Tyrian purple

Tyrian purple

Tyrian purple (Greek: "polytonic|πορφύρα, porphyra", Latin: "purpura"), also known as royal purple, imperial purple or imperial dye, is a purple-red dye which was first produced by the ancient Phoenicians in the city of Tyre.

Tyrian purple was expensive: the fourth-century BC historian Theopompus reported, "Purple for dyes fetched its weight in silver at Colophon" in Asia Minor. [Theopompus, cited by Athenaeus (12:526) around 200 BC; according to Gulick, Charles Barton 1941. "Athenaeus, The Deipnosophists." Cambridge: Harvard University Press.]


The dye substance occurs naturally, but must be harvested by humans. It consists of a fresh mucous secretion from the hypobranchial gland of a medium-sized predatory sea snail, the marine gastropod "Murex brandaris", currently known as "Haustellum brandaris" (Linnaeus, 1758). This species is commonly called the spiny dye-murex, and it is a species in the family Muricidae, the murex or rock shells. The current range for this species is the "central and western Mediterranean" [Radwin, G. E. and A. D'Attilio, 1986. "Murex shells of the world. An illustrated guide to the Muricidae", p93, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, USA, 284pp incl 192 figs. & 32 pls.]

In Biblical Hebrew, which like Phoenician is a dialect of Canaanite, the Tyrian purple-red dye extracted from the "Murex brandaris" is known as "shani" שָׁנִי [ʃɔni] , but usually translated as 'scarlet'. Another dye extracted from a related sea snail, "Hexaplex trunculus", could produce a purple-blue color called "argaman" אַרְגָּמָן [argɔmɔn] (translated 'purple') when processed in shade, or a sky-blue indigo color, called "tekhelet" תְּכֵלֶת‎ [təxelɛθ] (translated 'indigo') when processed in sunlight (see "Photochemistry").

Many other species worldwide within the family Muricidae, for example "Plicopurpura pansa" (Gould, 1853), from the tropical eastern Pacific, and "Plicopurpura patula" (Linnaeus, 1758) from the Caribbean zone of the western Atlantic, can also produce a similar substance (which turns into an enduring purple dye when exposed to sunlight) and this ability has sometimes also been historically exploited by local inhabitants in the areas where these snails occur. (Some other predatory gastropods, such as some wentletraps in the family Epitoniidae, seem to also produce a similar substance, although this has not been studied or exploited commercially.)

In nature the snails use the secretion as part of their predatory behaviour and as an antimicrobial lining on egg masses.cite paper
first = Kirsten
last = Benkendorff
title = Bioactive molluscan resources and their conservation: Biological and chemical studies on the egg masses of marine molluscs
publisher = University of Wollongong
date = 1999-03
url = http://www.library.uow.edu.au/adt-NWU/public/adt-NWU20011204.154039/index.html
format = PDF
accessdate = 2008-02-25
] [Because of research by Benkendorff et al., the Tyrian purple precursor tyrindoleninone is being investigated as a potential antimicrobial agent with uses against multidrug resistant bacteria.] The snail also secretes this substance when it is poked or physically attacked by humans. Therefore the dye can be collected either by "milking" the snails, which is more labor intensive but is a renewable resource, or by collecting and then crushing the snails completely, which is destructive.

Royal blue

As well as Tyrian purple, the Phoenicians also made a purple-blue indigo dye, referred to as "royal blue" or "hyacinth purple", which was made from a closely-related species of marine snail.

The Phoenicians established an ancillary production facility on the Iles Purpuraires at Mogador, in Morocco. [C.Michael Hogan, "Mogador: Promontory Fort", The Megalithic Portal, ed. Andy Burnham, Nov 2, 2007 [http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=17926] ] The gastropod harvested at this western Moroccan dye production facility was "Phyllonotus trunculus" also known by the older name "Murex trunculus" (Linnaeus, 1758)).

This second species of dye murex currently occurs on "the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts of Europe and Africa (Spain and Portugal, Morocco, and the Canary Islands" [Radwin, G. E. and A. D'Attilio, 1986. "Murex shells of the world. An illustrated guide to the Muricidae", p93, Stanford University Press, Stanford, California, USA, 284pp incl 192 figs. & 32 pls.]

Historical overview of Tyrian purple

The fast, non-fading dye was an item of luxury trade, prized by Romans, who used it to colour ceremonial robes. It is believed that the intensity of the purple hue improved, rather than faded, as the dyed cloth aged. Pliny the Elder described the dyeing process of two purples in his "Natural History" [Pliny the Elder, "The Natural History" (eds. John Bostock, H.T. Riley) Book IX. "The Natural History of Fishes". Chapters 60-65. [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0137&query=head%3D%23483] ] :

Archaeological data from Tyre indicate that the snails were collected in large vats and left to decompose. This produced a hideous stench that was actually mentioned by ancient authors. Not much is known about the subsequent steps, and the actual ancient method for mass-producing the two murex dyes has not yet been successfully reconstructed; this special "blackish clotted blood" colour, which was prized above all others, is believed to be achieved by double-dipping the cloth, once in the indigo dye of "H. trunculus" and once in the purple-red dye of "M. brandaris". Fact|date=August 2007

The Roman mythographer Julius Pollux, writing in the second century BC, asserted ("Onomasticon" I, 45–49) that the purple dye was first discovered by Heracles, or rather, by his dog, whose mouth was stained purple from chewing on snails along the coast of the Levant. Recently, the archaeological discovery of substantial numbers of Murex shells on Crete suggests that the Minoans may have pioneered the extraction of Imperial purple centuries before the Tyrians. Dating from colocated pottery suggests the dye may have been produced during the Middle Minoan period in the 20th–18th century BC. [Reese, David S. (1987). "Palaikastro Shells and Bronze Age Purple-Dye Production in the Mediterranean Basin," Annual of the British School of Archaeology at Athens, 82, 201-6).] [Stieglitz, Robert R. (1994), "The Minoan Origin of Tyrian Purple," Biblical Archaeologist, 57, 46-54.]

The main chemical constituent of the Tyrian dye was discovered by Paul Friedländer in 1909 to be 6,6′-dibromoindigo, a substance that had previously been synthesized in 1903. [cite journal
author = Sachs, F. & Kempf, R.
year = 1903
title = Über p-Halogen-o-nitrobenzaldehyde.
journal = Ber. Dtsch. Chem. Ges.
volume = 36
pages = 3299–3303
] However, it has never been synthesized commercially. [cite encyclopedia | year=1981 | title=Indigo | volume=V | pages=338 | encyclopedia=Encyclopædia Britannica | edition=15th | publisher=Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc | location=Chicago | id=ISBN 0-85229-378-X] [cite journal
title = Tyrian purple: 6,6’-Dibromoindigo and Related Compounds
author = Cooksey C. J.
journal = Molecules
volume = 6
issue = 9
year= 2001
pages = 736–769
url =http://www.mdpi.org/molecules/papers/60900736.pdf

Modern rendition

Tyrian purple

Infobox color |textcolor=white
title=Tyrian Purple
r=102|g=2 |b=60
c= 66|m= 87|y= 0|k= 0
h=324|s= 98|v= 40| spelling=colour
source= [http://www.mmdtkw.org/VPurple.html Internet]

The true colour of Tyrian purple, like most high chroma pigments, cannot be accurately displayed on a computer display, nor are ancient reports entirely consistent, but these swatches give an indication of the likely range in which it appeared:


This is the sRGB colour #990024, intended for viewing on an output device with a gamma of 2.2. It is a representation of RHS colour code 66A ["RHS, UCL and RGB Colors, gamma = 1.4, fan 2", "Azalea Society of America website" [http://www.azaleas.org/index.pl/rhsmacfan2.html] (this gives the RGB value #b80049, which has been converted to #990024 for the sRGB gamma of 2.2)] , which has been equated to "Tyrian red" [Buck, G. "Buck Rose Website", Page 5 [http://www.ag.iastate.edu/centers/cad/Eroses.html] ] , a term which is often used as a synonym for Tyrian purple.

hades of Tyrian purple colour comparison chart

Modern research shows, as discussed above, that various formulations of Tyrian purple existed on a continuous spectrum within approximately the following range of colours:

  • Bright Tyrian Purple (Bright Imperial Purple) (Tyrian Pink) (Hex: #B80049) (RGB: 184, 0, 73)
  • Medium Tyrian Purple (Medium Imperial Purple) (Tyrian Red) (Hex: #990024) (RGB: 153, 0, 36)
  • Tyrian Purple (Imperial Purple) (Hex: #66023C) (RGB: 102, 2, 60)


ee also

* Indigo dye
* Purple
* Hexaplex trunculus

External links

* [http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Plicopurpura+pansa+(Gould,+1853)+from+the+Pacific+Coast+of+Mexico+and...-a0118543935]

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Tyrian purple — Tyrian Tyr i*an, a. [L. Tyrius, from Tyrus Tyre, Gr. ?.] 1. Of or pertaining to Tyre or its people. [1913 Webster] 2. Being of the color called Tyrian purple. [1913 Webster] The bright eyed perch with fins of Tyrian dye. Pope. [1913 Webster]… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Tyrian purple — or Tyrian dye n. 1. a natural purple dye originally extracted from the glands of snails (family Muricidae) by the ancient Phoenicians of Tyre: widely used in the ancient and classical world in the dyeing of cloth 2. bluish red …   English World dictionary

  • Tyrian purple — 1. noun a) A deep purple dyestuff obtained from the bodies of mollusks of the genus Murex b) A deep purple colour, tinted with red, like that of the dye. 2. adjective Of a deep purple colour, tinted with red, like that of the dye. See Also: Tyre …   Wiktionary

  • Tyrian purple — 1. Also called Tyrian dye. a highly prized crimson or purple dye of classical antiquity, originally obtained at great expense from a certain shellfish: later shown to be an indigo derivative and synthetically produced, and now replaced by other… …   Universalium

  • Tyrian purple — /ˌtɪriən ˈpɜpəl/ (say .tireeuhn perpuhl) noun a highly prized purple dye of classical antiquity, originally obtained at great expense from a certain shellfish. It was later shown to be an indigo derivative and synthesised, and it has been… …   Australian English dictionary

  • Tyrian purple — noun 1. a red purple to deep purple dye obtained from snails or made synthetically • Hypernyms: ↑dye, ↑dyestuff 2. a vivid purplish red color • Hypernyms: ↑reddish purple, ↑royal purple …   Useful english dictionary

  • Tyrian purple — noun Etymology: Tyre, maritime city of ancient Phoenicia Date: circa 1586 a crimson or purple dye that is related to indigo, was obtained by the ancient Greeks and Romans from gastropod mollusks, and is now made synthetically …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Tyrian purple — noun see purple …   English new terms dictionary

  • Tyrian purple — Tyr′ian pur′ple n. 1) tex anq Also called Tyr′ian dye′. a highly prized purple dye of antiquity, an indigo derivative orig. obtained from a certain shellfish and later synthetically produced 2) a vivid, purplish red …   From formal English to slang

  • purple of the ancients — tyrian purple 1 …   Useful english dictionary

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