Roman Glass in Britain (and Bida)

Bangels poster v2Tatiana Ivleva (see Global Glass website)contacted me out of the blue! She came across my journey in Bida, Nigeria. I had traveled to Bida in 2015 specifically to see the glass and brass handmade crafts and techniques, read about:  Bida: Bangles and Beads. Somehow Tatiana came across my post and contacted me through my website, Tatiana explained that her research involved the ancient craft of glass bangles particularly seamless Romano-British bangles.  She was most interested in Nigeria’s glass making tradition as it was similar to the Roman techniques. Titiana inquired if she might use a part of my video in her research and in this exhibition. The following video was released for the exhibition: Fashion Frontiers Glass Bangles of Roman North. Tatiana explains the process:


To see the entire process of the ancient and traditional craft of bead and bangle production in Bida view the next video, parts of which have been included in the exhibition video:

Glass making can be traced to the Ancient Egyptians about 3,500 years ago. The earliest archaeological finds of glass objects in Egypt date back to the reign of the Pharaoh Thutmosis III (1504-1459 BC). The most famous of these is the illustration in the Annals of Thutmose III at Kar- nak. (Paul T. Nicholson ,”Glass Vessels from the Reign of Thutmose III and a Hitherto Unknown Glass Chalice,” Journal of Glass, Vol 48, 2006.)  In the last century BC, glass blowing (see Egyptian glass blowers here) was invented in Syria or Mesopotamia which gave rise to a variety of glass objects during Roman times. Glassmaking , the process of making glass from sand and soda ash is said to originate in Egypt. However there are those that disagree and who have researched that the first true glass was made in coastal north Syria in the kingdom of Mitanni, Mesopotamia and brought to Egypt. (Paul T. Nicholson). 

The Bida glass makers in their oral history repeat that their ancestors came from Egypt via Chad, the Bornu Empire and migrating from Kano to finally settle with the Nupe area thus bringing with them the knowledge of glassmaking.

Camel caravans from Kano and Timbuktu carried goods —indigo, salt, ivory, gold to name a few—for thousands of years that interconnected the world by the great trade routes. These historic caravans, particularly in the Sahara, Eurasia, and the Arabian peninsula were as much about trading as about communication. One of techniques communicated along the way was glass making.


bracelets made in Bida, Nigeria using ancient glass making technique

Roman Finds Group (provides a forum in Roman artifacts.) Read about the exhibition at:

During my journey along the Silk Road, I searched for evidence of glass making. Other than a reference in literature that ‘Arabs’ carried glass in caravans, I did not see evidence of ancient glass. Pottery shards and ceramic bowls were seen in museums as well as at archeological sites.  Glass would be difficult to transport, however,  why did the technique not travel into Central Asia? Or if it did why are there no surviving remnants of glass, glass making, or glass blowers?

Also see: Une Histoire de bracelets

6 thoughts on “Roman Glass in Britain (and Bida)

  1. Hi Lesley,

    You cannot imagine how timely is this message of yours! In exactly one week we’ll travel to Manchester (where Caterina now lives) and from there to Newcastle where on December 8 she will receive her Master in International Politics. We’ll be there two days and will do our best to find the time to visit this interesting exhibition! Many thanks for this. You are amazing!

    Warm regards, Stefano

    PS: Btw, never explored glass making in these (new for me) part of the world. I will keep an eye on it from now. Anyway, I think your suggestion is very sensible. And surely glass was not really practical for peoples leading nomadic lives, so perhaps there was not much interest in it. Perhaps …

    • Hi Stefano, Firstly, congratulations on Caterina’s masters degree. What a wonderful accomplishment! I can hardly believe that it has been that long since you were in Cairo. Anyway , I wish her the very best in her future pursuits and congratulations to you and your family.

      Please do keep a look out for ancient glass production or glass blowing. As you are so well situated in Kazakhstan to go everywhere in Central Asia, if you keep a thought about it during you travels, it would be great.
      Thanks you for your comment. Have a terrific trip.

  2. Hello, Lesley. This explains how deep you have gone into academia. The main aim of a research is ‘extending the frontier of knowledge’, and yours has achieved that. Your creative talent has swept a way for me to earn a second degree because I studied one of your books. Today your research is used by PhD students, what an honour! Through your researches, you will not die. They will immortalise you. You will not know how contributive you are in the society. Keep on contributing for the sake of knowledge production.

    • I am humbled by your words. I am fortunate to be able to travel and so grateful that what I have found to be fascinating and to share is what others find worthwhile. A Persian scholar (living in area of Khorasan – modern day Uzbekistan and Turkmanistan ), Abu Rihan Muhammad al-Birani wrote: It is our duty to proceed from what is near to what is distant,from what is known to that which is less known, to gather the traditions from those who have reported them to correct them as much as possible and to leave the rest as it is, in order to make our work help anyone who seeks truth and loves wisdom.

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