This post comes from Dr. Karol B. Wight, President and Executive Director of The Corning Museum of Glass. Ennion and His Legacy: Mold-Blown Glass from Ancient Rome, the largest exhibition to date devoted to ancient mold-blown glass, is on view until January 4, 2016.
Sometime around 50 B.C., somewhere in the region around Jerusalem, glassworkers made the revolutionary discovery that hot glass could be inflated into a bubble at the end of a hollow tube. This technological breakthrough meant that glass vessels could be fashioned more quickly, using less glass than processes used before—namely, casting and core forming. Glassblowing enabled glassmakers to create new shapes and to develop new designs. More glass vessels were produced, and at a lower cost because more could be made. Glass vessels began to replace more commonly used ceramic ones for everyday use.
Fifty to 75 years later, sometime around A.D. 25 and within the same region of the eastern Mediterranean, glass vessels were manufactured for the first time by blowing hot glass into a mold. Mold blowing allowed glass vessels of the same design and size to be made by using the same mold over and over. But there is one element of mold-blown glass that sets it apart from all other Roman glass. From mold-blown vessels, we have preserved the names of a small group of glass artisans from the first century A.D.
The artisan responsible for the manufacture of the earliest and finest Roman mold-blown glass was a man called Ennion. His name is known because it was incorporated into designs of the molds used to make his vessels. Set within a rectangular panel, Ennion’s name is written in Greek letters, and it is combined with a verb form meaning “made by”—“ENNIWN EΠOIE”or “ENNIWN EΠOIESEN” (Ennion made it). His name is preserved on only three basic shapes: cups, six-sided flasks, and jugs.
Who Was Ennion?
Although we have his name, we know very little about the man, other than that he worked and lived in the eastern Mediterranean, where Greek, rather than Latin, was commonly spoken. This suggests that his workshop was located near Jerusalem, possibly in the city of Sidon (in modern-day Lebanon), which is often cited by ancient writers as a city famous for its glass production. Ennion’s vessels were highly prized by his customers, and pieces that bear his name have been found across the breadth of the Roman Empire.
Archaeologists working in different parts of the Mediterranean basin and beyond have found fragmentary and nearly complete works by Ennion. One is a magnificent jug that was badly damaged when the building it was in burned down in in A.D. 70, during the siege of Jerusalem led by the future Roman emperor Titus. Most of the excavated pieces of Ennion’s glass have come from ancient burials located around the Mediterranean basin—from Cádiz, Spain, to Panticapaeum in the Crimea. This archaeological evidence suggests that, in addition to being widely traded, Ennion’s glassware was highly valued because it was given as gifts to the dead.
Ennion’s works stand apart from the larger corpus of mold-blown glass for their refined designs and delicate decorative patterns. His designs set a high standard, which his competitors attempted to emulate.
Join Dr. Wight on June 11, 2015 at 6:00pm for a Behind the Glass Lecture where she will be exploring the mold-blown glass of ancient Rome, starting with the works of Ennion.