Meanwhile the potters of Capua, Puteoli, Cumae, and Arretium were filling Italian homes with every variety of ceramic art. Arretium
had mixing vats with a capacity of 10,000 gallons. Its red-glazed tableware was for a century the most widely spread product of Italy; specimens of it have been found almost everywhere. Iron stamps, hollowed out in relief, were used to impress upon each vase, lamp, or tile the name of the maker, sometimes also the names of the year’s consuls, as a date. To this degree the ancients knew the art of printing; they left it undeveloped because slave copyists were cheap.
From pottery the workers of Cumae, Liternum, and Aquileia turned to the production of artistic glass. The Portland Vase is a famous example of its kind; finer still is the “Blue Glass Vase” found at Pompeii, depicting in lively and graceful action a vintage feast of Bacchus. In the reign of Tiberius, say Pliny and Strabo, the art of glass blowing was brought from Sidon or Alexandria to Rome, and soon produced polychrome phials, cups, bowls, and other forms of such delicate beauty that they became for a time the favorite prey of art collectors and millionaires. In Nero’s reign 6000 sesterces were paid for two small cups of blown glass now known as millefiori, or “thousand flowers,” produced by fusing together differently colored glass rods. Even more prized were the “Murrhine” vases imported from Asia and Africa. They were made by placing white and purple glass filaments side by side to form a desired pattern, and then firing them; or pieces of colored glass were embedded in a transparent white body. Pompey brought some to Rome after his victory over Mithridates; Augustus, though he melted down Cleopatra’s gold plate, kept for himself her goblet of Murrhine glass. Nero paid a million sesterces for one such cup; Petronius, dying, broke another lest it should fall into Nero’s hands. All in all, the Romans have had no superior in making glass; and there are few art collections in the world more precious than those of Roman glass in the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.