Institute of Archaeology


Liam Richards

Specialisation and Technical Knowledge in Roman Coloured Glass Production


Email:  l.richards.17@ucl.ac.uk
Section: Archaeological Science


Specialisation and Technical Knowledge in Roman Coloured Glass Production


A major increase in glass production is seen at the beginning of the first century CE, and the invention of the blowpipe was one of the main catalysts for this increase in glass production. A large amount of scientific work on Roman glass has reached a consensus on the basic structure of the glass industry but has focused largely on the production of glass at the primary tank furnaces, where the glass was made.

There are some aspects of the Roman glass industry that are not well understood. In particular, this includes practices at the secondary production stage, for example the generation of colour. There are some areas that warrant investigation; why different production techniques were employed in producing a particular colour; if specialty production occurred outside of the natron glass industry; what technical knowledge was commonly understood and what was restricted.

The aim of this project is to determine the extent to which technical skills and knowledge were restricted to different groups of glassmakers associated with specialised productions and to what extent they were commonly understood, through the examination of the technological choices used in glass colouration and opacification. The main methods used will be (1) examination of legacy data to identify different technological choices, (2) compositional analysis of coloured glasses to investigate whether production of glass of a particular colour was restricted, and (3) experimental replication to determine the extent to which production required a specialised knowledge of a raw material and the complexity of the chaine operatoire, suggesting ease of transmission.

The project will contribute to our understanding of the Roman glass industry in several ways, such as the transmission of technical knowledge, how much technical knowledge glassmakers possessed with regards to the raw materials they used, and the extent to which glass colouration was specialised. While this project will not be able to answer these questions for the whole of the Roman world, the selection of these case studies will allow for the identification of craft practices specific for these examples, and the comparison of these case studies will allow for further research to better understand craftspeople of the Roman world.

  • B.S., Materials Science and Engineering, University of Arizona, 2017
  • MSc, Advanced Materials, University College London, 2018