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Sudhoffs Arch. 2011;95(1):94-114.

[Production of glass in early middle ages].

[Article in German]


For the production of glass three ingredients are necessary: sand, a flux to reduce the melting-temperature and calcium to reduce the danger of glass corrosion. The first objects of glass were made with calcium-rich ashes of halophytic plants, until, in the first millennium BC, the glassmakers began to use natron as a flux adding calcium deliberately or choosing a calcium-rich sand. Natron, a mineral applied to fertilize or to preserve, as a spice, a detergent or part of medical and cosmetic articles, was exploited in the regions south and east of the Mediterranean, so the Central European glassmakers had to import natron or the prefabricated raw glass for their work. Beginning in the 8th century AD in Central Europe the flux changed again: The glassmakers increasingly used ashes from wood growing in their native regions so becoming independent of the necessity to import the raw materials. There are various reasons for this change: First, the Mediterranean was no longer the trade area it had been at the time of the antique Roman Empire due to the activities of the Byzantine navy. Then, the climatic change in the 8th century and political upheavals during the 9th century in Egypt--being the main supplier of natron--caused a decrease in exploitation and trade with this good. Finally, the Egyptian state established a monopoly on the natron production, causing a permanent price increase. Nevertheless, during the Early Middle Ages natron was imported into Europe, although not necessarily for glass production. The article shows that glassmakers of Central Europe were able to produce glass since the end of the Western Roman Empire on the basis of the transfer of raw materials and know-how from the East. From the 8th century onwards they emancipated themselves from the dependency on imports by discovering and using native materials for glass production.


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