Small hand blown glass medicinal bottles have been in use for nearly 2,000 years. The earliest ones were the Roman "unguentaria", sometimes called "teardrop bottles", seen on the right. These were used by the Romans for fragrant oils used in medicines, perfumes, and cooking. They were made by the thousand from the end of the first century A.D. (when glass blowing was first invented) to around 500 A.D.
The Romans were obsessively enthusiastic about perfumed oils. Medical texts by Pliny the Elder, Dioscorides, and Galen, amongst others, refer frequently to prescriptions containing imported spices such as frankincense and myrrh as well as local ones like saffron. There are many Roman texts which criticise the excess expenditure on perfumes for cosmetic and medical use, and it was one of the major drains on Roman coffers by Nero's days.
On the other hand, it was all good news for the glassmakers. They built their glassworks often in the same districts as the perfumiers, and there was a constant demand for their products throughout the Roman empire. The two vials at centre front of the picture above were the simplest to make, and most common type found during the late 1st century A.D. and the early 2nd century A.D. The skilled glass worker would blow a tiny gather of glass into a bulb, pull the neck with his tools to elongate it, and then shear the vial from the blow pipe leaving a simple flared top. The shapes become more complex in later centuries.