Glass first appeared in Egypt as a component of faience (a thin glass coating) as far back as the Neolithic Badarian culture at the turn of the 4th and 5th Millennia bce.
Pure glass as a material was found in the form of beads during pre-dynastic times, and by the Old and Middle Kingdoms glass was found in the form of jewelry, animal figures, mosaics and in amulets.
It was not until the New Kingdom at the time of the 18th dynasty king, Thuthmosis I, do we find any evidence of glass vessels being made. By the time of the 18th dynasty king Amenhotep III there were found to be traces of a glass factory at the Residential Palace of Malkata, on the West Bank of Thebes. Another glass manufacturing plant has been only recently discovered at the City of Amarna, built in Middle Egypt by his Son, the heretic King, Akhenaton.
Glass-making appears to have been largely a royal prerogative, and one can just imagine all the Queens and high-born ladies of the harem at the palace of Malkata with all their little coloured glass bottles containing perfumes, and with their little bowls and pots containing various oils, creams and cosmetics.
Glass production was still a very skilled and difficult art, and the products expensive to buy. It wasn’t until about 100 bce that the technique of glass-blowing was invented, probably in Syria, and seems to have been imported into Alexandria around 50 bce. Glass blowing had revolutionized glass production, and from being the prerogative of the rich, glass was now affordable by the humbler classes on a commercial scale.
It has up to now always been argued that the Egyptians imported glass, but according to Dr. Nicholson who has been working at Amarna since 1983 there is now enough evidence to show that amongst the Egyptians there were skilled craftsmen able to produce their own glass objects.
For those wishing to know more about Dr. Nicholsons findings at Amarna, a book entitled “Brilliant things for Akhenaton” is published by the Egypt Exploration Society (London) and is available through Oxbow Books in the U.K.