising 67A, which can be dated through archeological context, would seem to be those found in Madgadensberg in Austria, no later than 45 AD (Czurda-Ruth, 1979. p.156, num. 1160.). Others examples are from Xanten, Germany, found in a context which can be dated to the reign of Claudius 41-54 AD. Pieces found in Ampurias and Girona are also from the reign of Claudius, as are other examples from Great Britain not later than 60 AD. This form was also found in Pompeii and Herculaneum at the time of destruction in 79 AD (Scatozza Horitcht 1986 p. 69).
Although the use in antiquity of urns of type ising 67A was in funerary practices - and therefore a great number of pieces in good condition are still in existence - their primary use was for domestic purposes. This is evident through archeological findings in Pompeii (Scatozza Horich 1986 p. 68-70), Herculaneum, Boscoreale (Kisa 1908, vol. II, p. 312) and Settefinestre (De Tomasso and Poggesi 1985, p. 192.)
The use of this type of cinerary urn continued until the 3rd Century when cremation ceased to be the usual form of burial.
It is also to be noted that glass was a material article much appreciated by the Romans. They acquired it through commerce with Egyptians and Phoenicians. But since the beginnings of the Empire it was also produced in the metropolis and outside of it, in the same techniques used by Egyptians and Phoenicians, but perfecting the vessels, producing more varied and more elegant forms.
Few Roman burials have been described that do not contain clear or greenish glass bottles, now showing iridescence due to the effect of humidity and air. These flasks, always with narrow forms, are usually called lacrymatories and unguentarias by collectors, but they were only used for oils and perfumes in the burials, not for holding tears.
The Romans also perfected the art of making reliefs of figures in glass vessels by the addition of a layer of enamel or of glass of a distinct color, followed by the cutting and engraving of this, so that the exterior surface of such vessels looks just like a cameo.