Brief Identification Edit

Glass Amphora from Olbia

This glass amphora is one of the many artifacts discovered in Olbia, Ukraine at the end of the 19th century during Boris Farmakovskij's and his colleagues' excavation of the site. It is estimated to have been produced by a Greek glass-former between 120 BCE and 80 BCE. It was more than likely commissioned by a wealthy citizen to serve the purpose of not only holding liquids, such as wines and oils, but also of symbolizing his wealth and social status. Friedrich Ludwig von Gans donated this amphora to the Collection of Glass Antiquities in 1912, and it was restored to its original condition in 1976. It is now kept at the Altes Museum in Berlin, Germany.

Technical Evaluation Edit

This amphora was originally crafted out of a combination of clear, bubble-free glass and copper using a glass-forming technique utilized by during the later parts of the Hellenistic period, around the 2nd and 1st century BCE. This technique was referred to as rotary pressing, and given that it predated the invention of the glass pipe and more modern glassblowing techniques, involved sagging hot glass over a mushroom shaped core to create the base of the amphora and then narrowing the glass in order to form the neck. [Geritzt 2003]

This amphora also features a copper band that separates the top and bottom half of the artifact, copper bands that attach the handles to the base, a copper cap on top, and a copper figurine of a satyr that acts as a faucet for expelling the contents of the amphora.

The materials used to create this amphora, given that glass and copper were quite prevalent in Greece during this time period, are not what make it rare, but rather its size. At 59.6 cm it is the largest surviving glass vessel that was crafted before the invention of more modern glass lowing techniques, suggesting that this particular glass amphora took an incredible amount of skill to craft. A majority of the amphoras and other vessels found by Boris Farmakovskij were either ceramic, with dark, shiny finishes and elegant designs, or significantly smaller glass vessels. [Lomtadze, Zuravlev 1976] Although there is no evidence suggesting that this amphora was crafted outside of Olbia, it does resemble the rapidly developing techniques for crafting glass vessels being used in Cyprus and Syro- Palestine during this time period. [Jackson-Tal 2000, 13-15]

This glass amphora was discovered by Boris Farmakovskij and his colleagues during their excavation of Olbia between 1896 and the beginning of the 20th century. In accordance with the practices of the Russian Imperial Archaeological Commission, the amphora should have been sent to either the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg or the Russian Historical Museum in Moscow [Lomtadze, Zuravlev 1976] , but alternatively it was donated to the Collection of Classical Antiquities by Friedrich Ludwig von Gans in 1912. In 1976, it was restored to its original condition and is now kept at the Atles Museum in Berlin, Germany, alongside a reproduction of itself created by Josef Welzel as a means of attempting to understand the original methods used to create the glass amphora.

Local Historical Context Edit

The time period in which this amphora was produced (between the end of the 2nd century BCE and the beginning of the 1st century BCE) was one of the least known about periods of time in the history of Olbia. This particular point in Olbia's history is best characterized by the struggle for political control over the region between Mithridates VI Eupator (the Pontic Kingdom), local barbarian tribes, and the citizens of the Hellenistic city/state. Olbia ultimately became a protectorate of the Pontic Kingdom around 80 BCE. [Krapivina 2005]

Prior to the time period in which this amphora was produced, Olbia was a very successful Greek settlement on the northern coast of the Black Sea. It was founded around 600 BCE by colonists from Ionian city/states. By 300 BCE, Olbia was a prominent center for trade in the region, and was known for the production of pottery and other sought after commodities. It is likely that this glass amphora was produced by an Olbian craftsmen who was contracted to do so by a wealthy Olbian citizen. This citizen, given the time period in which the amphora was crafted, likely compensated the craftsmen for his work by paying him with Pontos coins, which were became increasingly prevalent in Olbia prior to it becoming a protectorate of the Pontic Kingdom. [Krapivina 2005, 255]

Amphoras were widely used by the Greeks as vessels for carrying Oil, wine, and other liquids, but they also served an aesthetic purpose as a symbol of wealth and status. Amphoras were typically ceramic and depicted images that were culturally significant, such as scenes from mythological lore. Although this particular amphora is made of glass and is not painted, it does portray an image of cultural significance. The faucet of the amphora takes the shape of a satyr, which are mythological creatures characterized as being half man/ half beast and are associated with mischievous behavior. During the 5th century BCE, satyr plays became an increasingly popular form of Greek drama that recreated scenes from Greek mythology and inserted satyrs. The satyrs in these plays were usually portrayed as drinking wine. The satyr featured on this glass amphora is likely representative of the fact that the amphora was to be used as a vessel for wine.

World-Historical Significance Edit

The most significant aspects of this glass amphora are the methods used to produce it. Although the glass forming methods used in the Hellenistic world were not transmitted to other cultures by the Greeks themselves, these methods were adopted by the Romans, much like other aspects of Hellenistic culture (philosophy, architecture, literary style, etc.). The Romans failed to see the more luxurious applications of glass making, such as producing glass pottery as symbols of wealth and status, but did use these techniques to produce massive quantities of glassware that were distributed throughout their expansive empire. [Fleming 1996, 17-19]

Bibliography Edit

Fleming, Stuart J. "Early Imperial Roman Glass at the University of Pennsylvania Museum." Expedition 38, no. 2 (1996): 17-19.

Geritzt, Geschliffen und Geschnitten. Die Evolution der frühen Glasschneidekunst: English Translation. In: Antike Welt 34 (2003) H.4, 345-356.

Jackson-Tal, Ruth. "The Late Hellenistic Glass Industry in Syro-Palestine: A Repraisal." Journal of Glass Studies 46 (2004): 13-15. Accessed April 17, 2015.

Krapivina, Valentina V. Problems of the Chronology of the Late Hellenistic Strata of Olbia. na, 2005.

Lomtadze, Georgij, and Denis Zuravlev. "Hellenistic Pottery From the Necropolis of Olbia." In Pottery, Peoples, and Places Bristol, CT: Aarhus University Press, 2014.

List of Webpage Resources Edit