One of the most useful things we have that we take for granted is our eyewear. Even people with 20-20 vision have acknowledged its importance, whether it’s your typical glasses or the differently coloured contact lenses. But did you know that eyewear has been around since the 1st century? And while some of these ancient spectacles are not as stylish as your favourite contact lens, it does serve its purpose of helping its user see better.
Below are some examples of the eyewear used during ancient times, some of them still in use today in some way.
Emerald Corrective Lenses
This is the earliest known eyewear, dating back to the Roman Emperor Nero’s reign (54 to 68 A.D.). It was said that the emperor watched the gladiatorial games using these lenses. Whether or not they are set in frames is unknown. Additionally, Seneca the Younger, one of Nero’s tutors, wrote on how to magnify letters using a water-filled sphere or glass. This invention was possibly used by the emperor as well.
Smoky Quartz Sunglasses
This is the oldest known pair of sunglasses in the world, originating from China during the 12th century. While it cannot serve as corrective lenses, it does protect the eyes from sunlight glare to some degree. Various Imperial Chinese courts are also known to wear crystal sunglasses to conceal their faces from witnesses they wish to interrogate. This suggests the possibility that the eyewear is set in some sort of frames and can be used without using hands to hold it in place.
Medieval Reading Stone
Reading stones were first developed during the 8th century, when Abbas Ibn Firnas created the process of making glass from sand. This lens is approximately hemispherical in shape and is made from clear glass. Some reading stones are reported to be manufactured from quartz and beryl. It’s usually placed on top of the text to magnify the letters. It is one of the most common corrective lenses during medieval times. Even when it’s effectively replaced by the modern spectacles, it’s still in use today in the form of rod-shaped magnifiers, which is flat on one side and can magnify one of text at a time, and the rectangular Fresnel lens, which can be placed over an entire page.
This is one of the earliest forms of paired eyeglasses, somewhat similar to the modern eyeglasses we know today. There are only two things about rivet spectacles that make it different. First is that the pair of lenses is attached to a frame and strap that is riveted, allowing its users to adjust the distance between pupils. Second is that the spectacles have no earpieces; you have to hold it to use it.
Another early for of paired eyeglasses, the slit bridge was first used during the 15th century. It would even make a comeback during the 1800s and the 1900s as the pince-nez. Although its similar in form with the rivet spectacles, the slit-bridge eyewear is unique and better in its own way. Its slit bridges allow its users to wear it on their nose bridge so hey, hands-free!
The fact that there are various types of eyewear during ancient times only proves that optical problem is a serious issue throughout history. Whoever invented the first eyeglasses is truly a saint.