Ancient Glass Blog of The Allaire Collection


Posted in Uncategorized by Allaire Collection of Glass on April 11, 2018

Merovingian Palm Cup


The Windmill Collection of Roman Glass

Date: end 6th – mid 7th century A.D. Size:  H = 6.2 cm   Dia = 9.8 cm (max.) Classification:  Foy (1989), form 321

Description: Mold blown cup of transparent, green thick-walled glass with air bubbles and some particles. The shape of the tumbler cup is basically round. The walls run from the base with a slight curve upwards, at the lip turn slightly outward. From the bottom 13 more or less pronounced vertical ribs rise up, at irregular distances from each other and also differ in thickness. With a single exception, they do not go all the way to the reinforced edge.

Condition: intact

Provenance:  Private collection

Exhibited:  Museum ‘Dordts Patriciërshuis’ (NL), ‘Glass through the ages’ , 12th of April – 7th of October 2018

Remarks: Merovingian culture

In the Merovingian period, rural residents in Northern Gaul had access to a rich and varied material culture that partly came from distant regions. The enormous amounts of archaeological objects show that there was obviously a great demand among the rural population (outside the control of the elite).  Aspects of this include life cycle rituals such as those around the burial of a dead person.

Exotic objects have been found in the graves of people who are residents of simple, agricultural settlements. Such graves are found in large numbers across the whole of Northern France, Benelux, and Germany.  We know for sure from the massive amount of material from in the graves of these rural residents that the majority of the items were not produced by them. An example is the red garnet that has been incorporated into countless pieces of found jewelry came from India and Ceylon in the 6th century.  Another example is Kauri shells also came from afar, they are from the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean. Amber found in considerable quantities came from Scandinavian and north.  The millions of beads with which women were adorned in death just like the many pottery and glass cups probably came from the area. (Theuws 2014)

The Merovingians used much more glass than other Germanic peoples, probably because they had been living in a Romanized environment for a lifetime. At that time, almost all drinking cups were made of glass. There are about 30 glass shapes: 16 drinking glasses, 3 jugs or bottles (probably intended for use at the table), 3 open dishes (serving food), 5 storage bottles and 3 different forms of which the use is unknown. (Stern 2001) In the transition from late Roman to the Merovingian or Frankish period, some Roman type glass vessels were initially produced from late 5th to end of the 6th century.  These types were drinking vessels such as goblets, bowls, and dishes sometimes with simple decoration. An expansion of the assortment takes place with variants such as pouring or beaker cups, pouch and trunk cups, tankard, bell and cone beakers and also glass drinking horns. Sometimes these vessels were decorated with ridges or twists and glass threads, the convex bottom ends or not with an extra point, so that the glass cannot stand alone. Because there is no known evidence, it is generally assumed that they were placed in sand, straw or upside down, before or after use. Other types include round caps and small shallow tumbler cups (with round bottom, sometimes a kind of cross).

Glass production:

After the Roman influence came to an end in the 2nd half of the 5th century, the production of glass was soon terminated in the same way as before. Uncertain conditions following the collapse of Roman authority made it virtually impossible to get the raw materials needed to make fine glass. Merovingian or Frankish glass sometimes looks as if it were made with recycled material. According to recent research, this is not the case. The glass is especially bubbly and contains more impurities than late-antique glass. Grave finds (5th century in Krefeld-Gellep, Germany), among others, show that the supply of raw materials from the originally large Roman glass production center in Cologne had stopped altogether. The quality of a lot of glass from the transition period is so bad that it seems inconceivable that they were still made in glassworks in the Roman tradition (such as Cologne) and elsewhere. Nonetheless, (later) Merovingian glassblowers excelled in so-called hot working. Edges that had previously remained unworked were now rounded off more carefully in the fire, the glass itself has thin walls. Where facetted (cold processing) was popular in, for example, Scandinavia and Northern Europe, in the Merovingian Kingdom this was rare. All the decoration seems to be applied by the glass blowers themselves during the (heated) production process. Extruded molded ribs and imposed thread decoration in many different patterns were the normal techniques for embellishment. Globally you can say that the glassware was made in two ways: a considerable part of the cups and (ribbed) bowls were blown into the mold, while the more complicated shapes such as pouch and trunk cups are free blown. Chemical analyzes and research into glass centers in Merovingian times have shown that gradually the overseas imports to Cologne of soda from the Egyptian Wadi El Natrun must have been reduced or even stopped. For the decolorization of the glass more and more use were made of brownstone, a manganese dioxide that occurs a lot in the earth’s crust. It is a kind of black-brown powder with metallic sheen that lowers the ignition temperature by about 100 degrees Celsius and is not soluble in water. In rough form green and brownish in color and in combination with polluted sand also gained on site explains why the quality (with more blisters) deteriorated. The lime needed for stabilization was extracted from shells that could easily be found in the region. In the following period (the Carolingian era) more and more potash (obtained by burning wood) is used, in the 10th century the soda-lime glass (at least in Western Europe) has completely disappeared. From the Merovingian era, in contrast to the Roman, almost no larger production centers are known. Although some glassworks have been located in Cologne from a later period, the process seems to have moved mainly to the rural areas (such as between the Rhine and the Meuse and in the Ardennes). However, at about 40 km west of Cologne, a Frankish glass workshop was discovered, namely at Tilz-Hasselweiler (Kreis Düren): three residences from the period after 500 AD. with, among others, 2 glass ovens. It is no coincidence that a glass workshop location was found near the old Roman road from Cologne to Tongeren and Bavik, also known as Via Belgica. In addition, ovens have been found at Chimay (near Macquenoise) in the Ardennes, near Huy and Maastricht. However, all this is not in proportion to the numbers of glasses excavated in series of graves and settlements from the 5th to 7th centuries.(Th.Höltken/M. Trier 2016)

Palm Cup:

The tumbler cup that is shown was probably made in a single mold, made of wood, earth  or stone.

Research (J-Y.Feyeux 1990) has shown that multiple molds were not used in the Merovingian era. To demonstrate how tumblers were produced in that era, a number of experiments were carried out in France. For economic reasons, a method with a kind of box of wood (with a removable bottom) and molten sand was chosen at the time. Partly due to the fine composition of the granules and the compactness, this gives excellent prints. However, molten sand has the disadvantage that it cannot withstand high temperatures and the mold can only be used for 4 to 5 copies. After placing a real ribbed cup in the sand, a flat piece of wood was put on it and the whole turned over and carefully removed the cup. With the help of a glass post and the long blow pipe, the resulting shape was placed in the mold and taken out again. After heating, it was transferred to the (shorter) pontil iron, the edge cut off and then further finished with a wooden spatula.

Tumbler cups cannot stand alone but lie well in the palm of the hand to drink from. It is not for nothing that such a cup is called a palm cup in the Angel-Saxon countries. The contents had to be consumed (as with the pouring cup) in one gulp, after which the glass was put upside down. As already pointed out in the introduction, scholars do not entirely agree whether they were placed in the sand or whether there was perhaps a sort of (wooden) standard. Remnants of these have never been found.

Partly because of the circumstance that almost always only one glass per grave is found (and then also in a limited number of graves) it is generally assumed that the yielding of a glass object as an attachment was reserved for the (family of) more well-to-do men or women. (Pictures made by Aad van den Born)

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