Roman and Early Byzantine finds from Japanese Archipelago – a critical survey

Keywords: Japan, Silk Road, Trade, Exchange, Roman Byzantine period


Artifacts discovered on the Japanese archipelago, which are interpreted as being of Roman and Byzantine pro-venance, are critically discussed in the following article. In light of chemical analyses, some of the glass artifacts found, including beads and vessels, are related to the glass typical of Mediterranean workshops. They were imported in the times of their production. New numismatic discoveries from Okinawa, dated to the fourth century, were found in layers associated with the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and cannot be contemporaneous with the glass imports. The silk textile from Shōsō-in, despite its superficial similarity to Early Byzantine art products, seems to be a Central Asian/Chinese imitation, probably woven in the workshops of Chang’an. Thus, finds of Mediterranean origin, produced in the Roman and Early Byzantine epochs, are insignificant in their number and their imports were isolated cases. However, their presence supports the thesis that the Japanese archipelago should be included as part of the ancient network of the Silk Road.


Download data is not yet available.


Abe Y., Harimoto R., Kikugawa T., Yazawa K., Nishisaka A., Kawai N., Yoshimura S. and Nakai I. 2012. Transition in the use of cobalt-blue colorant in the new kingdom of Egypt. Journal of Archaeological Science 39, 1793-1808.

Abe Y., Shikaku R. and Nakai I. 2018. Ancient glassware travelled the Silk Road: Nondestructive X-ray fluorescence analysis of tiny glass fragments believed to be sampled from glassware excavated from Niizawa Senzuka Tumulus No. 126, Japan. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 17, 212-219.

Alekseyeva Ye. M. 1978. Antichnyye busy Severnogo Prichernomoria (= Svod arkheologicheskikh istochnikov G1-12/2). Moskva: Nauka.

Aihaiti M., Kim S. and Hao C. 2017. Sichou zhi lushang de zhong ya boli qi jian lun zhong ya boli qi xiang zhongguo, chaoxian bandao he riben zhi chuanbo. Kaogu yu wenwu 6, 104-110.

Boon G. C. 1977. Gold-in-glass beads from the Ancient World. Britannia 8, 193-207.

Borell B. 2008a. Some western imports assigned to the Oc Eo period reconsidered. In J.-P. Pautreau, A.-S. Coupey, V. Zeitoun and E. Rambault (eds), From Homo Erectus to the living traditions. Choice of papers from the 11th International Conference of the European Association of Southeast Asian Archaeologists, Bougon, 25th-29th September 2006. Chiang Mai: Siam Ra-tana, 167-174.

Borell B. 2008b. The Early Byzantine lamp from Pong Tuk. The Journal of the Siam Society 96, 1-26.

Borell B. 2010. Trade and glass vessels along the maritime Silk Road. In B. Zorn, and A. Hilgner (eds), Glass along the Silk Road, from 200 BC to AD 1000. Mainz: Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz, 127-142.

Borell B., Beìreìnice B. and Boonyarit Chaisuwan. 2014. Contacts between the Upper Thai-Malay Pe-ninsula and the Mediterranean World. In N. Revire and S. Murphy (eds), Before Siam: Essays in Art and Archaeology. Bangkok: River Books, 98-117.

Brill R. H. 2009. Opening remarks and setting the stage. Lecture at the 2005 Shanghai International Workshop on the Archaeology of Glass along the Silk Road. In: G. Fuxi, R. H. Brill and T. Shou-yun (eds), Ancient glass research along the Silk Road. Singapore: World Scientific Pusbli-shing, 109–148.

Chinas 1999. Chinas Goldenes Zeitalter. Die Tang-Dynastie (618-907 n. Chr.) und das kulturelle Erbe der Siedenstrasse. Dieter Kuhn (ed.). Dortmund: Edition Braus.

Dussubieux L. and Gratuze B. 2003. Nature et origine des objets en verre retrouveìs aÌ Begram (Afghanistan) et aÌ Bara (Pakistan). In O. Bopearachchi, C. Landes, and C. Sachs (eds), De l’Indus aÌ l’Oxus: archeìologie de l’Asie centrale. Lattes: Association imago-museìe de Lattes, 315-323.

Edwards W. 2000. Contested access: The Imperial tombs in the postwar period. Journal of Japanese Studies 26(2), 371-392.

Francis P. 1985. A survey of beads in Korea (= Occasional papers of the Center for Bead Research 1). New York: Lapis Route Books.

Francis P. 2002. Asia’s maritime bead trade: 300 B.C. to the present. Honolulu : University of Hawai’i Press.

Glass 1965. Glass objects in the Shosoin. Shosoin Office (ed.). Tokyo: Nihon Keizai Shimbun Sha.

Gratuze B. 2013. Provenance analysis of glass artefacts. In. K. Janssens (ed.), Modern methods for analysing archaeological and historical glass 1. Chichester: Wiley, 311-343.

Gratuze B., Pactat I. and Schibille N. 2018. Changes in the signature of cobalt colorants in late antique and early Islamic glass production. Minerals 8(6), (acces 7.01.2020).

Hansen V. 2012. The Silk Road. A new history. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Harden D. B. 1936. Roman glass from Karanis found by the University of Michigan Archaeological Expedition in Egypt 1924–1929. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Hausig H. W. 1992. Archäologie und Kunst der Seidenstrasse. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.

Hayashi R. 1975. The Silk Road and the Shōsō-in The Heibonsha survey of Japanese art. New York: Weatherhill.

Hayes J. 1975. Roman and Pre-Roman glass in the Royal Ontario Museum: a catalogue. Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum.

Hong Y. 2010. Ancient Buddhist Reliquaries in China and Korea. Chinese Archaeology 10(1), 184-195.

Hoppál K., Adhityatama S., Vida I. and Lu Y. 2018. All that glitters is not Roman’ Roman coins disco-vered in East Java, Indonesia: A study on new data with an overview on other coins discovered beyond India. Dissertationes Archaeologicae 3(6), 461-492.

Hua wu da Tang chun 2003. Hua wu da Tang Chun : Hejia cun yi bao jing cui. Beijing: Wen wu chu ban she.

Imamura K. 1996. Prehistoric Japan: New perspectives on insular East Asia. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Kaczmarczyk A. 1986. The source of cobalt in ancient Egyptian pigments. In J. S. Olin and M. J. James (eds), Proceedings of the 24th International Archaeometry Symposium. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 369-376.

Yokohari K. 2006. The Hōryű-ji Lion-hunting silk and related silks. In R. Schorta (ed.), Central Asian textiles and their contexts in the Early Middle Ages (= Riggisberger Berichte 9). Riggisberg: Abegg-Stiftung, 155-173.

Kim N. Y. and Kim G. H. 2012. Asan myeong-amli Bakkjimeule yujeog chulto yuliguseul-ui hwahagjeog teugseong. Journal of Conservation Science 28(3), 205-216.

Kucharczyk R. 2011. Glass from area F on Kom el-Dikka (Alexandria). Excavations 2008. Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean 20 (Research 2008), 56-69.

Ladefoged T. N. and Pearson R. 2000. Fortified castles on Okinawa Island during the Gusuku Period, AD 1200-1600. Antiquity 74, 404-12.

Laing F. J. 1991. A report on Western Asian glassware in the Far East. Bulletin of the Asia Institute. New Series 5, 109-121.

Lankton J.W. and Dussubieux L. 2006. Early glass in Asian maritime trade: a review and an interpretation of compositional analyses. Journal of Glass Studies 48, 121-144.

Lankton J. W., Gratuze B., Kim G. H., Dussubieux L. and Lee I. 2010. Silk Road glass in ancient Korea: The contribution of chemical compositional analysis. In B. Zorn and A. Hilgner (eds), Glass along the Silk Road from 200 BC to AD 1000. Mainz: Römisch-Germanisches Zentralmuseum Mainz, 221-237.

Lee I. 2013. Of glass and gold. Silla tombs, the Silk Road and the steppe. In: S. Lee and D. P. Leidy (eds), Silla Korea’s Golden Kingdom. New York: Metropolitan Art Museum, 115-131.

Lin M. 2017. Tangwude er nian ji bin guo gongpin kao – jian lun xian hejiacun tang jiao zang yuan wei daming gong qiong link u huangjia baozang. Kaogu yi wenwu 6, 94-103.

Lu X., Liu Z., He D., Liu X. 2017. Hejiacun tang dai jiaocang baoshi ji boli wan jiance baogao. Kaogu yu wenwu 6, 114-120.

Markovic L., Vranes A. and Jelic Mariokov M. 2017. The story of the Silk Road and Nara’s Shosoin treasure repository of the Emperor. Conference: The Asian Conference on Arts and Humanities 2017.

Masashi T. 2010. Beikoku Bosuton Bijutsukan shozō iwayuru ‘den Nintokuryō shutsudohin’ no chōsa. Shoryōbu kiyō [Ryōbo hen] 62, 1-17.

Masuda S. 1972. On the painted Sassanian glass receptacle found in Japan. In The memorial Volume of the Vth International Congress of Iranian Art and Archaeology (Tehran, Isfahan, Shiraz, 11th-18th April 1968). Tehran: Ministry of Culture and Arts, 353-356.

Matin M. and Pollard A. M. 2015. Historical accounts of cobalt ore processing from the Kāshān Mine, Iran. IRAN (Journal of the British Institute of Persian Studies) 53, 171-183.

Matin M. and Pollard A. M. 2017. From ore to pigment: a description of the minerals and an experimental study of Cobalt ore processing from the Kāshān mine, Iran. Archaeometry 59(4), 731-746.

Matsumoto K. 1984. Jōdai-gire: 7th AND 8th Century Textiles in Japan from the Shōsō-in and Hōryuji. Kyoto: Shikosha.

Mierse W. E.2017. The significance of the Central Asian objects in the Shōsō-in for understanding the international art trade in the seventh and eighth centuries. Sino-Platonoc Papers 267, 1-52.

Nagaokakyo-shi 2012. Nagaokakyō-shi maizō bunkazai sentā. Utsu Hisashi 1 gōfun ni tsuite hakkutsu chōsa seika kara ~ kōeki zaidanhōjin, 1-10.

Niizawa 1977. Nīzawa sendzuka 126 gōfun’ Nara ken kyōiku iinkai. Nara: Institute of Archaeology.

Nicholson P. T. and Henderson J. 2006. Glass. In P. T. Henderson and I. Shaw (eds), Ancient Egyptian materials and technology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 195-227.

Oga K. and Tamura T. 2013. Ancient Japan and the Indian Ocean interaction sphere: chemical compositions, chronologies, provenances and trade routes of imported glass beads in Yayoi-Kofun Period (3rd Century BCE-7th Century CE. Journal of Indian Ocean Archaeology 9, 35-65.

Ogata A. 2012. The Shoso-in textiles of the era of Emperor Shomu. Textile Society of America Symposium Proceedings 720

Park C. S. 2018. Kaya, Silla, and Wa: changing relationships and their historical backgrounds. In M. E. Byington, K. Sasaki and T. Bale (eds), Early Korea-Japan interactions. Seoul: Korea Institute, Harvard University 2018, 133-181.

Pearson P. 1999. Regional settlement in Okinawa: The Yokatsu Peninsula and its offliers. Journal of East Asian Archaeology 1, 277-323.

Pearson R., Li M., and Li G. (2000). Port, city, and hinterlands: archaeological perspectives on Quanzhou and its overseas trade. In A. Schottenhammer (ed.), Quanzhou and its overseas trade in the Song and Yuan dynasties: Leiden: Brill.

Pearson R. 2013 Ancient Ryukyu. An archaeological study of island communities. Honolulu: Hawaii University Press.

Rodziewicz M. 1984. Les habitations romaines tardives d’Alexandrie à la lumière des fouilles polonaises à Kom el-Dikka (= Alexandrie 3). Warsaw: PWN – Èditions Scientifiques de Pologne.

Rodziewicz M. 2005. Elephantine XXVII: Early Roman Industries on Elephantine (= Archäologische Veröffentlichungen 107). Mainz: Zabern.

Simpson S. J. 2015. Sasanian glassware from Mesopotamia Gilan, and the Caucasus. Journal of Glass Studies 57, 77-96.

Spaer M. 1993. Gold-Glass beads: a review of the evidence. Beads: Journal of the Society of Beads Researchers 5, 9-25.

Stawiarska T. 1985. Paciorki szklane z obszaru Polski północnej w okresie wpływów rzymskich (= Biblioteka archeologiczna 28). Wrocław: Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich.

Sugiyama S. 2011. Glass bowl unearthed from Okinoshima island and related sites in the Munakata region. Study Report 1, 541-554.

Dictionaire 1989. Dictionnaire historique du Japon, volume 15, 1989. Lettres M (2) et N (1), 146.

Stern E. M. 2001. Roman, Byzantine, and Early Medieval Glass: Ernesto Wolf Collection, Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz.

Szmonievskiy B. S. (= Szmoniewski B. S.) 2013. Obraz lva v izobrazitelnom iskusstve Kitaya: svya-zuyushcheye zveno mezhdu Vostokom i Zapadom (ot Han’ do Tsin). Uchenyye zapiski Otdela Kitaya Instituta Vostokovedeniya RAN 11, 456-468.

Szmoniewskiy B. S. 2016. Bizantiyskaya moneta i yeye podrazhaniya (moneta mertvykh) na primere nakhodok iz pogrebeniy avarskogo kaganata, na Shelkovom puti i prilegayushchikh territoriy (VI-VIII vv.). Kratkie Soobshcheniia Instituta Arkheologii 44, 254-274.

Szmoniewski B. S. 2018. Roman glassware from Korean Peninsula: Silla, Gaya, Baekje from fourth to sixth century A.D. Myth or reality (I). Pontica 51, 151-191.

Szmoniewski B. S. 2019. Roman glassware from Korean Peninsula: Silla, Gaya, Baekje from fourth to sixth century A.D. Myth or reality (II). Pontica 52, 213-236.

Tamura T. and Oga K. 2016. Archaeometrical investigation of natron glass excavated in Japan. Microchemical Journal 126, 7-17.

Tempelmann-Mączyńska 1985. Die Perlen der römischen Kaiserzeit und der frühen Phase der Völkerwanderungszeit im mitteleuropäischen Barbaricum (= Römisch-germanische Forschungen 43). Mainz: Zabern.

Thierry F. 2012 Rome et la Chine, trois notes de numismatique. Archéothéma 19, 27-33.

Tite M. S. and Schortland A. J. 2008. Production technology of faience and related early vitreous materials (= Oxford University School of Archaeology Monographs 72). Oxford: Oxford University.

Wang Q. 2014. Muzang zhong de su du bo: Zai lun wuhuifei shi guo yongshi shenshou tu Wangqingwei. Dunhuang xue ji kan 83(1), 145-158.

Whitehouse D. 1997. Roman glass in the Corning Museum of Glass, 1. New York: Corning Museum of Glass.

Whitehouse D. 2001. Roman glass in the Corning Museum of Glass, 2. New York: Corning Museum of Glass.

Wilensky J. 2002. The magical Kunlun and “devil slaves”: Chinese perceptions of dark-skinned people and Africa before 1500. Sino-Platonic Papers 122, 1-51.

Woo J. -P. 2018. Interactions Between Paekche and Wa in the third to sixth centuries A.D. based on patterns of trade and exchange. In M. E. Byington, K. Sasaki and T. Bale (eds), Early Korea-Japan interactions. Seoul: Korea Institute, Harvard University, 183-230.

Wyatt D. J. 2010. The Blacks of Premodern China. Philadelphia: The University of Pennsylvania Press.

Xiong V. C. 1990. The Story of a Kunlun Slave in Tang Chang’an. Chinese Historians 4, 77-81.

Zhu Y. and Hu R. 2020. A brief analysis of semantic interactions between loanwords and native Words in the Tang Dynasty. In J.-F. Hong, Y. Zhang and P. Liu (eds), Chinese Lexical Semantics. 20th Workshop, CLSW 2019, Beijing, China, June 28–30, 2019, Revised Selected Papers. Cham: Springer International Publishing, 123-129.

Żuchowska M. 2015. “Roman Textiles” in the Hou Han Shu. A 5th century Chinese vision versus Roman reality. ANABASIS. Studia Classica et Orientalia 6, 216-242.

Żuchowska M. 2016. Importowane naczynia szklane w Chinach w I tysiącleciu n.e. Archeologia Polski 61, 77-112.

Żuchowska M. and Szmoniewski B. S. 2017. Glass along the Silk Road in the first millennium AD. Archaeologia Polona 55, 161-188.

How to Cite
Szmoniewski, B. S. (2020). Roman and Early Byzantine finds from Japanese Archipelago – a critical survey. Sprawozdania Archeologiczne, 72(2).