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Bottle (unguentarium)

Bottle (unguentarium)

  • Place of origin:

    Syria (probably, made)

  • Date:

    3rd century - 4th century (made)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Applied thread decoration

  • Credit Line:

    Wilfred Buckley Collection

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 8, The William and Eileen Ruddock Gallery, case 14

Roman society was fastidious about personal hygiene and appearance. Small bottles for oil and perfume were used in great quantities throughout the Roman Empire. With the arrival of glassblowing around 50 BC, such items could be made relatively easily and became affordable to people of modest means.

Oils and other unguents were important in Roman society for preparing the bodies of burial or cremation. After use, the containers for such prepatory producs were often deposited alongside the bodies in their graves.

Physical description

Amber coloured glass reseptacle with applied decoration. Two conjoined round-ended tubes, wrapped around with a fine thread, two small loop handles at the top.

Place of Origin

Syria (probably, made)


3rd century - 4th century (made)

Materials and Techniques

Applied thread decoration


Height: 14.5 cm, Width: 5 cm, Depth: 2 cm, Weight: .04 kg

Object history note

Gift to the museum from Mrs Wilfred Buckley, Forbes House, Ham Commom, Surrey

Historical context note

The arrival of glass in the Roman World had a profound social impact. Like many ancient peoples, the Romans believed in an Afterlife that would be an idealized form of their worldly experience. So it was a family obligation to ensure that the grave of every deceased relative was furnished according to its means; not just food and wine, but also offerings of perfume. The wealthy would provide these offerings in flasks (unguentaria) made of silver or alabaster. With the arrival of glassblowing, poorer citizens now could offer similar items in glass.

There was also an extensive market for unguentaria in life as well as death; Roman society was fastidious about personal hygiene and appearance. And during the mid-1st century A.D., as glassworkers continued to adapt their skills, their wares steadily ousted their pottery counterparts from the marketplace. The forms of unguentaria steadily multiplied over the years-in particular, necks often were extended, to slow the evaporation of perfumed oils-as did their decoration, following stylistic trends of the glassworking industry overall.

In the mid 4th century A.D., the establishment of Constantinople as the new administrative heart of the Roman World resulted in many social and economic changes. But the Roman desire for perfumery and cosmetics remained a constant, and each time there was a change in shape among the gold and silver perfume bottles (unguentaria) of the wealthy, it soon was mimicked in glass. Such desire came at a price, however. According to the emperor Diocletian's Prices Edict of A.D. 301, even oil of wild marjoram was priced at 100 denarii per pound, while the recognized luxury of Arabian saffron could cost twenty times as much.

Descriptive line

Bottle (unguentarium), probably Syria, , 200-399, C.101-1936 .


Ceramics Collection

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