Monday, September 12, 2016


Despina Ignatiadou, Διαφανής ύαλος για την αριστοκρατία της αρχαίας Μακεδονίας. Υπουργείο Πολιτισμού και Αθλητισμού. Αρχαιολογικό Ινστιτούτο Μακεδονικών και Θρακικών Σπουδών Δημοσιεύματα, 13. Thessaloniki: Αρχαιολογικό Ινστιτούτο Μακεδονικών και Θρακικών Σπουδών, 2013. Pp. 420. ISBN 9789609726023. (pb).

Reviewed by Stella G. Miller, Bryn Mawr College (

Version at BMCR home site

Glass, a "synthetic" precious material, stood on a par in antiquity with semi-precious stones, according to ancient sources. The production of Macedonian glass works of crystalline transparency that mimicked rock crystal, the subject of this book (Colourless Glass for the Élite in Ancient Macedonia in the English subtitle), had a short life during the second half of the fourth century B.C., crafted in what may well have been local workshops. This is an important publication based on a dissertation presented to the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in 2004.1 The author has in the meantime become the foremost expert on glass in Greece and far beyond. Her study, accompanied by brief summaries in English, may profitably be read in conjunction with the bilingual dictionary co-authored by Ignatiadou,2 which also enhances the usefulness of the glossary at the end of the book.

In the first section (not translated into English) are discussions of the processes of manufacture through time.3 One process involves a lost-wax molding technique for jewelry and certain vessels in which the molds of gypsum or clay were destroyed upon the removal of the artifacts after firing. Most vessels, however, were pressed and rotary pressed in molten glass, with details finished by hand. For plano-convex game counters, glass chips were melted and simply placed on flat surfaces to harden while the pressing of chips into shallow clay molds made shaped inlays. As to actual workshops, the author collects the scant evidence in the ancient world. Although no concrete evidence for glass workshops has emerged from Macedonia itself, the author makes the important point that there is a native source of natron, an essential component of glass making, in the marshy land near modern Pikrolimni in Central Macedonia. The essay is well illustrated with photographs, diagrams, and reconstructions.

The core of the book is focused on catalogue entries, typologically arranged in separate sections dealing with vessels, jewelry, gaming pieces, and furniture inlays, together with admirable digressions to consider such matters as skeuomorphs and unprovenanced glass including pieces that may belong to Macedonian production. Such is the case, for instance, with a painted kalathos-shaped kados in the Metropolitan Museum of New York (pages 107-108). Among vessels found in Macedonia, drinking cups (seven handleless skyphoi and five calyx-cups) are the most numerous, though other shapes include a kotyle, two beakers, a phiale, four hemispherical skyphoi, a kylix-kantharos, and a unique lidded phiale, a repertoire that stands to grow with further excavations. The author distinguishes two basic groups, an Ionian group characterized by lavish ornamentation including relief decoration, and a Macedonian group that features new shapes and embellishments, most notably the applied shell feet on hemispherical skyphoi whose instability renders them suitable only for ceremonial purposes. The author notes that the Macedonian shapes are forerunners of Hellenistic and Roman productions. Indeed, a glassmaking center that emerged in the late third century B.C. at Canosa in Magna Graecia produced colorless glass vessels so strikingly similar to those of Macedonia that the author raises the eminently plausible theory that immigrant Macedonian glassworkers were at work in the western community.

Most glass vessels in Macedonia are found in graves, more in female than male. Exceptional at this point is a phiale of Ionian type coming from the sanctuary of Demeter at Dion (MP 1, page 110). The fact that glass vessels are often dated on a stylistic basis earlier than the burials associated with them, frequently a quarter century apart but in extreme cases separated by centuries, is a phenomenon well tested over the years. Synoptic tables arranged by vessel shape summarize important features including dates of burial or stratum and of the artifacts themselves, together with catalogue and museum numbers.

Macedonia is famous for its prodigious wealth in gold jewelry found in graves spanning much of the sixth to fourth centuries and a bit beyond. In the fourth century, transparent glass finger rings and seals were added to the corpus. Seven glass rings from Macedonia, made from closed molds, include both undecorated pieces and those of gold-glass whose bezels are crafted with gold foil under transparent glass, a technique related to certain furniture inlays (see below). Important is their secure provenance, found mainly in female burials but with one coming from a sanctuary of Apollo at Soros (MR 5, page 189). Noteworthy also is the observation that glass gems, superficially similar in appearance to the so-called eyes of inlaid furniture (see below), actually represent Roman tastes of the first century B.C. and later. The eleven seals, all of scarab type, were also found mainly in burials of women who will have worn them in life as pendants or occasionally as finger rings. The author believes that seals were probably made by pressing over an open mold with devices likely added by dies pressed into the upper surface. The seals are illustrated in photographs, plaster impressions, and often in illuminating drawings. One from Makrygialos, Pydna shows an individualized, mature frontal face identified by the author as Queen Eurydice (MG 5, pages 200-201). This piece is discussed in conjunction with portrait-like seals from the Borowski collection, including two thought by the author to depict Philip II (page 201, figure 160). Not everyone will agree on the identifications, given the controversies surrounding ancient portraiture, particularly in pre-Ptolemaic times.

Gaming boards of stone, reused roof tiles, and what is reconstructed as iron-framed wood were used with plain and unpolished glass plano-convex counters and bone dice to play different board games. Of the ten known gaming sets found in Macedonia, most were found in male graves, many of them around Pydna, and date between the second quarter and end of the fourth century. Some also include bone and/or pebble counters. Full sets, in any case, contained counters in as many colors as intended number of players. The author expands the topic to cover gaming and rules of play throughout the Mediterranean.4

The section on furniture inlays is particularly fascinating, though much of the material is fragmentary, as the glass bits and pieces (mainly eyes, plaques, and palmette fronds) are in most cases simply the detritus from disintegrated wood furniture of various types. Catalogued are seventy-two Type B klinai, two stone thrones, thirteen larnakes, a few possible sarcophagi or stretchers, and some stray pieces. Especially striking are the eyes and curved plaques that sometimes overlie gilded silver foils. Virtually all this material comes from fourth-century burial contexts, including male and female burials as well as those of children. Exceptional at this point is a pair of glass eyes, presumably from a kline, found in a dining room within a complex identified as an Asklepieion at Mieza/Lefkadia (MI 52, page 263). An important insight regarding klinai concerns the evidence of wear in addition to the occasional repair that indicates prior use before burial in a tomb. Crucial information on placement of inlays comes from painted and relief stone furniture that clearly imitate the inlaid wooden types and gradually replaced them from the end of the fourth century onward. Prime among these are the painted stone klinai with just a few added glass eyes from a tomb at Potidaia whose front faces read like a blueprint for their crumbled prototypes (MI 66-67, pages 267-269). Such material helps, for instance, in reconstructing the costly inlaid klinai that await final publication from the miraculously unplundered Tombs II and III at Vergina (MI 15-18, pages 241-245), where we can appreciate the interplay of glass with gold, silver, ivory, and paint. The author relates inlaid klinai to the so-far unique chryselephantine shield, still under study, that was found in Tomb II (MI 99, pages 312-313). She concludes that this inlaid material represents Macedonian craftsmanship in late Classical times. A welcome excursus deals with glass from the so-called Pheidias' Workshop at Olympia (pages 296-297). The revised down-dating of associated pottery and closer study of the material itself has removed the long-accepted connection to Pheidias that originated in excavation publications. In light of palmette inlays that resemble those from Macedonia, the author cautiously suggests a possible association of the Olympia fragments with decorative elements of Leochares' statuary group in the Philippeion. This is indeed an attractive theory that forms part of a brief essay on the origin and development of inlaid wooden klinai.5

In an epilogue, translated in full, the author makes several significant points. One is that, contrary to widely held belief, Greece could and actually did support a glass-working industry. Then the author attacks the hoary myth that credited both Persia and Alexandria with exclusive manufacture of luxury glass. She further dispels the oft-repeated theory that glass imitates metal wares even though there are obvious intersections among craftsmen working in different media.6 In summary, the author stresses the uniqueness of Macedonian glass works in terms of both quantity and variety of categories. Wisely shying away from terms like "royal workshops," she underscores the likelihood that Pydna, the source of so many finds, was the site of glass- working and manufacture. This reviewer would cautiously venture further to suggest that the area of Pydna may in time emerge as a major producer of other types of artifacts including, for instance, the worked ivory often used in conjunction with glass inlays (most spectacularly on the Vergina klinai already cited), a topic that awaits study of its own.7

There are four concluding addenda. First are two glossaries of terms, one arranged according to technological issues, the other typologically oriented. The glossaries are in Greek with English translations of the terms, but not their definitions. The second addendum concerns the archaeometric study by specialists of glass inlays, vessels and gaming pieces, with tables giving chemical compositions of individually examined pieces (each section followed by a brief English summary). Macedonian vessels and other glasses have the same composition and it is concluded that despite differences in shape they must all have been made in the same workshop or if not, then in different workshops of the same technological school. The third addendum is an enormously useful catalogue of contexts (only in Greek) that is organized geographically. Finally, in the fourth addendum are 24 color plates that illustrate outstanding pieces with lists of photographic sources and a concordance at the end.

This is a handsome, very thorough publication with clear black-and-white photographs, often showing multiple views and frequently accompanied by line drawings as well as attractive color plates. Also commendable are the various tables that conveniently summarize evidence at a glance. In terms of layout, the placing of footnotes at the foot of each two-columned page makes for ease of reading. On the other hand, given the breadth of the investigation, an index by subject matter and topography would have been a most welcome addition.

In conclusion, this is an essential book for scholars involved with the so-called minor arts even as it provides fixed points against which to evaluate countless unprovenanced glass artifacts in museum cases and storerooms around the world. It will also be of vital interest to those who study ancient Macedonia, in particular during the all-important age of Philip and Alexander when an élite society created significant outlets for extravagant display.


1.   Two more recent books on glass are worth citing: Patrick Degryse, ed., Glass Making in the Greco-Roman World. Results of the ARCHGLASS Project (Leuven 2014) and Julian Henderson, Ancient Glass. An Interdisciplinary Exploration (Cambridge 2013).
2.   The author, together with Anastassios Antonaras, has written a valuable bi-lingual, Greek-English, English-Greek, dictionary, Glassworking Ancient and Medieval: Terminology, Technology and Typology (Thessaloniki 2008).
3.   See for a general overview of ancient glass the first-rate bilingual catalogue in Greek and English of an exhibition at the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki, Γυάλινος Κόσμος. Glass Cosmos, Polyxeni Adam-Veleni with Despina Ignatiadou, eds. (Thessaloniki 2010).
4.   Thereby adding to the studies of Leslie Kurke, "Ancient Greek Board Games and How to Play Them," Classical Philology 94 (1999): 247-267 and Coins, Bodies, Games and Gold. The Politics of Meaning in Archaic Greece (Princeton 1999).
5.   It is a pity that Ignatiadou's book appeared in the same year as Elizabeth P. Baughan's Couched in Death. Klinai and Identity in Anatolia and Beyond (Wisconsin 2013) as the authors could have mutually profited from each other's most recent research.
6.   See the author's excellent bilingual article in Greek and English entitled "Pottery, Metalware, and Glassware" in Stella Drougou and Ioannis Touratsoglou, eds., Topics on Hellenistic Pottery in Macedonia (Athens 2012): 214-246.
7.   Such worked ivory includes inlays, carved plaques, and figures in relief, on which see recent discussion in Katerina Rhomiopoulou and Barbara Schmidt-Dounas, Das Palmettengrab in Lefkadia. Athenische Mitteilungen Beiheft 21 (2010): 87-99 with a list of findspots throughout Macedonia on page 99.

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