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Lycurgus Cup: Ancient Roman Artisans at Work

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The Lycurgus cup (probably from the 4th century) has long fascinated students of ancient history and scientists alike.




First, it is a cage or reticulated cup, with "an outer cage or shell of decoration that stands out from the body of the cup." "It has mostly been accepted that the cage cups were made by cutting and grinding a blank vessel of solid thick glass, a laborious technique at which the Greeks and Romans were very experienced."


Second, it is made of dichroic glass, meaning it changes color depending on the lighting conditions. Whether the dichronic glass was planned or just the result of an incidental contaminant with nanoparticles such as silver and gold which cause this effect is unknown.

Also, we don't know whether this was really a cup after all since the rim and feet of the cup were more modern additions. It could have been an oil lamp, instead.



Edited by guy

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A local museum used to have a few shelves of Roman glass, often a bit wonky and asymmetrical. Later I chatted with the top glass expert at Corning Museum of Glass about whether that glass may have looked less amateurish when made, and pointed out claims how glass may flow in extremely slow motion over centuries. He said glass doesn't change shape at all, and the wavy pioneer windowpanes you see thicker at the bottom were oriented that way to be more stable. I talked about the weird iridescent amber look of our pieces, yet draw a blank whether he said that stays stable thru time too.

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