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Windows and Blinds

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Ave Citizens,

 

I am writing a novel set in the Later Roman Empire (AD 390-400) and a minute, but elusive point came up.

 

How did Romans keep out the cold? Today we can close the window. They are made of glass, and we can still see out.

 

How did Romans shut out the light when they wanted a room darkened? We have shades, blinds, and curtains. What did the Romans use?

 

I will post this same question at Roman Army Talk.

 

Thank you guys. You are, as always, a great help.

 

Tom

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Good for you!

The Late Empire isn't covered often enough, in my opinion.

Now here goes for Roman window glass:

 

http://www.metmuseum...gls/hd_rgls.htm

 

Glass windowpanes were first made in the early imperial period, and used most prominently in the public baths to prevent drafts. Because window glass in Rome was intended to provide insulation and security, rather than illumination or as a way of viewing the world outside, little, if any, attention was paid to making it perfectly transparent or of even thickness. Window glass could be either cast or blown. Cast panes were poured and rolled over flat, usually wooden molds laden with a layer of sand, and then ground or polished on one side. Blown panes were created by cutting and flattening a long cylinder of blown glass.

 

Here's a site with photos of Roman window glass:

http://www.romanglas...articles.htm#No

 

Bona Fortuna!

Edited by Ludovicus

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Ave Citizens,

 

I am writing a novel set in the Later Roman Empire (AD 390-400) and a minute, but elusive point came up.

 

How did Romans keep out the cold? Today we can close the window. They are made of glass, and we can still see out.

 

How did Romans shut out the light when they wanted a room darkened? We have shades, blinds, and curtains. What did the Romans use?

 

I will post this same question at Roman Army Talk.

 

Thank you guys. You are, as always, a great help.

 

Tom

 

 

Here's a video in which you see the interior of the House of the Wooden Partition. The narration describes the use of the room divider in this ancient Roman house:

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This post has made my day. How fascinating! I'm in awe of the glass objects linked to in your post Ludovicus. I have to say I never knew much at all about Roman glass making, and am thrilled to read about it. And "The House of the Wooden Partition" - I wish I could see this in person. I never knew such partitions existed in the Roman world, then again as the article states most never survived. But with glass? I'm blown away (pardon the pun). Thanks to the OP for bringing up this topic and thanks to Ludovicus for the wonderful links.

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Cool! I remember visiting both houses when I was in Herculaneum in 2008. :)

 

 

@ Crispina

 

I never knew such partitions existed in the Roman world, then again as the article states most never survived. But with glass? I'm blown away (pardon the pun). Thanks to the OP for bringing up this topic and thanks to Ludovicus for the wonderful links.

 

I'm not sure if I understood you correctly but the glass covering the wooden partition is just there to protect the ancient wood and is not an original feature.

Edited by Aurelia

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Cool! I remember visiting both houses when I was in Herculaneum in 2008. :)

 

 

@ Crispina

 

I never knew such partitions existed in the Roman world, then again as the article states most never survived. But with glass? I'm blown away (pardon the pun). Thanks to the OP for bringing up this topic and thanks to Ludovicus for the wonderful links.

 

I'm not sure if I understood you correctly but the glass covering the wooden partition is just there to protect the ancient wood and is not an original feature.

 

Oh, I'm a dummy. Sorry, yes I thought the wooden partition had glass in it. Thanks for pointing that out.

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This post has made my day. How fascinating! I'm in awe of the glass objects linked to in your post Ludovicus. I have to say I never knew much at all about Roman glass making, and am thrilled to read about it. And "The House of the Wooden Partition" - I wish I could see this in person. I never knew such partitions existed in the Roman world, then again as the article states most never survived. But with glass? I'm blown away (pardon the pun). Thanks to the OP for bringing up this topic and thanks to Ludovicus for the wonderful links.

 

The Romans used glass extensively, so much so that you could call it their Tupperware

Edited by Ludovicus

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I may have missed it in the links above but I would point out that glass is only one of a number of different covering materials used by the Romans and probably was restricted in use to only the better off households.

 

Poorer households would have had to make do with simple wooden shutters over a metal or wooden grill. There is some evidence for suggestions that animal based material such as a sheep stomach or even very thin stretched horn were used as these could provide a semi-translucent covering.

 

The Channel 4 series Rome Wasn't Built in a Day did try out several of the different construction methods in the Roman Villa they constructed at Wroxeter the wooden grill covering can be seen in the virtual tour here.

 

BTW I should have also mentioned that recent research from Pompeii suggests that the Romans seem to have made use of curtains at least to cover alcoves and doorways so presumably would have had the option of hanging curtains or similar material across windows if they wished a room darkened and the window didn't have shutters.

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I have just done a quick search and this link may be of interest as it shows a mural depicting what is described as a Roman 'drop curtain' from the Paleastra at Herculaneum.

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Now here goes for Roman window glass:http://www.metmuseum...gls/hd_rgls.htmGlass windowpanes were first made in the early imperial period, and used most prominently in the public baths to prevent drafts. Because window glass in Rome was intended to provide insulation and security, rather than illumination or as a way of viewing the world outside, little, if any, attention was paid to making it perfectly transparent or of even thickness. Window glass could be either cast or blown. Cast panes were poured and rolled over flat, usually wooden molds laden with a layer of sand, and then ground or polished on one side. Blown panes were created by cutting and flattening a long cylinder of blown glass.

 

I must unfortunately be bold enough to disagree with Mets. Sure, glass was used in the baths, but then often specifically to let the sun into the rooms (e.g. the Suburban Baths,Herculaneum, which even has a sundeck). You can also notice that large windows does not appear in baths until window glass was invented - other forms of covering would not do. We also tend to think about glass as something valuable in antiquity. Fair enough, it wasn't cheap per se, but not that much more expensive than pottery (here I'm referring to vessels of different kinds) and I do believe, and this is my own opinion, that glass windows were far more common than what we tend to think. I know that they have found almost complete windows in Pompeii taverns - not only fancy houses - and it seems quite clear that the small amount we have preserved today is a affect of modern find treatment rather than ancient usage. The shards were simply not collected until quite recently and still only a handful of experts can use them productively.

 

Further on, it is also quite clear that glass was not the preferred choice when it came to security; there are ample evidence for the usage of iron bars in low windows. I would really like to know their sources behind the safety issue.

 

And at last, window glass came, as far as I know, in several different qualities. The simplest were produced as here described, the somewhat better possibly polished at one side and the best polished at both sides. This means that a window glass wasn't just a window glass - you had a wide range of qualities to make your choice from depending on your ambition - and purse.

 

I may have missed it in the links above but I would point out that glass is only one of a number of different covering materials used by the Romans and probably was restricted in use to only the better off households. Poorer households would have had to make do with simple wooden shutters over a metal or wooden grill. There is some evidence for suggestions that animal based material such as a sheep stomach or even very thin stretched horn were used as these could provide a semi-translucent covering. The Channel 4 series Rome Wasn't Built in a Day did try out several of the different construction methods in the Roman Villa they constructed at Wroxeter the wooden grill covering can be seen in the virtual tour here.BTW I should have also mentioned that recent research from Pompeii suggests that the Romans seem to have made use of curtains at least to cover alcoves and doorways so presumably would have had the option of hanging curtains or similar material across windows if they wished a room darkened and the window didn't have shutters.

 

This is a very important point; glass was simply the somewhat fancier solution, but still one among many other.

 

You should take a look at Domenic Ingemarks (Lund) work if your interested in Roman glass.

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Here's a solution from the early empire, assuming that you had the money for it.

 

It's Caligula taking an interest in home renovation as reported in Philo's 'Embassy to Gaius'(364)

 

"... and as soon as he had entered he commanded the windows which were around it to be filled up with the transparent pebbles very much resembling white crystal which do not hinder the light, but which keep out the wind and the heat of the sun."

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it seems quite clear that the small amount we have preserved today is a affect of modern find treatment rather than ancient usage. The shards were simply not collected until quite recently and still only a handful of experts can use them productively.

A year or so I spoke to the head of research and restoring ancient glass of the Corning Glass Museum ("world's foremost authority") http://www.cmog.org/dynamic.aspx?id=11887 about Roman glass. I was skeptical that the Roman glass we see today was unchanged thru time - surely some of what we see now was not up to their standards but has degraded over time.

 

He said yes as to the color and pearlescent quality. I unfortunately forget most of the details, but the tan pearly color I sometimes see is in fact the process of aging. He gave some clues about how to extrapolate backwards and guess what it originally looked like, which like an idiot I forget. I'm not saying this stuff was originally clear, just different.

 

However as to the shape of the glass he said distortions are absolutely not caused by a slow flow in response to gravity like is so often stated. Ancient windows that are thicker on the bottom were installed that way because it is structurally stronger (not that they meant to make it uneven). I forget if he also ruled out whether pressure of a burial over 2000 years could distort the shape (darn it).

 

Anyway I hope that people digging up ancient glass are aware of what time does and doesn't do to glass.

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He said yes as to the color and pearlescent quality. I unfortunately forget most of the details, but the tan pearly color I sometimes see is in fact the process of aging. He gave some clues about how to extrapolate backwards and guess what it originally looked like, which like an idiot I forget. I'm not saying this stuff was originally clear, just different.

 

I know that they develop a patina over time and I have, when excavating, noticed the pearly color you're talking about - it almost looks like they're drenched in solidified oil. But I have never heard of a color change. Very interesting.

 

More general on colors; I'm taught that a light Green was, from what I understand, and is, the original color of glass. Truly transparent pieces would therefor represent a higher quality type (as would other colors).

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I have heard of this process before and IIRC not just with Roman glass - I believe it may be because some minerals provide 'fugitive' colour in the same way as cloth dye's or else it is because the action of sunlight which affects the perceived colour through long exposure.

 

I suspect the Roman Glassmakers down near Andover may have mentioned it when I spoke to them a few years back during their experiemntal Roman glass kiln reconsrtructions and firings.

 

EDIT - just checked one of our reference books and it mentions that mineralisation can affect buried glass bringing on the irridesent quality you see in much Roman Glass so I presuame that mineralisation could also explain changes to the underlying 'perceived' colour.

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Ave Civitas,

 

Thanks to you all. You guys, and this web site is fantastic.

I appreciate all your help.

 

Tom

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