In the last post about the 7 Colors of the Ancient World, we discussed the enigmatic Egyptian Blue. Yet again, we’ll be taking you a few millennia back to look at the historical colors used by ancient societies. In this article, we’re deep diving into the color of royalty and the elites, Tyrian Purple!
What is Tyrian Purple?
“Tyrian” means that it originated in the independent city-state of Tyre of the ancient Phoenician civilization. In present day geography, the city of Tyre is now under the country of Lebanon. Established at around 2,750 BC, Tyre is considered to be one of the oldest, continuously inhabited cities in the world. Because of this, the whole city has officially become a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.
Tyrian Purple, also called “Royal Purple” or “Imperial Purple,” was a reddish-purple natural dye. A natural dye means that the colorants present were derived from plants, minerals, or, in this case, invertebrates. We’ll get to that in just a bit.
Considered as one of the most expensive dyes to make during the Bronze Age, being able to use Tyrian Purple was a status symbol among civilizations at the time. In ancient Rome, the Romans created a sumptuary law that forbade common people to have any Tyrian Purple colors in their garments. The law only gave the upper echelon of society permission to wear this specific dye. Senators and generals walked around city wearing white togas with outlines of purple, while a Caesar named Julius sported an all-Tyrian Purple Toga.
How was Tyrian Purple produced and why is it so expensive?
As mentioned, Tyrian Purple was a natural dye that is extracted from invertebrates. In this case, the Phoenicians obtained the coveted Tyrian Purple base from a certain species of predatory sea snails called the spiny dye-murex (Bolinus Brandaris).
When aggravated, the spiny dye-murex snail secretes a mucus as a part of its defense mechanism against potential predators. This mucus, when exposed to the elements, changes into the iconic Tyrian Purple hue. According to some studies, it took an estimated 10,000 shellfish to produce 1 to 1.50 grams of the expensive dye.
Phoenician workers harvested large amounts of murex snails each day. These were then tossed in huge vats and left out to dry under the scorching hot sun to decompose. The stench from this process was so overwhelming that it actually made it into ancient writings, explaining why there was a 14 kilometer distance between the city of Tyre and the Tyrian Purple production facility.
The recipe for Tyrian Purple called for thousands of sun-dried, nearly decomposed shellfish glands mixed with salt, which was then boiled in containers until the correct hue is achieved. Cloth fibers are then dipped into the mixture before manufacturing them into wearable garments.
According to the 301 AD Edict on Maximum Prices by the Roman Emperor Diocletian, a Roman pound (about 327 grams) of purple-dyed, unprocessed silk will set you back around 150,000 denarii or Roman silver coins. To put this into perspective, an average blue-collar worker at that time got paid around 20-25 denarii.
Live in Purple!
With today’s technology, there’s no longer a need to harvest poor snails from the sea just to dye a piece of cloth or to paint your walls.
When used in your living space, deep purple hues can imbibe a creative atmosphere that encourages imagination. Use it in spaces such as home offices and maker’s spaces.
Lighter shades of purple like lavender, on the other hand, give off a spiritual and relaxing vibe. These airy hues are perfect for quiet spaces intended for meditation or journaling.
These colors can be mixed in the base of Virtuoso™ Silk Touch™. It’s a luxurious matte interior paint with Easy Clean Technology that makes your walls feel and look like they’ve been created for Caesar himself.
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