Saturday, 6 February 2021

Tyrian Purple

The ultimate status symbol in Ancient Rome was a set of robes died Tyrian purple. This colour, named for Tyre, its place of origin, was made from the Hexaplex trunculus snail. It took 13,000 snails to produce just 28 ml of dye, enough for the trim on one garment. In Republican Rome only the wealthiest men, the equites, were allowed to wear it, but in Imperial Rome it was restricted to just the Emperor, as a symbol of power.
Tyrian purple may first have been used by the ancient Phoenicians as early as 1570 BC. The dye was greatly prized in antiquity because the colour did not easily fade, but instead became brighter with weathering and sunlight. Its significance is such that the name Phoenicia means 'land of purple.' It came in various shades, the most prized being that of "blackish clotted blood".

True Tyrian purple, like most high-chroma pigments, cannot be accurately displayed on a computer display.
A Tunisian man has pieced together a secret linked to ancient emperors: how to make a prized purple dye using the guts of a sea snail. No historical documents clearly detail the production methods used. Production of the dye was among the main sources of wealth for the ancient Phoenicians, and then for the Carthaginian and Roman empires. Whole economies depended upon it's production.

Even today the dye can cost $2,800 per gram from some European traders, and prices can reach up to $4,000. To obtain one gram of pure purple dye, 100 kg of the ill smelling murex need to be shelled.