Glass, Faience, and Glazed Tiles
Glass, Faience, and Glazed Tiles
Glass, Second Millennium B.C.E. Glass was one of the earliest artificial materials. Glass beads have been found at sites in Mesopotamia dating from the second half of the third millennium b.c.e. Major developments in glassmak-ing took place in north Mesopotamia during the mid-sixteenth century b.c.e., possibly among the Hurrians. Glass vessels were manufactured by making a clay core and covering it with hot glass. The core was removed after the glass cooled. While still hot and on the core, the vessel was often decorated by winding threads around it or placing blobs of differently colored glass on its surface. During the same period, objects such as pendants were also cast in molds, and marbled and mosaic glass were invented. A few surviving contemporary cuneiform texts give instructions on glassmaking.
Glass, First Millennium B.C.E. Following the general upheavals in the Near East during the twelfth century b.c.e., glassmaking re-emerged in the Neo-Assyrian
period (934-610 b.c.e.). Carved ivories from Phoenicia were sometimes inlaid with glass. More widely, glass bowls were cast in molds, probably using the lost-wax technique, and finished by grinding, cutting, drilling, and polishing. The finest examples of cast and cut glass date to the Achaemenid period (559-331 b.c.e.). Many of these bowls were made to resemble metal vessels. Glassmakers also produced cylinder seals and scaraboid and conoid stamp seals, usually in translucent-blue or light-green glass. (Scaraboid stamp seals are in the general shape of Egyptian scarab seals but without any indication of the beetle’s body parts; conoid stamp seals are made in various cone-like shapes.)
Faience. Before the development of glass, a widely used substance known as frit was made by melting quartz dust or sand, and the frit was then modeled or molded to form objects. When frit is covered with a glaze it is called faience. Faience may have been invented as a cheap substitute for stones such as lapis lazuli and turquoise. Faience first appeared in Egypt and Mesopotamia in the fifth millennium b.c.e., and it later spread throughout the Near East. In Mesopotamia, the earliest use of faience was for jewelry. It remained popular until the second millennium b.c.e., when glass beads appeared.
Glazed Clay. Some objects in Mesopotamia were made of glazed clay, which cannot always be distinguished from faience. Some of the earliest examples are large figures of guardian animals made of terra-cotta onto which a glaze was poured. They date from the fifteenth century b.c.e. and come from north Mesopotamia. During the fourteenth century b.c.e. clay vessels were glazed, first on Cyprus and in Syria. The technique spread to Mesopotamia, where it survived into the Islamic period.
Glazed Tiles. Wall decoration in glazed, colored, sometimes molded, bricks was developed during the first millennium b.c.e. Some of the finest examples come from Babylon and date from the sixth century b.c.e. The Ishtar Gate, Processional Way, and part of the royal palace were decorated with panels of colored bricks depicting palm trees and symbolic animals, such as lions, dragons, and bulls, alternating with abstract symbols. During the Achae-menid period the use of faience bricks was perfected at the site of Susa. A procession of Persian archers and spear carriers are finely molded with delicate use of color and glazing. This tradition survived for a long time and was employed during the Seleucid period at Uruk (311-145 b.c.e.) as well as in the Islamic period.
A. Leo Oppenheim and others, Glass and Glassmaking in Ancient Mesopotamia: An Edition of the Cuneiform Texts Which Contain Instructions for Glassmakers, with a Catalogue of Surviving Objects (Corning, N.Y.: Corning Museum of Glass, 1970).