Object: Balsamarium

Double balsamarium with applicator
Hama, Syria
Date unknown
Materials: glass and bronze

Glass balsamaria, also called unguentaria, were used in the ancient world to hold perfume or other ointments. Unlike modern alcohol-based perfumes, perfumes in ancient times were thick oil-based substances. In ancient Egypt women would wear a cone of this type of waxy perfume on top of their wigs. The cone would slowly melt throughout the day as it warmed up. As the cone melted it would release fragrance, somewhat like modern deodorant.

According to the museum’s catalog, this particular balsamarium is “from near Hama,” a city in central Syria. The people of Syria were known for their glass making skills as early as 1400 BCE. Glass was the most desirable type of material for balsamaria as it wouldn’t absorb the precious oils like pottery would.

A similar balsamarium was recently displayed at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in an exhibit entitled The Art of Ancient Glass: The Richard and Lois Gunther Collection.

The SNOMNH ethnology department is eager to learn more information about this balsamarium and hopefully get a better estimate of the time period during which they could have been produced. We welcome any comments concerns or suggested references. [Kathryn S. Barr]

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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.


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