In the autumn of
a trade mission heavily laden with gifts headed east from
The great duke of Holstein was sending an ambassador to Moscow
to request the czar’s permission for travel rights along the . Volga
River Holstein was the northernmost tip of
the Holy Roman Empire, in many ways more closely tied to Scandinavia than to their Habsburg overlords.
This expedition was part of an attempt to establish an inland silk-trade route
between Europe and the Orient. Such a route would eliminate
the circumnavigation of Africa, shortening the trip and
reducing risk. After several years and initial high hopes, it became clear that
the effort was doomed to failure. Czar Michael I of Russia
was enthusiastic about the project, but at the southern end of the route, the king
of Persia was
not so receptive. Nevertheless, the expedition did become famous for a
different reason: a written account of the adventures of the diplomats.
Upon the delegation’s return to
their secretary Adam Olearius (1599-1671) published a book that chronicled
their travels.  As a mathematician, astronomer and general polymath, Olearius
provides an uncommon perspective of the various cultures, practices and technologies
encountered. Ultimately, he was appointed royal librarian and keeper of the
duke’s cabinet of curiosities. The book proved so popular that more
comprehensive editions soon followed, adding the contemporary accounts of another
traveler, Johann Albrecht von Mandelslo. 
The adventures described have no particular focus on glass, yet this and related subjects were discussed in a number of different passages, giving us a unique insight into the material’s place in those societies.
In August of 1634, the group arrived in
Having been granted audience with the czar, Olearius describes the procession
of the entourage and enumerates a long list of the gifts they brought. Among
them was “a great looking-glass, being an ell and a quarter high and half an
ell broad, in an ebony frame, with boughs and fruits carv'd thereon in silver,
carried by two Muscovites.”  An ‘ell’ was the northern european equivalent
of a cubit or about 25 inches,
so the mirror measured about 12
inches wide by 30
inches tall, not enormous by current standards, but
quite an achievement in the seventeenth century. Glass workers would have to
blow a large cylindrical bubble, cut it open and lay it flat on a polished
marble surface. To be usable, the sheet of glass would have to be made without
waves or defects and it would have to be cooled slowly, over a period of many
hours in order not to form cracks. Silvering the back was a whole other ordeal
performed by an artisan schooled in alchemy.
Speaking of the chemical arts, gifts from the duke of Holstein to the czar of Russia also included “an ebony cabinet, garnish'd with gold, like a little apothecaries shop, with its boxes and vials of gold, enrich'd with precious stones, full of several excellent chymical extractions, carried by two Muscovites” 
Olearius put on a demonstration of optics for some locals. “I shew’d them upon
a wall of an obscure chamber, through a little hole I had made in the shutter
of the window, by means of a piece of glass polish’d and cut for optics, all
was done in the street, and men walking upon their heads: This wrought such an
effect in them, that they could never after be otherwise persuaded than that I
held a correspondence with the devil.”  Here he is describing a ‘camera obscura’ in which scenes from
outside are projected upside-down onto the wall of a darkened room.
A couple of years later, after a return to
to ratify a treaty with the czar, the delegation arrived in Persia.
They were treated to a sumptuous meal by the king’s chancellor. “The walls were
all set about with looking-glasses, to the number of above two hundred, of all
sizes. So that when a man stood in the midst of the hall, he might see himself
of all sides. We were told that in the king’s palace, in the apartment of his
wives, there is also a hall done all about with looking-glasses, but far
greater and much fairer than this.” 
“For the teaching of astronomy they have neither sphere nor globe, insomuch that they were not little astonished to see in my hands a thing which is so common in
Europe. I asked them whether they had ever seen
any such before. They told me they had not, but said that there was heretofore
in a very fair globe which they call ‘felek’,
but that it was lost during the wars between them and the Turks. They haply
meant that which Sapor, king of Persia, had caused to be made of glass, so
large, that he could sit in the center of it, and observe the motions of the
stars and must no doubt be like that of Archimedes, where of Claudian speaks in
the Epigram which begins thus: Jupiter in parvo cum cerneret aehera vitro.”  Persia
Olearius goes on to describe the Persian army in some detail, including this account of an early form of chemical warfare. “At the siege of
in the year 1633, they had the invention of casting into the place with their
arrows, small glasses full of poison, which so infected the air that the
garrison was extremely incommodated thereby and made incapable of handling
their arms for the defense of the place.” 
In 1637, near
he describes a royal tomb “adorn’d all about with glass of all sorts of colors,
which are preserved by iron grates.”  And in the same area, Iran
“At Kimas, in the province of Kilan, there was one of these mountebanks, who having found out the trick of setting cotton on fire by means of a crystal cut in half-round and held in the sun like a burning-glass, would have people persuaded that by operation, which he affirmed to be supernatural, that he was of the kindred of Mohammed. After our return to Holstein, I shew’d the Persians, whom Schach-Sefi [king of Persia] sent thither, that it was the easiest thing in the world to get fire from the sun, and I lighted paper in the very depth of winter by means of a crystal full of cold water, or a piece of ice, which I had made half round in a pewter dish. They were astonish’d at it, and said, that if I had done as much in
, I should have pass’d there for either a
great saint, or a sorcerer.”  Persia
As an addendum, in later editions of Olearius’ book, the recollections of Johan Albrecht de Mandelslo (1616–1644) were added. He accompanied an unrelated trade mission to
, and then split
from his group to continue touring the region. He traveled through Isfahan,
and then down the African coast. In 1639, the German traveler passed through Madagascar.
He commented on the inferior quality of European glass trade-beads, compared to
those of India,
which he acquired earlier in the trip.
“The glass-bracelets, beads and agates, we had brought from the
Indies [ ] were incomparably beyond what they were laden with out of India Europe; so that it was resolved ours should not be produced, till the others
were sold. By this means, we bought every day four oxen for forty pair of glass
bracelets, which the inhabitants call ‘rangus’; a sheep for two, and a calf for
three ‘rangus’; and for a brass ring, ten or twelve inches about, a man might
have an ox worth here six or seven pound.” 
Much has been made of the use of glass trade-beads by Europeans around the world.
and along the trade routes of the Indian Ocean, European
traders were fairly late to the party. For a thousand years earlier,  beads
had been used as the currency of choice among disparate cultures from Indonesia
and China to India to Africa who did business with each other. The above
quote from Mandelslo’s diary provides a fascinating firsthand account of transactions
with beads. The passage also hints at the superior quality of Indian glass
beads. Today, glass beadmaking continues on an industrial scale there, and the
glass bracelet industry still survives, notably in Firozabad,
 Adam Olearius: Beschreibung der muscowitischen und persischen Reise, (
 Adam Olearius, John Davies, Johann Albrecht von Mandelslo, Philipp Crusius, Otto Brüggemann: The Voyages and Travells of the Ambassadors Sent by Frederick Duke of
Holstein, to the Great Duke of Muscovy, and the King of ... ( Persia London:
John Starkey, and Thomas Basset, 1669).
 Ibid, p. 11.
 Ibid, p. 58.
 Ibid, p. 212-213.
 Ibid, p.252. Jupiter in parvo quum cerneret æthera vitro [When Jove a heav’n of small glass did behold,] see Henry Vaughan: Silex scintillan, Hermetical physick, Thalia redivava, Translations, Pious thoughts and ejaculations. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1914) v. 2, p.635.
 Ibid, p. 271.
 Ibid, p 182.
 Ibid, p. 280-281.
 Ibid, p.204.
 For example warring states beads in
 Carla Klehm has a nice post on the subject of trade beads used around the
Indian Ocean; see “Trade Tales and
Tiny Trails: Glass Beads in the Kalahari Desert” in The Appendix, Jan. 2014, v. 2, n. 1. http://theappendix.net/issues/2014/1/trade-tales-and-tiny-trails-glass-beads-in-the-kalahari-desert