An Unbreakable Story: The Lost Roman Invention of Flexible Glass

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Petronius’ telling of the story in his Satyricon, on the other hand, may be described as a more dramatized version of the story told by Pliny. In the satirist’s account, the man who invented the flexible glass was granted an audience with the Roman emperor to show his work. After Tiberius examined the glass cup, he handed it back to the glass-maker, who proceeded to throw it with all his might on the floor. The emperor was shocked at what had happened, but the man calmly picked the cup up from the ground, showing the emperor that it was only dented. The glass-maker then took a little hammer to beat the glass, and in no time, the cup regained its original shape.



The Roman glass-maker was confident that he had impressed the emperor, and was probably waiting to be rewarded for his ingenious creation. When the emperor asked if anybody else knew how to make this kind of flexible glass, the craftsman answered with a negative. Instead of receiving the reward he had hoped for, the glass-maker was executed, thus taking the secret of making flexible glass with him to his grave. The reason for this was that this Roman invention would cause gold to be devalued, as mentioned by Pliny.

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