Rare glass vase found in Gallic tomb

Archaeologists have discovered an exceptionally rare diatretic vase, a highly ornamented style of reticulated glass, in a paleochristian necropolis in Autun, central France. Only 10 complete examples of diatretic vases from the Roman era are known to have survived. This is the only one ever found what used to be ancient Gaul. The last one was found in the 1970s in North Macedonia.

This one is absolutely top of the line, inscribed above the elaborate decoration with the phrase VIVAS FELICITER (live in happiness). It is petite at 4.7 inches high and 6.3 inches in diameter. While it is damaged and there are many fragments, they have all been recovered and conservators will be able to stitch it back together.

Autun was founded as Augustodunum by the Emperor Augustus as the capital of the Aedui people in the 1st century A.D. The necropolis being excavated was built outside the city’s east walls in the early 3rd century and became Augustodunum’s main cemetery. Since excavations began this summer, more than 230 burials have been unearthed. There is a great diversity of burial types, including mausoleums, coffins with tile roofs, five massive sandstone sarcophagi and 15 lead coffins. One sandstone sarcophagus had a lead coffin inside of it. No inscriptions have been found to identify the dead of late ancient Autun.

The most grand sarcophagi contained appositely grand grave goods. A set of jet pins dating to the 4th century were found in burial 162, a pair of gold earrings in the lead coffin of a child and a gold ring inset with a cabochon garnet in the burial of a child or adolescent. A set of 4th century carved amber pins of such high quality and in such impeccable condition that there are no comparable groups in the archaeological record.

They were found at the feet of the individual buried in sarcophagus 43. That sarcophagus also contained a fragment with gold threads from a textile that has disintegrated, but its dye had leached from the textile leaving a tell-tale purple tint on the sediment. This is likely the fabled Tyrian purple derived from the murex sea snail. Another grave, grave 45, also contained a fragment of textile woven from gold threads.

The fine coffins and grave goods indicate that there were people of great wealth and status in Augustodunum.

4 thoughts on “Rare glass vase found in Gallic tomb

  1. Yes, that diatretic vase is really good, and I look forward to it being restored. However, I enjoy the amber pins, especially as one appears to have a very worn head.

  2. This exceptionally cool glass vase is a “cage cup” (Lat.: ‘vas diatretum’, from διάτρητος = bored through, pierced), while amber was traditionally imported from the Baltic sea.

    The Gallic oppidum of Bibracte had been the capital of the Aedui, until Augustus moved them kindly to “Augustodunum”.

    Trade with the Mediterranean (mainly in wine, ham and wool) had been common by the 6th century BC, and obviously their aristocracy was consuming an awful lot of wine (massive layers of broken amphorae!). The Aeduan Diviciacus is among the few druids from antiquity, whose existence is attested by name.

    In 58 BC, Diviciacus, while being their “Vergobret” (Archont), asked the new Gallic proconsul Julius Caesar for the help, first against the Helvetians, who under pressure from Germanic tribes lead by Ariovist, had decided to leave their homeland and resettle their people. Later, he asked Caesar for help against Ariovist himself. Thus, Diviciacus successfully contributed to the Gallic War.

    Already in 61 BC, Diviciacus had visited Rome, where he asked the Senate for help against the Sequani, who had defeated the Aedui together with Ariovist. The request, however, remained unsuccessful and the Senate only instructed the respective governor of the province Gallia Narbonensis to support the Aedui and their allies as far as possible, but this had no practical consequences at first.


    According to Caesar himself in 1.16.5: “..ubi se diutius duci intellexit et diem instare, quo die frumentum militibus metiri oporteret, convocatis eorum principibus, quorum magnam copiam in castris habebat, in his Diviciaco et Lisco, qui summo magistratui praeerat, quem vergobretum appellant Haedui, qui creatur annuus et vitae necisque in suos habet potestatem / (When Caesar realised that he was put off too long, and that the day was near on which he ought to distribute grain to his soldiers, he called together their chiefs, of whom he had a great number in his camp, among them Diviciacus and Liscus, who held the chief magistracy, i.e. the office that the Aedui refer to as Vergobretus, and who is elected annually and has power of life or death over his countrymen.)..

    […] “..they [the druids] have to learn a lot of verses. Thus, their apprenticeship in some cases is twenty years. To use letters for this, however, they do not consider alright, while in other matters they use for private as for public issues the Greek letters / Magnum ibi numerum versuum ediscere dicuntur. Itaque annos nonnulli vicenos in disciplina permanent. Neque fas esse existimant ea litteris mandare, cum in reliquis fere rebus, publicis privatisque rationibus, Graecis utantur litteris.”

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