( Advertisement )

The purple colour

August 24, 2012, 15h50
The Murex is often associated with Lebanon’s history and patrimony. We know that we may forge the purple of this shellfish, which is a bright tint that made the Phoenician’s fortune. How was it discovered? How can we forge from this mollusk a so vivid coloring agent? Return to the murex exploitation history; between myth and reality.
Letter of Huram. King of Tyre to Salomon* « Now I have sent a skilled man, endued with understanding, Huram Abi, the son of a woman of the daughter of Danand his father was a man of Tyre. He is trained to work in gold, silver, bronze, iron, stone and wood, and in purple, blue, and crimson fabrics and fine linen » (Jerusalem Bible,Paris,1955,the Book of Chronicles). It was on the Phoenician coasts where the purple colour was discovered in 1400 before JC. Then, it was developed on the entire Lebanese littoral, but it is in Tyre where its exploitation knew an international success.

A legend tells that purple was discovered by the god Melqart-Heracles: when he went for a stroll on the Phoenician coast with the nymph Tyros. His dog discovered a shellfish, which is the murex, and bit it, and then its jaws turn in a glaring color, unknown at that time. Then, seduced by the color, the nymph asked the god to offer her an article of clothing with the same color. So, Melqart tinted a tunic for the nymph using a large number of murexes.

This legend may be telling the core of reality: Politician and writer, Cassiodore (between 485 – 580) wrote that the discovery of this shellfish traces back to a dog: while the animal was having, by the seaside, a delicious meal of these mollusks, its teeth became red which intrigued a group of Phoenician fishermen. Thus, the Phoenicians knew that the murex contains a colorant liquid that may be used to color wool.

So, this substance was used to tint fabrics (wool, cotton, linen) and leathers. The shellfishes were collected from the sea in the beginning of the spring during the breeding time and before the laying season. Then, the shellfishes were transported to the sea bank, transferred in large tanks, drawn out of their shells and left to decay. Later, they were crushed in order to extract the colored pigmentations. After three days, the resultant liquid was mixed with sea salt. Ten days later, the dye floated up to the surface. The different shades were produced by diluting the dye with the sea water or by exposing it to air and light: the colorant oxidation converted it to purplish red.

Before Tyre and Sidon the murex was used in Ogarit (a kingdom at the north of the actual Syria). But mainly it is Tyre who made the reputation of the purple color, thanks to the precision of its technical processes, either about the colorant extraction or about the methods of tinting the fabrics. Thanks to their good quality, the Phoenician weavers’ products had an international economic prestige (the Tyrien purple was mentioned in texts as varied as the Old Testament and Homer’s). Naturally, if some fabrics were very expensive, they could produce some cheaper materials, particularly by tinting the materials just one time with the dye. Anyway, the Phoenician ships loaded of tinted articles of clothing and fabrics were always waited for in the entire world. The importance of this production drove the Tyriens to make the murex as the emblem of their city and to illustrate it on their currency.

Later, the Romans chose the purple as the symbol of power: For example, the toga of a victorious general was purple. Recently, to wear purple clothes means an adherence to a high social class.
#Heritage, #patrimony
Share your opinion
( Advertisement )
( Advertisement )
( Advertisement )
( Advertisement )
( Advertisement )
© COPYRIGHT 2020 By Proximity Agency