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European Glass Beads ca. 1000 B.C. To A.D. 1500

Color Plates

The full text of this topic is in Margaretologist 9(1).

Glass and glass beads were invented in the Middle East. Glass beadmaking is evident in Europe, India and China by around 1000 B.C. India, the Middle East, China and Europe have all been "glass beadmaker to the world" at different times.

Europe only emerged as a global player in the bead trade in the last five centuries, with two the major centers of Venice and Bohemia and several minor ones. Before that time, Europe had mostly supplied itself with glass beads. In the early centuries, it was mostly out of the World System loop, making beads for local consumption.

Before the modern period, beadmaking was concentrated in two regions. In pre-Roman times the foothills of the Alps and the Danube Valley were the beadmaking centers. Beadmaking started there in the eleventh century B.C. and reached an artistic peak in Halstatt times. This was the homeland of the Celts, who in La TÚne times spread beadmaking far around the continent.

The Romans changed the picture. Though they maintained a few European beadmaking centers (Gaul, Dacia), most beads in the Roman Europe were imported from the old centers of the Middle East.

During Roman times, a new beadmaking region arose, stretching from Scandinavia to the Black Sea. It was to be important for over a thousand years. Between the Baltic and the Black Sea is a fertile plain with large, navigable rivers. Scandinavian and other Viking centers were the major beadmaking sites. Viking beads are about the only ones traded outside their neighborhood to the Finns and other barbarians and perhaps farther afield.

Even the modern leading glass bead industries, Venice and Bohemia, may trace their roots to the Alpine-Danube "school." I cannot be dogmatic about Venice, but it is known to be the case with Bohemia.

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