The latest series of essays from Fjordman tracks the development of optics in the West and in the Islamic world. Here is part 2 of his multi-part history of optics. Part one ran over at Jihad watch here.
We are such sticklers for historical accuracy over here at Atlas, how delicious we should continue the series here.
The History of Optics Part II Fjordman
Cutting tools made of obsidian a natural form of volcanic glass, have been employed since prehistoric times and were extensively used by Mesoamerican cultures as late as the sixteenth century AD (they knew neither metal tools nor man-made glass). We do not know exactly where or when glass was first artificially created. Some say it happened after 3000 BC, others say it happened earlier than this, maybe by accident at first and perhaps in more than one place. What we do know is that the region we recognize as the Middle East, stretching from Mesopotamia via the Levant to Egypt, played a crucial role in the development of this material for several millennia. Today we primarily think of glass as clear and transparent, but the earliest types of man-made glass were colored and non-transparent. Glass was long regarded as an alternative to pottery or as a way of making replicas of opaque precious stones, to glaze pottery, for jewelry and to make small containers, mainly for liquids.
By the mid-second millennium BC artisans found that incorporating calcium oxide reduced the solubility of the glass. During this period, the Late Bronze Age, there was a vast increase in the number of practical metal tools, and eventually iron came into regular use. The parallel between the increasing use of metal and of glass is probably not coincidental, as both materials are utilized through the controlled use of high temperatures. Anthony Harding writes in The Oxford Illustrated History of Prehistoric Europe, page 314-315:
"Beads of primitive glass (so-called 'faience', actually a glass-like substance fired to a rather low temperature) had been known since the Early Bronze Age, but it was only rarely that the higher firing temperature necessary for the formation of true glass was achieved. When this did happen, practically the only objects created were beads, through in Egypt and the Near East elaborate objects such as vessels and various ornaments were being produced. The discovery of partially and fully formed glass beads, crucibles with glass adhering, and partly fused glass raw materials at Frattesina in the Po valley in northern Italy is of great importance, the more so as the analytical composition of the glass demonstrates that the material is of a local composition type and not brought in by Near Eastern traders….movement of glass is now a well-established phenomenon in the Bronze Age. Production in the barbarian world was on the small scale. True, certain more highly decorated forms were created, as the eye beads and those with twists of different colours (such as the 'Pile dwelling beads' of Switzerland) demonstrate."
The global center of glassmaking was without doubt the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean, especially the Levant, i.e. present-day Syria, Lebanon and Israel. Large-scale glass factories eventually began operating in Egypt, from the Hellenistic era with Alexandria as one of several centers. The glass of the early civilizations was molded, not blown. It was generally cloudy and blue and was a luxury item as rare as precious stones. Glass didn't become a product available to the masses until the invention of glassblowing, which happened after ca. 50 BC, most likely somewhere in Syria or the Levant. This region was by then a part of the emerging Roman Empire, which contributed greatly to the expansion of glassmaking. Alan Macfarlane and Gerry Martin explain in their fascinating book Glass: A World History,which is about the social and cultural history of glass more than about how to make a vase in a particular shape and color. Page 14:
"With the development of glass blowing it was possible to produce glass vessels cheaply and in large quantities. Glass was such a versatile, clean and beautiful substance that fine pieces became highly priced and symbols of wealth. Its success was so great that it began to undermine its main competitor, ceramics. Glass was principally used for containers of various kinds: dishes, bottles, jugs, cups, plates, spoons, even lamps and inkwells. It was also used for pavements, for coating walls, for forcing frames for seedlings, and even for drainpipes. It is no exaggeration to say that glass was used for a wider range of objects than at any other time in history, including the present. It was especially appreciated for the way it enhanced the attractiveness of the favourite Roman drink, wine. In order to appreciate the colours of wine it was necessary to see through the glass. Thus another development, with great implications for the future, was the realisation that clear glass was both useful and beautiful. In all civilisations up to Rome, and in all other civilisations outside western Eurasia, glass was chiefly valued in its coloured and opaque forms, particularly as an imitation of precious stones."
The Romans did not, however, use glass for mirrors and lenses or other optical instruments to any great extent. This was the product of medieval and early modern European civilization. Glass as a tool for obtaining reliable knowledge, in optics or in chemical equipment, was not much developed in Antiquity, but the Romans laid the foundations for later uses of glass.
It is worth pondering the connection between glass and wine. As indicated above, the extensive manufacture of glass, and of clear glass in particular, was mainly concentrated in the western parts of Eurasia, the Middle East, the Mediterranean region and Europe. This also happens to be the region where grape wine was widely grown and – coincidental or not – the region which had arguably the most sophisticated optical traditions in the world by medieval times. In our own time, excellent wines are grown in South America, in Argentina and Chile, in California in North America, in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. In all of these cases the production of wine was historically an extension of the European wine- and beer-making traditions. No wine was grown either in the Americas or in Australasia before the European colonial expansion in the early modern era. Alcoholic beverages were consumed in sub-Saharan Africa and pre-Columbian America but based on other substances, cacao beans, maize, potatoes etc. Likewise, in East Asia fermented beverages made from grapes were not totally unknown, but never widely consumed until modern times. Scholar Patrick E. McGovern elaborates in Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture:
"The wild Eurasian grapevine has a range that extends over 6000 kilometers from east to west, from Central Asia to Spain, and some 1300 kilometers from north to south, from the Crimea to Northwest Africa….The plasticity of the plant and the inventiveness of humans might appear to argue for multiple domestications. But, if there was more than one domestication event, how does one account for the archaeological and historical evidence that the earliest wine was made in the upland, northern parts of the Near East? From there, according to the best substantiated scenario, it gradually spread to adjacent regions such as Egypt and Lower Mesopotamia (ca. 3500-3000 B.C.). Somewhat later (by 2200 B.C.), it was being enjoyed on Crete. Inexorably, the elixir of the ancient world made its way in temporal succession westward to Rome and its colonies and up the major rivers into Europe. From there, the prolific Eurasian grapevine spread to the New World, where it continues to intertwine itself with emerging economies."
Although there is disagreement over the issue, some scholars claim that the earliest "wine culture" in the world emerged in Transcaucasia between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, comprising modern Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The ancient Sumerians imported wine to southern Mesopotamia from the Zagros Mountains in Iran. Thousands of wine jars were deposited in the tombs of the first pharaohs of Egypt at Saqqara (Memphis) and Abydos before 3000 BC. The jars appear to have been imported from Southern Palestine and the Levant. Although both the Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations consumed beer on an everyday basis, the most prestigious beverage was still wine. McGovern, page 202:
"The city-states of Dor, Tyre, Sarepta, Sidon, Berytus (modern Beirut), Byblos, Tripoli, and Arad hugged the shoreline, and from their well-protected harbors, the Phoenician ships carried wine, their famous textiles dyed purple, and other goods to Egypt, Greece, the far western isles, and beyond the 'Pillars of Hercules' (Gibraltar) to Cornwall and the west coast of Africa. The Phoenicians and their ancestors before them, the Canaanites, deserved their fame as the seafarers of the ancient world: beyond transporting valuable physical commodities from place to place, they were responsible for transmitting the alphabet, new arts and technologies, and the ideology of a 'wine culture' throughout the Mediterranean. Even the opponents of 'Canaanite' culture made an exception when it came to their wine. Hosea, the eighth-century B.C. Israelite prophet, urged his listeners to return to Yahweh, so that 'they will blossom as the vine, [and] their fragrance will be like the wine of Lebanon' (14:7)."
The first alphabetic scripts may have been inspired by the Egyptian writing system, which included a set of hieroglyphs for single consonants. The letter "A" came from a pictogram of an ox head (the Semitic word for "ox" was aleph), the drawing of a house (the Semitic word for "house" was baytu) represented the sound "B" etc. A cuneiform alphabet existed in the Syrian city of Ugarit ca. 1500-1300 BC, but this version later died out. A modified version of the early alphabet was used for the Semitic languages Hebrew and Aramaic from about the ninth century BC. After the Persians adopted the use of Aramaic in their vast Empire, the concept of the alphabet spread to the Indian subcontinent and from there on to Southeast Asia and other regions of Asia. The Phoenicians exported their Semitic alphabet to the Greeks and eventually the Romans. In the modern era, the Roman/Latin alphabet was then brought by Europeans to the rest of the world. Consequently, all peoples in the world today, except those who use Chinese characters, can ultimately trace their script back to a Semitic-speaking people inspired by a limited number of Egyptian hieroglyphs in the second millennium BC.
Indo-European languages such as Greek and Latin contain more vowels than Semitic ones, so the Greeks invented signs for vowels when they adopted the Phoenician consonantal alphabet. This new script was intimately associated with, and spread together with, wine culture. Some of the earliest known examples of Greek alphabetic writing are scratched onto wine jugs, and the earliest preserved examples of the Etruscan and Roman alphabets are inscriptions on drinking cups and wine containers. The Phoenicians competed with and taught the Greeks, and brought wine to some regions of Spain, Portugal and France, many of the Mediterranean islands as well as Carthage in North Africa. Patrick E. McGovern in Ancient Wine, page 203:
"The Phoenicians competed with another wine-loving people, the Greeks, as both groups plied their ships throughout the Mediterranean and traded their goods. Together, they carved up the world marketplace and planted vineyards as they went. Oenotria ('the land of trained vines'), now Calabria in the toe of southern Italy, illustrates how seriously the Greeks took their task of promoting the 'culture of the vine and wine' elsewhere. By establishing the domesticated grapevine on foreign soil – whether in the Black Sea or at Messenia in eastern Sicily – they stimulated and were better able to supply local demand. Some regions, such as the coastline extending from ancient Etruria up to Massalia (Marseilles), might be contested. The Etruscans, the native Italic peoples, were more than willing to learn about viniculture from the Phoenicians or the Lydians, but they also wanted and got a role in supplying wine to trans-Alpine Burgundy."
The principal means for storing and transporting wine, grains, olive oil and other commodities in Antiquity were ceramic amphoras, but the manufacture of glass products as drinking vessels gradually expanded. Hugh Johnson in The Story of Wine, page 53:
"Wine was first drunk from pottery, occasionally and ceremonially from gold, but by as early as the late Bronze Age, about 1500 BC, also from glass. The technique of firing a glassy or 'vitreous' substance onto solid objects was discovered in about 4000 BC. In about 1500 BC the idea of a hollow glass vessel appeared – possibly in Egypt. It was made by dipping a cloth bag of sand into a crucible of molten glass, then modelling it by rolling it on a marver, a flat stone bench, then when the glass had cooled, emptying out the sand. The technique was known all over the Near East until about 1200 BC, then apparently lost in the first 'Dark Age', to re-emerge in the eighth century BC, with Egypt, Phoenicia, and Syria as glassmaking centres, but also with workshops in Italy and Celtic Europe. The idea of glassblowing originated in Syria in the first century BC. It spread rapidly around the Roman Empire, with Syrian or Alexandrian craftsmen setting up workshops, especially in Italy, Gaul, and the Rhineland. Glassmaking survived the fall of the Empire, with the Rhineland as a continuing centre….Wine glasses remained objects of luxury until the eighteenth century."
An urban, literate money economy with wine and theater was established by the Greeks and popularized by the Romans. It is no exaggeration to say that for the Romans, wine was civilization. Wine was considered a daily necessity and viticulture was spread to every part of the Empire. Most of present-day Germany never became a part of the Roman Empire after Roman troops suffered a devastating defeat to an alliance of Germanic tribes in the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in AD 9, which established the Rhine as the lasting border of the Empire, but Germany's oldest city, Trier, was founded as a Roman garrison next to the river Moselle (Mosel). The Moselle valley still produces quality wine. The city of Cologne (Köln) in the Rhineland developed as the hub of the Roman glassmaking industry in the region. Here at least, glass and wine clearly went hand in hand. It is instructive to compare this example to that of India. Egypt with its fertile Nile Valley was the grain chamber of the Roman Empire, but was also important in other ways with its connections to the Indian Ocean. Scholar David Peacock explains in The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, page 425:
"Perhaps one of the strangest and most bizarre aspects of taste among the Roman nobility was the predilection for oriental luxuries: pearls, pepper, silks, frankincense, and myrrh, as well as various other spices and exotic medicines. Egypt articulated this trade, for these goods were brought by ship across the Indian Ocean and thence to the western shores of the Red Sea. Here they were offloaded and dragged across 150 km. of desert to the Nile, whence they were floated to Alexandria and then on to Rome. India benefited from this trade, for in return it received glass, textiles, wine, grain, fine pottery, and precious metals as well as human cargoes, such as singing boys and maidens for the pleasure of Indian potentates." Glass was known in India, but mainly used for decoration. Roman wine was at least occasionally imported and it is possible that Indians imported the knowledge of glassblowing along with it, which gradually spread eastwards in Asia. Indians from the first to the fifth centuries AD made more use of glass than they had before, but then the native glass industry declined almost to the point of non-existence a thousand years later. India never became a center for winemaking, as did western Germany. That could be one of the key differences.
The founder of the Persian Empire in the sixth century BC, Cyrus the Great, was known for his love of wine. However, after the seventh century AD, a very different force came to dominate this region: Islam. The Islamic ban on the consumption of wine and alcoholic beverages was not always upheld. The ruling classes took many liberties, and some of the established vineyards, often run by non-Muslims, managed to survive well into the Islamic era. Nevertheless, in the long run Islam greatly inhibited the ancient traditions of beer- and winemaking in this region. The Turks of the Ottoman Empire were the strictest of all. In contrast, the Christian Church and its network of monasteries in Europe often encouraged the production of beer and wine. Norman Davies tells the tale in Europe: A History, page 77:
"Commercial wine-growing in medieval Europe was pioneered by the Benedictines at Château-Prieuré in the Bordeaux region, and at locations such as the Clos Vougeot on the Côte de Beaune in Burgundy. The Cluniacs on the Côte d'Or near Macon, and the Cistercians at Nuits St Georges, extended the tradition. According to Froissart, England's possession of Bordeaux demanded a fleet of 300 vessels to carry the vintage home. Bénédictine (1534) from the Abbey of Fécamp, and Chartreuse (1604) from the Charterhouse in Dauphiné, pioneered the art of fortified wine. Europe's wine zone cuts the Peninsula in two. Its northern reaches pass along a line stretching from the Loire, through Champagne to the Mosel and the Rhineland, and thence eastwards to the slopes of the Danube, and on to Moldavia and Crimea. There are very few wine-growing districts which did not once belong to the Roman Empire. Balkan wines in Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Greece, inhibited by the anti-alcoholic Ottomans, are every bit as ancient as those of Spain, Italy, or France."
Today we see buildings with glass windows in every city in the world, yet most people don't know that the Romans were the first to make glass windows. Their legacy of glassmaking survived the fall of the Empire (although in diminished quantities) and was carried in different directions. Under the influence of Christianity and the Roman Church, the introduction of glazed windows and the development of painted and stained glass manufacture was one of the most decorative uses. It is again interesting to notice how glassmaking and winemaking progressed together under the influence of the Benedictines and others. Here is a quote from the book Glass: A World History by Alan Macfarlane and Gerry Martin, page 20:
"There are references to such windows from fifth century France at Tours, and a little later from north-east England, in Sunderland, followed by developments at Monkwearmouth, and in the far north at Jarrow dating to the period between 682 and c.870. By AD 1000 painted glass is mentioned quite frequently in church records, for example in those of the first Benedictine Monastery at Monte Cassino in 1066. It was the Benedictine order in particular that gave the impetus for window glass. It was they who saw the use of glass as a way of glorifying God through their involvement in its actual production in their monasteries, injecting huge amounts of skill and money into its development. The Benedictines were, in many ways, the transmitters of the great Roman legacy. The particular emphasis on window glass would lead into one of the most powerful forces behind the extraordinary explosion of glass manufacture from the twelfth century."
Often cited as the first Gothic construction, the choir of the Abbey of Saint-Denis, 1140-44, gives an important place to stained glass. In the twelfth century, monks were still the elite class of society in Europe, although urbanization was proceeding rapidly. This story is explored in the book The History of Stained Glass by Virginia Chieffo Raguin, page 63:
"The windows they commissioned reflected not only their erudition but also their method of prayer: gathering several times a day in the choir area of the church to pray communally, primarily by singing psalms. The monks remained in the presence of the works of art they set in these spaces. With the construction of his abbey's new choir, Abbot Suger (1081-1155) of Saint-Denis installed a series of windows exemplary of monastic spirituality and twelfth-century visual thinking. Suger, a man of unusual determination and management skills, was a trusted advisor of Louis VII, who reigned from 1137 to 1180. Responding to the call of Bernard of Clairvaux, Louis embarked on the unsuccessful Second Crusade, 1147-49, leaving Suger to act as regent of France in his absence. The abbot's influence with the monarchy consolidated Saint-Denis's place as the site of burial for French kings and the repository of the regalia – crown, sceptre, spurs, and other ceremonial objects – of coronation (coronations themselves, however, were held in the cathedral of Reims). Suger rebuilt the eastern and western ends of the church around 1141-44, using revolutionary vaulting and construction techniques that proclaimed the new Gothic style."
Stained glass developed as a major art form in late medieval Europe and was often used in churches such as Chartres Cathedral and Reims Cathedral in France, Cologne Cathedral in Germany, York Minster in England, Florence Cathedral in Italy and many others. Glass painting, what the Germans call Glasmalerei, gave artists the opportunity to construct large-scale imagery using light, color and line. With stained glass, unlike other graphic media, the artist must be sensitive to translucency as well as form. Raguin, page 10:
"The importance of stained glass and gems may be explained by a prevailing attitude toward light as a metaphor in premodern Europe. In the Old Testament light is associated with good, and darkness with God's displeasure. The very first verses of Genesis announce to the reader that 'the earth was void and empty, and darkness was upon the face of the deep', then God created light and 'saw the light, that it was good' (Genesis 1:2-3). Light was associated with knowledge and power, 'the brightness of eternal light, and the unspotted mirror of God's majesty' (Wisdom 7:26). Light also functioned as a symbol of God's protection."
Syria and Egypt, and to some extent Iran and Iraq, remained important glassmaking regions for some centuries into the Islamic period, and created colorful, decorated glass which was exported to other countries. There was some transfer of glassmaking technology from Syria to Venice in medieval times. Glass was also used for scientific instruments in alchemy/chemistry. Mosque lanterns were the closest equivalent to the stained glass in Western European churches. Window glass was not widely made, but this could be for climatic reasons since in warmer countries it was important that air circulated in the hot season. It is clear that the Romans in Mediterranean countries knew how to make windows of glass and occasionally did so, but not to any great extent. Further developments in the manufacture of window glass happened primarily in the colder regions of northern Europe.
All the details regarding glassmaking in the Middle East during medieval times are not fully known. For instance, what effect did the ban on the consumption of wine have? Wine-glass manufacture was important in Italy for the development of fine glass. The destruction brought about by the Mongols and later by Tamerlane, while certainly significant, is sometimes overstated by those who want to blame the subsequent decline of the region on external factors alone. The truth is that some of the best work in theoretical optics, for instance by al-Farisi in Iran, happened after the Mongol conquests, as did the so-called Maragha school of astronomy. In contrast, Egypt was never conquered by the Mongols, yet despite the fact that Alhazen had written his Book of Optics there, optics did not progress any further in Egypt than it did in Iran/Iraq. Whatever the cause, the once-proud glassmaking traditions of the Middle East declined and never fully recovered. Macfarlane and Martin, page 104:
"But what may have made the European development from about 1200 onwards so much more powerful in the end, is that the thinking tools of glass – particularly lenses and prisms, spectacles and mirrors – were emphasised in a way that, at present at least, does not seem to be the case in Islamic glass-making. Double-sided lenses and spectacles, flat planes of glass (as used in Renaissance painting) and very fine mirrors (as produced in Venice) were never developed in the medieval glass traditions of Islam. Is this the crucial difference? The story after 1400 is quite briefly told. A little glass was produced in Turkey under the Ottomans, but glass technology had to be reintroduced from Venice in the later eighteenth century. There is evidence of a little glass made in Turkey in the sixteenth century and in Iran in the seventeenth century, but it was of low quality. There are other instances of minor glass manufacture, but in general there is almost no authenticated glass manufactured in the Middle East between the end of the fourteenth and the nineteenth century."
China was among the world's most advanced civilizations in weaving, metalworking and engineering, yet contributed little to the development of glassmaking. Glass was seen as an inferior substitute for precious substances, less interesting than clay, bamboo or paper. Pottery was cheaper, and with porcelain cups you could drink hot drinks without burning yourself, which was not the case with silverware. Coincidental or not, Europeans widely adopted porcelain just at the time when they started drinking hot non-alcoholic beverages, chocolate, coffee and tea. As for windows, it is clear that with good oiled paper and a warmer climate, certainly in the south, the pressure to make glass windows was largely absent in China. The houses of the Chinese peasantry were anyway not suitable for glass windows and were lit by empty gaps or paper or shell windows. Grand religious or secular buildings built out of stone to last for centuries hardly existed in China. The equivalents of the European cathedrals or noble houses were thus absent. Consequently, glassmaking was more limited in East Asia than it was in the West. Macfarlane and Martin, page 117-118:
"Much of the important development of European glass (in Venice and elsewhere) was in the making of drinking glasses, a continuation of its use in Roman times. Yet in Japan, drinking with glass seems, until the middle of the nineteenth century, to be more or less totally absent. Why? Again there are several obvious reasons. One concerns the nature of the drink. The Venetian glass was developed for the highest-status and ubiquitous cold drink – wine. In northern countries, where beer was the main drink, it was not drunk from glass, but pewter and pottery. Wine and glass seem to go together. One drinks with the eyes, as well as with the lips, and the glass enhances the effect. Certainly, if one is drinking very large quantities of hot drinks, hot tea, hot water, hot sake, then glass is a bad container. It will crack and the situation is made worse by the fact that thick glass (as was early glass) cracks more easily than thin. A second, and obviously related fact, is the development of ceramics. With such fine ceramics and wonderful pottery, who needs glass for drinking vessels? Indeed, glass is hardly needed for any other utensils."
Derk Bodde (1909–2003), one of the most prominent Western Sinologists and historians of China during the twentieth century, elaborates:
"True porcelain is distinguished from ordinary pottery or earthenware by its hardness, whiteness, smoothness, translucence when made in thin pieces, nonporousness, and bell-like sound when tapped. The plates you eat from, even heavy thick ones, have these qualities and are therefore porcelain. A flower pot, on the other hand, or the brown cookie jar kept in the pantry are not porcelain but earthenware….The first description that seems to point definitely to porcelain is that of the famous Arabic traveler, Suleyman, in his account dated 851 of travels in India and China. There he speaks of certain vases made in China out of a very fine clay, which have the transparency of glass bottles. In the centuries following Suleyman's time the southern sea route to China rose to a position of commanding importance. Over it porcelain became by all odds the major export shipped from China to the outside world. Tremendous quantities of porcelain went to Southeast Asia, including the Philippines, Indo-China, Siam, Malaya, the East Indies, Ceylon, and adjoining regions. Much porcelain went even farther, crossing the Indian Ocean and passing up the Persian Gulf to reach Persia, Syria, and Egypt."
It is possible that the invention of porcelain was itself at least partly a geological accident due to the natural presence of two key materials in China. Macfarlane and Martin, page 120-121:
"There were large deposits of kaolin and petuntse near each other. The kaolin provides the body of the object, the petuntse acts as a flux which will cause overglaze colours to vitrify. It was hence possible to make an excellent hard, dense, beautiful, translucent ceramic. Potters were using the clays that were around them and found that they produced a wonderful substance which we call 'china'. The original discovery of porcelain itself was probably the result of the accidental presence of 'natural' porcelain in China. The resulting ceramics were so desirable that Europeans spent immense fortunes on buying chinaware. The makers of such a fine substance had a high status. Meanwhile in western Europe these substances were not available, either in the same high quality or quantity….So it was a matter of luck as to where certain clays were to be found….Rome, and through her medieval Europe, opted for pottery and glass, China and Japan for ceramics and paper. Once the divergence had begun it was self-reinforcing. It became more and more difficult to change track. So if one asks why the Chinese did not develop clear glass, one should equally ask why the Romans did not make porcelain."
Porcelain probably existed by the Tang Dynasty (618–907), which is incidentally just when tea came into widespread use. The Chinese writer Lu Yu (733–804) wrote The Classic of Tea before 780 AD. Camellia sinensis occurs naturally in Burma and in the Chinese Yunnan and Sichuan provinces. Tea had been used as a medicinal herb since ancient times but became a daily drink between the fourth and ninth centuries AD, when its use spread to Japan via Buddhist monks. The elaborate Japanese tea ceremony was codified by Sen Rikyu (1522-1591) in the sixteenth century. Europeans who came to China in the early modern period quickly developed a taste for the beverage, so much so that they spread its use to regions far beyond where it had previously been enjoyed, thus globalizing a Chinese invention and in return introducing American specialties such as tomatoes, sweet potatoes, maize and tobacco to Asia. The Dutch East India Company brought tea to Europe in the seventeenth century, and the Dutch later grew tea in their colonies in Indonesia. The British promoted tea culture in India and Ceylon (Sri Lanka) in the nineteenth century, when Thomas Lipton (1848–1931) created his famous tea brand.
The date when true porcelain was first made is disputed, but it clearly existed by the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) and possibly before. The relationship between tea and porcelain in China appears to be at least as strong as the relationship between wine and glass in Europe. Mary Lou Heiss and Robert J. Heiss in The Story of Tea, page 12-13:
"Song emperor Huizong (r. 1101-1125) commanded the royal pottery works to create new tea-drinking cups. Known for his aesthetic tastes, he ushered in the creation of luxurious porcelains characterized by refined elegance, underglaze decorations, subtle etched designs, and sensuous glazes. Song porcelains were mostly monochromatic and the most popular type – Qingbai porcelain – had a bluish-white glaze. These cups not only increased tea-drinking pleasure, but they also encouraged awareness and admiration of the tea liquor itself. It was during this point in the development of tea culture that teawares began to be viewed as objects of desire and value and not just as functional tools. At one time Huizong favored deep chocolate-brown, almost black glazed teacups, streaked with fine, thin tan lines. Known as 'rabbit hair glaze,' this style became very popular as it was said that the black glaze pleasingly offset the color of the froth of the whisked tea. These dark glazed cups were favorites in Song tea competitions….This imperial desire for strong but thin vessels that could endure near-boiling liquid was the beginning of the Chinese porcelain trade that would, centuries later, influence the course of ceramics manufacturing throughout Japan and Europe."
The manufacture of porcelain became a major Chinese export industry which employed sophisticated mass-production techniques; a single piece of porcelain could pass through literally dozens of hands during manufacture. Europeans eventually made fine porcelain of their own, starting with the Germans Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus (1651–1708) and Johann Friedrich Böttger (1682-1719) and the production of Meissen porcelain from 1710, but its reinvention was directly inspired by European efforts to duplicate Chinese examples.
Chinese teahouses became important places to socialize, conduct business, play board games and gossip. Guo Danying and Wang Jianrong in The Art of Tea in China, page 84:
"Teahouses burgeoned in the Song Dynasty. In the famous painting scroll, Festival of Pure Brightness on the River by the Northern Song (960-1127) painter Zhang Zeduan, teahouses are dotted along the river flowing through the capital. Teahouses were also often the venues for performances of Yuan opera and ping tan (storytelling in the local dialect combined with ballad singing) during the Yuan Dynasty. Thus emerged the tradition of Chinese teahouses hosting small-scale theatrical performances. In the Ming and Qing dynasties, teahouses took on more diversified forms and a more expansive range of functions. Places meant for giving people a chance to quench their thirst and to taste a good beverage originally, teahouses have deviated from their original simple orientation as urban society has evolved. They have become an important socio-cultural arena, welcoming people from all walks of life."
The most common form of tea in Tang times was "tea cakes." In 1391 the Hongwu Emperor, or Taizu (1368-1398), who founded the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644) and forced the Mongols out of China, decided that making tea cakes was too time-consuming and consequently prohibited it. Loose-leaf tea then gradually replaced tea cakes, leading to a new, diversified array of processed teas such as scented tea, black tea, red tea and green tea as well as utensils more suitable for brewing loose-leaf tea, which eventually led to the invention of teapots.
So what does this have to do with optics, you say? Well, indirectly, quite a bit. In the pre-Columbian Americas, sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania, the native cultures lacked the technological know-how to make glass. This was clearly not the case with the major Asian nations, who all knew how to make glass and occasionally did so, but rarely to any great extent. The best explanation for this is that they simply didn't need it, as they had other materials at their disposal which suited their needs better. The major use for glass until a couple of hundreds years ago was for containers, but the Chinese, Japanese, Koreans and Indians had excellent containers made of clay. For everyday uses, pottery and porcelain were at least as good as glass, but not for scientific purposes. Clear glass was a superior material for use in many experiments and indispensable for making lenses to microscopes and telescopes. Glass: A World History by Alan Macfarlane and Gerry Martin, page 182:
"The use of glass for 'verroterie', that is glass beads, counters, toys and jewellery, is almost universal, at least in Eurasia, though even this was absent in the half of the historical world comprising the Americas, sub-Saharan Africa and Australasia….There was very little use of glass for vessels in India, China and Japan. Even in the Islamic territories and Russia, the use declined drastically from about the fourteenth century with the Mongol incursions. In relation to China, in particular, this use can be seen as mainly an alternative to pottery and porcelain. The great developers were the Italians, first the Romans, with their extensive use of glass, and then the Venetians with their 'cristallo'. Much of the technical improvement of glass manufacture arose from this and it is particularly associated with wine drinking. Thus we have a phenomenon much more specific in scope, finding its epicentres in Italy and Bohemia. There are various links to science here, for example the fact that the fine glass needed for the earliest microscopes was made from fragments of Venetian wine 'cristallo'. Likewise the development of tubes, retorts and measuring flasks for chemistry, as well as thermometers and barometers, developed out of this."