Ancient Glass Blog of The Allaire Collection

ROMAN GLASS SIMPULUM (Continued from another page)

Posted in Uncategorized by Allaire Collection of Glass on November 11, 2016

ROMAN GLASS SIMPULUM (Continued from another page)

(To read the first part about this rare object click on this live link)

* Cameo, ↑ 3.7cm, 37 BC, Römisch-Germanisches Museum Cologne (inv. Nr. 72,153).


On this rectangular image of small proportion (↑ 3.7cm) are depicted: the laddle or simpulum, the snake with a nimbus**, the staff or Lituus, the tripod, with underneath the hens of the Sibyllic Oracle, representing the Quindecimviri Sacris Faciundis, the fifteen men who were allowed to interpret the Sibyllic Oracle and of which the emperor Augustus became a member in the year 37 BC, ten years before his inauguration.

** Nimbus: A shining cloud sometimes surrounding a deity when on earth.


Ad1: The symbol of the snake, – coming up from it’s curled position, simplified as a cup with long handle ending as a cobra head -, is a reference to the birth of Augustus, who’s mother Atia did become pregnant from a snake during a sleep in the sanctuary of Apollo, near the Marcellus Theater built by Caesar. Augustus, ‘son of a snake’, is a personification of a better time to come. And indeed, the era of emperor Augustus (27BC-14AD) did bring about change and prosperity.

Ad2: The tripod, as a symbol of the Quindecimviri Sacris Faciundis, is known to belong to both Apollo and Dionysos, and the snake does function as intermediary between the two opposite powers. The bleu and white cameo was presented by Rosemarie Lierke, Erika

Simon and Erika Zwierlein-Diehl as an collaboration of ideas to the book: Antike Glastopferei, Ein vergessenes Kapitel der Glasgeschichte.

Ad 3.The size of the glass simpulum is rather small in comparison to bronze and silver versions, probably because of its religious and symbolic function. T.E. Haevernick suggests that the glass simpulum was used in connection to the Modiolus and that a concentration of production, though small in numbers, can be found in the adriatic area. Concerning date of production, it might be placed in the First century, for the simpulum, as one of the (7) priestly implements belonging to the Pontifex Maximus appears on the coins of Augustus (27 B.C.–14 A.D.) Caligula (37-41 A.D) and Vespasianus (69-79 A.D.).

Ad 4. Two different types of Simpula are being described by Höricht in I vetri Romani di Ercolano, 1995 as forma 17. Firstly the simpulum with trailed decoration around the outside of the cup, secondly the simpulum that does not carry any decoration as the version presented above.

– A third version that carries a horizontally attached handle to the cup can be regarded as a so-called ‘Trulla’, a glass version of the legionairs bronze casserole, is in existence, but is out of context and of no meaning in this story.

Ad 3. Several examples are known to be in existence. Höricht lists the examples from Herculaneum (Italian: Ercolano)  and Pompeii of 9 in total, another example from Tipasa in Mauretanium, North Africa, a white example is listed in the St. Louis Art Museum, one from Vitadurum dated at the end of the first century AD, another coming from Samaria in the Collection of van Hans van Rossum, also dated towards the end of the century, and this one in The Augustinus Collection of Ancient glass in the Netherlands, most likely from after the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius. (79AD).

Aureus of Nero (50-54). Reverse Four implements, the Simpulum, the Tripod, Lituus and Patera.


  1. Lituus, the staff, representing the Augures.
  2. Secespita, knife to slaughter animals and extract entrails.
  3. Aspergillum, to sprinkle holy water on the flesh.
  4. Simpulum, or simpuvium, a ladle to stirr or to transfer liquid for Libation, representing the Pontifices, who’s leader is the Pontifex Maximus: the Ceasar, i.e. Augustus.
  5. Praefericulum, ewer to pour liquids from, sometimes replaced by a Modiolus.
  6. Patera, round shallow dish to place entrails on; the symbol represents the Septemviri.
  7. Apex, in origin the olivetwig on the hat of the Flamen, a roman priest; later t the hat in totality was called the Apex of the Pontifex Maximus.

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