This report contains an assessment of a group of Roman Glass Vessels from the excavation. The report was written by Jenny Price with Caroline Jackson of the Museum of London Archaeology, but has been edited for web by Chaz Morse and Guy Hunt. For a full index of the assessment reports, please see the assessment report index.

Significance of the glass vessels

A Romano-British burial Subgroup: 73 contained various burial goods, including four glass vessels, a polychrome mosaic dish or plate, a colourless beaker, a colourless bath-flask with facet cut decoration and a colourless funnel-mouthed flask with facet-cut decoration. This is one of the most outstanding groups of funerary vessels of the third century to be found in London or elsewhere in Britain, and it deserves to be studied in detail.

Glass vessels are not at all common in the burials of Roman London, and it is unusual at any period to find more than one or two vessels in a single burial. It was noted in 2000 that only 60 glass vessels had been noted from the minimum of 234 cremations and 1092 inhumations recorded in the city (Barber and Bowsher 2000, 126–7). Of these, 29 came from burials in the East cemetery, which also includes the Prescot Street burial. Most burials contained either one or two glass vessels and only one other (B392, a child’s burial in a lead coffin) had four, two being very fragmentary. Thus, the Prescot Street burial is noteworthy simply for the number of glass vessels found in it.

It is also remarkable for the range and the quality of the vessels. The glass vessels in burials in London and elsewhere in Britain are often ordinary containers for drink, food or unguents rather than drinking vessels and other tablewares of high quality, and glass vessels of any type were relatively uncommon in third-century burials. However, none of the vessels in the Prescot Street could be described as ordinary and their quality indicates high status. Several of the pieces are quite exotic in the context of Roman Britain. The polychrome mosaic dish, which is different in style from the early Imperial equivalents, is a very rare find in the north-west provinces and its presence in a burial in the region appears to be unparalleled. In addition, the beaker is a drinking vessel form not characteristic of the north-west provinces, while the bath-flask form has seldom been recorded in the region. The funnel-mouthed globular flask, by contrast, has some more local parallels. It is very similar to one found in a burial at the Minories, also in the East cemetery (Harden and Green 1978) and some others are known in burials in the Rhineland, as at Cologne and Strasbourg. Nonetheless, the facet-cutting on the body is unusual and it appears to be very similar to the decoration on the bath-flask.

It is uncertain whether any of these vessels were produced in Britain or the north-west provinces. The polychrome mosaic dish may well have come from the eastern Mediterranean region, and some of the best parallels for the bath-flask have been found in Egypt. By itself, this glass appears to be a group of personal possessions, but this suggestion may be modified in the light of information about the other burial goods.