Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




K.M.D. Dunbabin




This thesis investigates the images and inscriptions that decorate the extant corpus of gold-glass vessel bases, the majority of which dates to the mid fourth and early fifth centuries AD. There are an estimated 500 examples of gold-glass, but only a small handful of these have a known provenance. Those with documented findspots were extracted from funerary contexts, including the catacombs of Rome and other sites of burial in the former north and northwestern Roman provinces. Each gold-glass base originally served as the bottom of a vessel, but no intact examples of such vessels have survived from antiquity. The absence of a whole vessel and the lack of a secure archaeological context make it problematical to determine the original function of gold-glass vessels, as well as other elements of their production. On the basis of those bases that remain in situ in the Roman catacombs, it appears that gold-glass bases served as grave markers that were placed in the mortar of loculi tombs; evidence suggests, however, that this funerary function was secondary and not anticipated when the vessels were produced. The purpose of this study is to clarify the primary function of gold-glass vessels through an examination of the images and inscriptions that exist on a large portion of the bases. These two elements were conscious aspects of gold-glass design that were presumably chosen as part of filling a particular function, and as such, also reveal trends in the production and patronage of the vessels. The images and inscriptions are to be surveyed as separate elements of gold-glass decoration in the outset of this study, but the ultimate objective is to examine the correspondence of the images and inscriptions. A case study that examines the inscriptions that accompany gold-glass portraits (the most popular type of image) will take place in the final portion of this thesis. The methodology of simultaneously assessing the image and text on gold-glass vessel bases reveals interesting information regarding gold-glass production, patronage, and primary function.

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