Ancient Golden Glass Unearthed During Roman Subway Construction

The artifact depicts Roma, the goddess who personifies the city of Rome

Rome's new Line C subway station
Construction workers at the site of the new Metro C subway line in Rome Stefano Montesi / Corbis via Getty Images

Subway construction in Rome has revealed a rare fourth-century golden glass depiction of Roma, the personification of ancient Rome. It’s the first known artifact of its kind.

“Golden glass is already a very rare finding, but this has no comparison,” Simona Morretta, an archaeologist from the special superintendency of Rome, tells the Italian news agency Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata (ANSA), per Google Translate. 

Morretta adds that “no golden glass with the personification of the city of Rome [has] ever been found before” and that its execution is “extraordinarily refined.”

Thematically similar depictions of Roma on other materials are more common. With flowing curls, wearing a helmet and holding a spear, Roma is displayed as a strong, regal figure. 

The fragment, found during construction on the subway’s Porta Metronia station, may have once formed the bottom of a drinking glass. “We don't know whether it was really used to contain something or as a decorative object,” says Morretta to ANSA, “but certainly putting an image at the bottom reflects that idea.”

Golden glass, prized by the upper classes as a luxury item, is a design in gold leaf that’s encased and preserved by clear glass on both sides. The technique dates back to the Hellenistic period.

The newly discovered artifact “was a precious object,” Morretta tells ANSA, “and it wasn’t thrown away after it broke or got damaged. But given that a glass cup could not be repaired, the bottom was cut off, and perhaps it was exhibited on furniture or hung on a wall.”

The discovery comes on the heels of another accidental find: Last month, construction workers repairing a Roman sewer were surprised when they stumbled upon a life-size marble statue of a Roman emperor dressed as Hercules.

Construction on Rome’s subway has been ongoing for years, unearthing a treasure trove of artifacts as the project continues. From smaller finds like pottery and mosaics to entire buildings—such as 2,000-year-old army barracks, a military commander’s home and even a third-century building that caught fire—the wonders of Rome’s underground continue to reveal themselves.

Like other subway stations in Rome that have already been completed, the Porta Metronia station will house its own mini-museum, where the golden glass fragment will be displayed alongside other artifacts found nearby. The site should open in 2024, per ARTnews’ Francesca Aton.

Roberto Gualtieri, Rome’s mayor, proudly posted an image of the find on Twitter earlier this month.

“The excavations for the construction of #MetroC have brought to light extraordinary archaeological finds,” he wrote, per Google Translate. “Among these, the bottom of a gilded glass goblet with the personification of #Roma. The millennial history of our city never ceases to amaze and enchant the world.”

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.