"Nero, on receiving a message that all was lost, broke two crystal cups in a final burst of the vengeance of one who would punish his whole generation." (Pliny the Elder, Natural History XXXVII.29)

It may be because so many ancient writers made a point of commenting on the excesses of the emperor Nero, but his reign does seem to have been a period of exceptional extravagance. Certainly some Romans had plenty of money to spend on all manner of luxuries. Silks from China, perfumes from Arabia, hardwoods from North Africa, marble from Greece: the list is endless.

For whatever reason, rock crystal now became the most fashionable of hardstones among Rome's wealthy. Its surface could be sculpted in low relief, or it could be delicately faceted. The glassmaking industry followed this swing in the pendulum of Roman taste at once, producing both mold-cast dishes and a whole range of free-blown vessels in colorless glass.

Aureus of Emperor Nero
reigned, A.D. 5468



1) Cool, H.E.M., 1995: "Glass Vessels of the Fourth and Early Fifth Century in Roman Britain," in Le Verre de l'Antique Tardive et du Moyen Age, 11-23, ed., D. Foy (Val d'Oise: Cergy-Pontoise Musee Archeologique Departmental).

2) Grose, D.F., 1991: "Early Imperial Roman Cast Glass: The Translucent Coloured and Colourless Fine Wares," in Roman Glass: Two Centuries of Art and Invention, 1-18, eds., M. Newby and K. Painter (London: The Society of Antiquaries of London).

3) Price, J., 1978: "Trade in Glass," in Roman Shipping and Trade: Britain and the Rhine Provinces, 70-78, eds., J. du Plat Taylor and H. Cleere (London: C.B.A.).

4) Stern, E.M., 1997: "Glass and Rock Crystal: A Multifacted Relationship," Journal of Roman Archaeology 10, 192-206.

5) Vickers, M., 1996: "Rock Crystal: The Key to Cut Glass and Diatreta in Persia and Rome," Journal of Roman Archaeology 9, 48-65.

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