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Motivation, Mechanics and Magnitude: A Study of Glass Recycling in the Roman Empire

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The topic of Roman glass recycling is not often discussed in scholarly literature. Knowledge of this subject, however, is integral to our understanding of the Roman glass industry and the ancient economy more generally. Evidence for Roman glass recycling comes from three main sources: ancient literary references, archaeological remains, and chemical composition studies. All three types of evidence must be viewed in conjunction if we wish to understand the motivations for, as well as the mechanics and magnitude of glass recycling in antiquity. By examining these three categories of evidence together, this study will demonstrate that the Roman world recycled glass for at least three interrelated reasons: (1) technical improvements, (2) economic thrift, and (3) geographic concerns, such as the lack of access to raw materials or adequate fuel resources. This study will focus much of its attention on case studies from the Roman Levant and Britain. By looking at provinces in both the east and northwest, this study will obtain a broader view of glass recycling practices as they pertain to different corners of the Empire. As will be revealed, there was no universal formula for glass recycling in Roman times. Procedures differed on account of the economic, political, and social landscape of a given region or site. Furthermore, glass-recycling procedures were not static but shifted in response to changing circumstances––be they faltering trade routes or the presence of new cultural groups. In this way, recycling allowed glassworkers to be both resilient and flexible when faced with hardships or new situations.

Jones, Ashley Gordon. “Motivation, Mechanics and Magnitude: A Study of Glass Recycling in the Roman Empire.” Under the direction of Dr. S. Thomas Parker.)

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