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  • Titill er á ensku Purple Murex Dye in Antiquity
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  • Útdráttur er á ensku

    Of all colours in antiquity the colour purple was the most valued. Purple dyes are obtained from several marine shellfish of the Muricidae and Thaisidae families, but Tyrian or Royal Purple from Bolinus brandaris, Hexaplex trunculus, and Stramonita haemastoma were the most highly prized.
    This paper will outline the development and significance of murex purple-dyeing in various periods of history, beginning with the earliest archaeological evidence during the Aegean Bronze Age and ending with an outlook to purple-dyeing alternatives used by the Anglo-Saxons.
    The technology of purple-dye production is usually accredited to the Minoans where it was a vital part of the palace economy. The earliest evidence for murex purple-dyeing though dates to the Mediterranean Bronze Age. The Phoenicians along the coast of the Levant perfected the art and were able to produce various grades and shades of purple of legendary quality, a process described in some detail by Pliny.
    Purple took on a new dimension during the Roman Empire, where it now became reserved for the emperors and upper classes of society. An example of the ceremonial display of power is the performance of adoratio purpurae as a sign of formalized worship of the Emperor. Class distinctions were rigidly enforced by a succession of sumptuary laws and by economic measures like Diocletian’s Edict on Maximum Prices. Two historically attested examples of the consequences for the real or alleged use of purple, as related by the historian Ammianus Marcellinus, round up this chapter.
    The paper ends with an outlook on how the quest for the colour purple was pursued in a part of Europe far away from the purple-dye centres of the Mediterranean. From written and archaeological sources we learn that in Ireland, in the absence of murex snails, its northern cousin the dog whelk, nucella lapillus, was used in the eigth century to illuminate parchment manuscripts. Even though the purple-dyeing industry with dog whelk of the Anglo-Saxons was on a small scale only, the esteem for purple was undiminished, as we can see by The Venerable Bede’s praise of the most beautiful red colour with all the properties that dyers dream of, i.e. resistance to light, water and ageing.

  • 4.12.2013

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