Okay, y’all, this is why I find history so ridiculously exciting.
The Tokyo National Museum released information today regarding the dating of a blue glass dish found in a 5th-century tomb in the Nara Prefecture. Why is this super-interesting? Because the glass is of Roman origin. In 5th-century Japan!
Imagine the life this flatware must have had. It starts off probably somewhere on the Italian peninsula, as scientists identified it as belonging to a style and composition of glass created in the Mediterranean region roundabouts the 2nd century CE. That it traveled from there is no big surprise — by the 2nd century, Rome pretty much owned the entire Mediterranean. They called it Mare Nostrum, Our Sea, for a reason.
Except this glass may have made it all the way to Ctesiphon, in the Parthian Empire that was then ruling Persia, in fairly short order, because it was found, that Japanese tomb, with a glass bowl originating from the Sassanid Empire. Okay, sure, the set could have been assembled at any point after that, too, but it makes sense that the Roman dish and the Sassanid bowl would’ve come together in the mid to late 2nd century. Ctesiphon (about 22 miles south of Baghdad) would be the largest city in the world in the 6th and 7th centuries, but in the 2nd century, it was a major target for the Romans in their (entirely doomed, what-were-they-even-thinking) attempts to conquer Parthia. They actually managed to capture the city not once, not twice, but five times — three of those in the second century alone! So perhaps this humble little glassware found its way to Ctesiphon during one of those periods, when Romans were a larger presence in the city. Did it travel with the Imperial regalia? Or was it just in the luggage of some tag-along senator? Or did it get passed through the hands of an enterprising merchant?
Over the next three hundred years, this flatware travels — unbroken! — across all of Asia. How? Why? I’m having so much fun speculating. Maybe it got traded eastwards as the Sassanids expanded, making its way into Central Asia through their contacts. Maybe it went south to the Persian sea and through the trade routes with India. Maybe it passed through the Sixteen Kingdoms. What houses (or palaces) did it live in? Who ate off of it? What conversations took place over it? What arguments? What seductions?
Then, in the fifth century, as Japan is trading extensively with China and Korea, someone, somewhere, decides to send it over the water. By this point, the empire that gave birth to this little glass dish has possibly already collapsed, certainly degenerated, but it’s still chugging along.
And some Japanese guy likes it enough that he decides to be buried with it.
And it stays there.
For over 1500 years.