Small Glass Objects – Archaeological Analysis of Counters from the Roman Iron Age from Poland
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Wydział Archeologii Uniwersytetu im. Adama Mickiewicza, ul. Uniwersytetu Poznańskiego 7, PL 61-614 Poznań
Submission date: 2019-05-08
Final revision date: 2020-05-11
Acceptance date: 2020-05-26
Publication date: 2020-12-31
Wiadomości Archeologiczne 2020;LXXI(71):251–268
Roman glass counters found in Poland have not yet been studied in full. They are known from 44 or 45 archaeological sites (Table 1 – see: https://doi.org/10.36154/wa. 71.2020.06 [suppl. file]), mainly cemeteries. Most of them are concentrated in central Poland (Fig. 2). Glass counters are disks with plano-convex section and rounded edges. Their underside is usually flat, less often slightly concave, with a smooth or pitted surface (Fig. 1). Counters are analysed within several chronological ranges, i.e., phases B1–B2, B2/C1–C1a, C1b–C2, and C2/D–D1, and in the case of less well-dated finds – Late Roman Period or Roman Period; the former also includes counters from assemblages dated broadly to phase C1. Due to literature and museum query, it was possible to establish that there are 386 or 390 glass counters known from Poland. This imprecise number is a results from the inaccurate data in literature, concerning lost artefacts (131 specimens in total). The search also allowed verifying the actual number of counters against published information – some of the examples turned out to be melted beads or vessel fragments. Out of 386 counters, 277 were preserved in their entirety, 70 were fragmented; in 39 cases, it was impossible to determine their state of preservation and thus their shape (Table 1). 193 counters were found at Przeworsk Culture sites, 186 at Wielbark Culture sites and three at Luboszyce Culture sites; in the case of three counters, it was not possible to determine their cultural affiliation. Most counters come from phases C1b–C2. It has been assumed that a set consists of at least three counters found in one assemblage, regardless of whether they were made of glass or other material (clay, amber, bone, flint). Out of 59 grave finds with glass calculi, sets appeared in 29 features. The sets could be small (three to six counters) or large (seven or more counters). In the remaining cases, grave finds consisted of one or two specimens (Fig. 4). Glass counters can be analysed on three levels: colour, size and (possible) method of production. 174 counters were made of opaque glass (147 monochromatic and 27 mosaic) and 179 of translucent glass (155 monochromatic and 24 mosaic); for 33 counters, it was not possible to determine their colour and transparency. Black (125) and white (120) counters are the most numerous; the term black is used conventionally, as such counters are actually made of dark green, dark purple or dark brown glass, which, however, can only be seen in transmitted light and only in well-preserved copies finds. The counters from phases B1–B2 are the most diverse in terms of colour. For the other chronological ranges, this variety is no longer present – most colours do not appear at all or are only represented by a small number of counters (Table 2).The counters can be divided into two groups of small (with diameter of up to 14.5 mm) and large (with diameter measuring from 15 mm) specimens. The diameters of glass calculi found in Poland range from 10 to 36 mm; most of them are classified as large (Fig. 6). The method of manufacturing glass counters can be inferred from written sources and findings based on specialist analyses. In the case of counters from Poland, the (possible) production method could not be determined for as many as 184 specimens. The others were mostly made by placing a small bulb of molten glass. These are mainly monochromatic specimens, usually with an uneven, slightly pitted bottom surface. Only 34 counters were made by re-melting a piece of glass (also from broken glass vessels) (Fig. 8); most of them – as many as 24 – are mosaic specimens (Fig. 7). In archaeological literature glass counters are predominantly interpreted as game accessories. This was undoubtedly the basic function of counters, but we do not know to what extent they were actually adapted and their function adopted by the ‘barbarian’ communities. Only in eight (?) cases in total, glass counters occurred in assemblages together with other game accessories such as boards, dice or marbles.