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Networks of distribution at the margins of the Empire – Late antique glass vessels from the Lower Danube region

Research project conducted by Anastasia Cholakova, institute of Archaeology, University College London

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For Anastasia’s full CV, please click **HERE**


The project aims to explore the distribution of glass in the Balkan territories of the late Roman and early Byzantine Empire based on an integrated research on materials from the late 3rd to early 7th centuries AD from three site assemblages in present-day Bulgaria. The category of artefacts, i.e. glass vessels, is deliberately chosen since they provide the opportunity to investigate both their ‘archaeology’ (in terms of vessel morpho-typology, decoration, manufacturing techniques, etc.) and their ‘chemistry’ (in terms of chemical composition) as two aspects of research which are not unconnected or contrasted but are complementary to each other. At the same time, raw glass chunks and window pane fragments are also analysed to add further evidence of the late antique glass compositions in the region.

Such a detailed study of the networks of production – supply/distribution – usage of glass in Late Antiquity considers their chronological and territorial development, and explores the organisational, functional and socio-economic aspects of these systems. The historical setting in the region reveals a period of significant changes. Studying the networks of distribution (in terms of their directions, spatial scale, mechanisms, etc.) within their historical context can shed light on a variety of economic and socio-cultural phenomena during the turbulent epoch of Late Antiquity providing particular insight to the complex processes of transformation at the edges of political territories and historical periods.

Taking as a framework the model of division in the Roman and late antique glass industry, this study aims not only at tracing the routes of glass supply from the primary production centres but also at reconstructing, as fully as possible, the entire chains of distribution of raw glass and finished vessels to the consumers’ sites. Special attention is given to an attempt to distinguish between inter-regional, regional and local networks of distribution, and the stratified production and consumers’ needs related to them. From a methodological point of view, the research is based on an integrated classification of the materials constructed from conventional archaeological artefact study and scientific techniques for compositional characterization of glass (Electron probe microanalysis (EPMA) and laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry analysis (LA-ICP-MS).

The general objective of the research is to characterize the distribution of glass in the Lower Danube region but not in terms of descriptive, static, detached, and finally, incomplete patterns of vessel typology and grouping of chemical glass compositions. Instead, an attempt is made to integrate both strands of the research, extending the interpretative value and meaning of glass studies and using approaches to technology and exchange which have been originally formed in anthropological and economic theory, combined with a projection of the historical and archaeological context. The results point to a pattern of glass distribution corresponding to the overall technological and economic processes of Late Antiquity, with shifts in compositions, vessel manufacture and usage in early 6th c. AD when significant transformations took place in the Balkans.


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