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The glassware from the Antikythera shipwreck

There can be no doubt that the exceptionally rare and beautiful glass vessels from the Antikythera shipwreck were not part of the ship's equipment, but rather of its cargo: they were luxury wares which, like the other works of art the ship was transporting, were probably destined for the markets of Rome.

Apart from the excellence of their construction and vibrant polychromy, one is also impressed by their superb state of preservation despite the great depth at which they were found and the adverse conditions under which they were hoisted from the sea.

Most of the glass vessels from the shipwreck, whether preserved wholly or in part, were raised from the depths during the investigations of 1900-1901. Cousteau's excavations in 1976 added some more, as well as fragments belonging to vessels that had come to light early in the century. In many cases, the newly-discovered fragments were joined with the first finds.

The best-known and most impressive glassworking techniques of the Hellenistic age are represented among the Antikythera shipwreck finds. Our knowledge concerning the circulation and trade in glass (whether unprocessed or in the form of vessels or as pieces destined for recycling) is continually expanding with the discovery of shipwrecks throughout the Mediterranean. However, the importance of the Antikythera shipwreck lies not only in the fact that it provides a secure dating in the 2nd quarter of the 1st c. BC, but also a complete sampler of Syro-Palestinian and perhaps also Egyptian production of glass vessels in the 1st half of the 1st c. BC, while simultaneously offering the first reliable evidence concerning glass trade between East and West.

‘he luxury glassware from the shipwreck does not manage to shed light on the ship's port of origin or its route. Independently of whether or not Delos was the ship's point of departure or a station on the way from coastal Ńsia Minor, the island's role as an international centre for transit trade makes especially attractive the hypothesis that the glass wares, which had probably originated from Syro-Palestinian (the monochrome vessels) and Egyptian (the polychrome ones) workshops, were also loaded onto the ship at the port of Delos. Furthermore, the glass vessels found in excavations on Delos, most of which are of types similar to those from the wreck, have themselves been hypothesized as imports from Egypt or Syro-Palestine.

The underwater investigations carried out in the area of the Antikythera shipwreck have to date yielded a group of twenty glass vessels, wholly or fragmentarily preserved. This number, however, should not be considered the final count, since the ship's entire cargo has not been retrieved. Future excavation is sure to bring more objects to light, enriching our knowledge and illuminating previously unknown facets of research on glass and glass artifacts.

¬ibliography: Ch. Avronidaki, The Glassware, in: Õ. Kaltsas (ed.), The Shipwreck off Antikythera Catalogue of the Exhibition, National Archaeological Museum, Athens 2012 (in print).

 
 
 
 
 
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