Sasanian Glass Blown Bowl Edit

Brief Identification Edit

This glass pot was found in what is today Iran. It is believed to date back to the Sasanian period of the Persian empire (500-600 C. E.). The honeycomb structure and hemispherical shape suggest that this pot was crafted from a mold. Its lack of an ornate design proposes that it was crafted for normal every day use. The greenish color of the glassware was quite typical of glass pottery during this era.

This piece is housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art located in New York City.

Technical Evaluation Edit

The incised honeycomb design on this artifact is a signature of Sasanian pottery.1 Hemispherical vessels with circular facets were some of the more common designs during the sixth and seventh centuries. They were widely exported throughout the empire as well as along several trade routes. This artifact exemplifies these traits fairly well. Note the light green, or greenish, tinge it has. This, too, is very common for vessels like this. Colorless glass was quite rare. Often times, these non-ornate pots would be used for containing perfumes or in burial rituals.2


The pot depicted was most likely made using the full-size glass blowing technique, named so because the size and shape of the glass does not change throughout the process. It remains its "full size". In this technique, the mold is usually made of something durable, such as bronze. However, less substantial materials may have also been used. Vertical ribbing, chevron, geometric, and vegetal designs were also created using this method. Inscriptions could be engraved into glass vessels this way as well (although, they do not always hold up as well over time). Knowing that someone had to create the mold also brings into light the metalworker. His having to craft the design of the mold in order for the glassmaker to create the final product shows how complex a process this truly was.3

The most prominent of the hemispherical bowls, such as the one above, is most likely the vessel on display in the Nara National Museum of Japan. This bowl has most likely stayed Nara since 752 C.E.2 It is incredibly significant due to its route of travel from the Iranian region to East Asia via the silk road. Made of crystal, it is one of the finer displays of the aforementioned Sasanian pottery.4

Local Historical Context Edit

Glass blowing came about in the Syro-Palestinian region in the first century B.C.E.5 More historical pottery information is known about the western part of the Sasanian empire (Mesopotamia) than from Persia proper.2 Before the use of glass blowing, previous glass techniques took more time and much more effort. Thus, glass products were produced in small quantities and not readily available for every day use.5 It was not until the seventh century that Islamic glass blowing began to take off and become more innovative. Products of this time include relief cut glass as well as gilded and enameled products. These, along with others, helped establish the Sasanian empire as the number one glass manufacturer in the world at the time.6

Two molds from the medieval Islamic world are still in existence today. Dip molds and two- or three-part hinged molds both still aide glassmakers today in imprinting decorative patterns on molten glass (also called a parison). Dip molds have a conical beaker shape where as hinge molds do not. The tool known as the pontil is a metal rod placed at the base of a pot to hold it after it is cut of from the steel (or iron) tube known as the blowpipe. It was quite a common object to find in the seventh-eighth century glassmaker's shop. A marver, a smooth flat stone surface where softened glass is rolled, was also a popular ancient tool.6

The invention of glass blowing and the fact that some of the techniques are still used today are what make this artifact, and others like it, so significant to Middle Eastern culture, past and present.

World Historical Context Edit

The popularity of Sasanian glass blown pottery allowed for heavy export of the products, not just across the Persian empire, but the world as well. Islamic glassware has been found as far east as Japan. It is likely the goods traveled along the Silk Road. The Red Sea was also a very important resource for long-distance trade between the Mediterranean and Indian Ocean.Cultural exchange not only occurred west-east (and vice versa) but also north-south. Early Islamic trade routes have been documented to stretch from the Arabian Peninsula to eastern Africa.7

Trade was a very essential part of the empire. Evidence of trade with South Asia can be found in pottery remains discovered in the Kush area. Approximately, thirty-four sherds of South-Asian pottery were found there, proving that trade routes stretched much farther than just within the empire.8 In addition to pots, spices, and fabrics, recycled glass was another traded commodity. In order to reproduce glass products inexpensively, shards of glass from different regions would be shipped to wherever they were needed. This better explains evidence of different glass compositions from certain areas being discovered in other regions across the continent. For example, a broken pot from Iran could be shipped, along with others, to somewhere in Egypt where it would be melted down and remade into a new vessel. Although the glass is from Iran, it now possesses Egyptian features. This contributes to the significance of the diversity of pottery fragments found across the continent. It also adds more significance to the importance of trade and how far certain objects actually traveled in the ancient world.6

Bibliography Edit

"Bowl with Wheel-cut Facets." In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Last modified 2016.

Canepa, Matthew. "Seleukid Sacred Architecture, Royal Cult and the Transformation of Iranian Culture in the Middle Iranian Period." Iranian Studies: Journal Of The International Society For Iranian Studies 48, no. 1: 71-97. November 13, 2016.

Carboni, Stefano and Qamar Adamjee. “Blown Glass from Islamic Lands.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, (October 2002):

Carboni, Stefano and Qamar Adamjee. “Glass from Islamic Lands.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, (October 2002):

Carboni, Stefano and Qamar Adamjee. “Glass with Mold-Blown Decoration from Islamic Lands.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, (October 2002):

Collon, Domonique et al. "Iran, ancient." Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press, accessed November 11, 2016,

Kennet, Derek. 2002. "Sasanian Pottery in Southern Iran and Eastern Arabia." Iran 40 (2002): 153-62. doi:10.2307/4300621.

Kroger, Jens "Glass." Encyclopædia Iranica. Modified February 9, 2012. Accessed November 13, 2016.

"Sassanid Bowl On Display In Japan." Bread and Circuses. Modified November 20, 2008. Accessed November 11, 2016.

Williams, Elizabeth. “Trade and Commercial Activity in the Byzantine and Early Islamic Middle East.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, (May 2012):

  8. doi:10.2307/4300621