Roman Glass in Ancient Japan

Roman Glass in Japan

ROMAN GLASS has been found in a recently opened Japanese tomb dating to the 5th century, as per an article in this week’s Asahi Shimbum (courtesy of Adrian Murdoch’s fine blog).

Read the original article on this stunning discovery here:

map japan

The ornamental glass (a beautiful cobalt blue plate and a delicate golden bowl seen above) is believed to have made it’s way to Japan through Sassanid Persia.  Scientific analysis suggests that both items were created by Roman artisans working within the Empire at some point in the 3rd century.  While it’s unknown precisely when and how they made their way to Japan, they were buried along with the denizen of tumulus #126, within a cluster of ancient graves dating to the late 5th century.

Niizawa Senzuka burial mounds

So what does it have to do with the Age of Justinian, this turbulent time when the light of Rome still shined in the East as darkness fell in the West?

In these fragile pieces of blue and gold glass, fantastically preserved, we have an example of how far Rome reached even in an era in which common wisdom says Rome had already “fallen”.

The truth, as found in this burial mound in Nara Prefecture suggests something very different.

While Roman trade with Japan was indeed rare, the Romans (and their trading partners and sometimes enemies, the Persians) traded actively with the East. Most of this trade centered around silk that could only be sourced from China at this time. Roman gold moved east, and Chinese silk moved West. That river of gold sustained the Persians.

But there would come a day, not long after our blue glass plate was buried in Japan, when an exceptional man, a missionary, took an extraordinary risk by smuggling silk worms out of the Forbidden City in a hollow-tipped cane. When he arrived at the Emperor Justinian’s court in Constantinople he irrevocably changed the course of history….

– Matthew J. Storm