Glass gold-band mosaic alabastron (perfume bottle)

Period: Late Hellenistic

Date: 1st century B.C.

Culture: Greek

Medium: Glass and gold leaf; cast, probably around a rod

Dimensions: 7 1/16in. (18cm)

Classification: Glass

Credit Line: Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917

Accession Number: 17.194.286a, b


The Greek word alabastron stems from alabaster, the soft, white, and sometimes translucent stone used in Egypt as far back as the second millennium B.C. to make unguent bottles. In Greece beginning in the mid-sixth century B.C., glass alabastra were made using the core-forming technique, while other early alabastra were cast as solid blanks and then carved out (74.51.312). Because they were used to store the oils and perfumes necessary for many aspects of daily life in the ancient world, alabastra can be found throughout the ancient Mediterranean.
Over time, the glass alabastron underwent many stylistic changes, becoming more slender and graceful by the first century B.C. While it served as a common household object, some Hellenistic pieces were also fashioned as luxury items in gold-band glass. Gold-band alabastra such as the example shown here can be considered the precursors to the Roman production of gold-glass vessels, which included a variety of other forms such as lidded pyxides (25.78.118; 91.1.1335) and >globular bottles (30.115.16; 17.194.259).
The monochrome neck of this alabastron is a separate, removable element whose wide rim-disk served to regulate the amount of liquid allowed to drip out of the vessel, indicative of its intended use as a container for rare and expensive cosmetic oils.