Roman glass head

A tale of revelry and ritual

From: Poole Museum

This enigmatic face is thought to be Bacchus, the Roman god of wine and revelry. The tiny glass piece would have originally hung from a highly-decorated Roman wine glass.

Roman drinking glasses were often decorated with likenesses of Bacchus and his attendants – male satyrs and female maenads.

Where did it come from?

The tiny glass head was found during the excavation of a Roman settlement to the north of Poole.

Archaeologists speculate that the glass head originated at Lake Legionary Fortress about four miles west from where it was discovered. This was occupied by the Second Legion Augusta, as part of the Roman conquest of South-West England.

A ritual burial

The head had been carefully buried beneath a mill stone, with a layer of shale on top. Someone carefully and deliberately buried it, but why?

It’s believed that after the glass head had broken off the vessel, it was found by local Celtic people. The care with which it was buried suggests that they gave it a new spiritual significance, and used it in a ritual burial.  

Ancient piece inspires contemporary art

When Wessex Museums commissioned Ann-Marie James to create a contemporary art exhibition, she chose one object from each museum as her inspiration.

At Poole Museum she chose the Roman glass head. She said:

“The Roman poet Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’, which recounts ancient myths, has been a recurring theme in my practice. So rather than work directly with the glass head, I chose instead to work with imagery from Ovid’s text.

“In the myth, Bacchus’ companion, Silenus, drank too much wine and became lost. He was taken to King Midas who then returned him to Bacchus. As a reward, Bacchus gave Midas the power of turning everything he touched into gold.” 

Close up of the Roman glass head from Poole museum.
Roman glass head
Detail from the Midas paintings in the Alchemy exhibition. Gold lettering in layers.
Detail from Ann-Marie James' Midas artwork
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