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Identification and Creation

Object Number
Unguentarium (cosmetic bottle)
Work Type
2nd-4th century
Creation Place: Ancient & Byzantine World
Roman Imperial period
Persistent Link

Physical Descriptions

Free-blown glass
6.97 cm (2 3/4 in.)


Recorded Ownership History
Walton Brooks McDaniel, New Jersey (?-1943/46) gift; to the Department of the Classics, Harvard University, (1943/46-2012) transfer; to the Harvard Art Museums, 2012.

Note: Walton Brooks McDaniel gave a portion of his collection to the Department of the Classics in 1943 and the rest in 1946. The Collection is named for his late wife, Alice Corinne McDaniel.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Transfer from the Alice Corinne McDaniel Collection, Department of the Classics, Harvard University
Accession Year
Object Number
Asian and Mediterranean Art

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Intact piriform unguentarium of clear or pale blue-green glass. The bottom is flat; the neck is short, flaring out to form a flat mouth. The vessel has white opalescent opaque iridescence over most of the body.

Classification: C. Isings, Roman Glass from Dated Finds (Djakarta: Groningen, 1957), form 8/28a

Comparisons: Metropolitan Museum 74.51.58007; Adria, Mus. Arc. 65M

An unguentarium is a small, bottle used for ointments, perfumes, balms, and other liquids associated with the toilet. Vessels typically have a bulbous bottom and narrow, tubular neck, but lack handles. Bulbous-bottomed, glass unguentaria were one of the earliest shapes to be made using the glassblowing technique. A piriform unguentarium is distinguished by its pear-shaped base.

Unguentaria were among the earliest shapes made in blown glass and the piriform shaped (pear-shape) unguentarium were common in clear, pale blue-green glass (1). The bulbous form of the unguentarium was originally made in colored glass, but by the first century CE the pale, blue-green glass seen here predominated. In later forms, the bottom flattens and the neck becomes longer.

The unguentarium is sometimes not distinguished from the balsamarium, another vessel used to hold balms and ointments (See: 2003.100.7)

1. E. M. Stern. Roman, Byzantine, and Early Medieval Glass. The Ernesto Wolf Collection (New York, 2001), p. 44.

Publication History

  • John Crawford, Sidney Goldstein, George M. A. Hanfmann, John Kroll, Judith Lerner, Miranda Marvin, Charlotte Moore, and Duane Roller, Objects of Ancient Daily Life. A Catalogue of the Alice Corinne McDaniel Collection Belonging to the Department of the Classics, Harvard University, ed. Jane Waldbaum, Department of the Classics (unpublished manuscript, 1970), Gl12, p. 120 [S. M. Goldstein]

Subjects and Contexts

  • Roman Domestic Art

Verification Level

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