Orichalcum is a metal mentioned in several ancient writings, most notably the story of Atlantis as recounted in the Critias dialogue, recorded by Plato. According to Critias, orichalcum was considered second only to gold in value, and was found and mined in many parts of Atlantis in ancient times. By the time of Critias, however, it was known only by name. In numismatics, orichalcum is the golden-colored bronze alloy used for the sestertius and dupondius coins.



The name derives from the Greek ορείχαλκος, oreikhalkos (from όρος, oros, mountain and χαλκός, chalkos, copper or bronze), meaning "mountain copper" or "mountain metal".

The Romans transliterated "orichalcum" as "aurichalcum", which was thought to literally mean "gold copper". It is known from the writings of Cicero that the metal they called orichalcum, while it resembled gold in colour, had a much lower value.[1]

Orichalcum has variously been held to be a gold/copper alloy, a copper-tin or copper-zinc brass, or a metal no longer known. The Andean alloy tumbaga fits the same description, being a gold/copper alloy. However, in Vergil's Aeneid it was mentioned that the breastplate of Turnus was "stiff with gold and white orachalc" and it has been theorised that it is a mix of gold and silver, though it is not known for certain what orichalcum was.

In later years, "orichalcum" was used to describe the sulfide mineral chalcopyrite or brass. However, these are difficult to reconcile with the text of Critias, because he states that the metal was "only a name" by his time, while brass and chalcopyrite continued to be very important through the time of Plato until today. For that reason, other authors on the subject conclude that orichalcum is either the gold-copper alloy tumbaga, or possibly amber.

Ancient literature

Orichalcum is first mentioned in the 7th century BC by Hesiod and in the homeric hymn dedicated to Aphrodite, dated to the 630s.

According to the Critias by Plato, the three outer walls of the Temple to Poseidon and Cleito on Atlantis were clad respectively with brass, tin, and the third, which encompassed the whole citadel, "flashed with the red light of orichalcum." The interior walls, pillars and floors of the temple were completely covered in orichalcum, and the roof was variegated with gold, silver, and orichalcum. In the center of the temple stood a pillar of orichalcum, on which the laws of Poseidon and records of the first princes after Poseidon were inscribed. (Crit. 116–119)

Orichalcum is also mentioned in the Antiquities of the Jews - Book VIII, sect. 88 by Josephus, who stated that the vessels in the Temple of Solomon were made of orichalcum (or a bronze that was like gold in beauty). Pliny the Elder points out that the metal has lost currency due to the mines being exhausted. Pseudo-Aristotle in De mirabilibus auscultationibus describes orichalcum as a shining metal obtained during the smelting of copper with the addition of "calmia", a kind of earth formerly found on the shores of the Black Sea.[2]

Orichalcum is mentioned in Chapter 1, Verse 15 of the Apocalypse of John, where John describes the feet of the figure from whom he receives his vision. The King James Bible translates the Vulgate's 'orichalco' as 'fine brass.'


In theosophy, orichalcum is described as a metallic pink colored metal mined in Atlantis; another name for it is said to be mountain copper. The Lord of the World, Sanat Kumara, has a magic wand made of it called the Rod of Power that is the symbol of the authority of his office.[3]


In numismatics, orichalcum is the golden-colored bronze alloy used for the sestertius and dupondius coins. It was considered more valuable than copper, of which the as coin was made. Some scientists believe that the orichalcum could have been used for jewelry for poor people as it appeared to look like gold.

See also


  1. ^ Polehampton, Edward (1815). The Gallery of Nature and Art; Or, a Tour Through Creation and Science. R. Wilks for C. Cradock & W. Joy. p. 272. "Whether, if a person should offer a piece of gold to sale, thinking that he was only disposing of a piece of orichalcum, an honest man ought to inform him that it was really gold, or might fairly buy for a penny what was worth a thousand times as much" 
  2. ^ Nicholas F. Zhirov. Atlantis: Atlantology: Basic Problems. The Minerva Group, Inc, 2001. ISBN 0-89875-591-3
  3. ^ Leadbeater, C.W. The Masters and the Path Adyar, Madras, India: 1925--Theosophical Publishing House Pages 268-269

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  • ORICHALCUM — apuc Horat. de Arte, v. 202. Virg. Aen. l. 12. v. 87. et Stat. Theb. l. 10. Graecis ὀρείχαλκος. i. e. montanum aes, verum nomen huius metalli est, quod Romanorum vetusl issimi, Plautum in Curcul. Actu 1. sc. 3. v. 46. et Pseudolo, Actu 2. sc. 3.… …   Hofmann J. Lexicon universale

  • Orichalcum — Orichalcum, Oricalco u Orihalcon es un metal legendario mencionado en escritos antiguos siendo los más significativos los escritos de Platón sobre la Atlántida. Según estos escritos este metal sería el segundo metal más valioso y minó por muchas… …   Wikipedia Español

  • Orichalcum — steht für: Oreichalkos Orichalcum (Gattung), eine Heuschrecken Gattung Diese Seite ist eine Begriffsklärung zur Unterscheidung mehrerer mit demselben Wort bezeichneter Begriffe …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Orichalcum — (gr.), so v.w. Aurichalcum …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Orichalcum — (Aurichalcum), Messing …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • orichalcum — Orichalch Or i*chalch, n. [L. orichalcum, Gr. ?; o ros, mountain + chalko s brass: cf. F. orichalque.] A metallic substance, resembling gold in color, but inferior in value; a mixed metal of the ancients, resembling brass; called also… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • orichalcum — noun /ɒɹɪˈkalkəm/ A valuable yellow metal known to the ancient Greeks and Romans; now sometimes interpreted as referring to a natural alloy of gold and copper, and sometimes treated as a mythical substance. Many walls were coated with metals –… …   Wiktionary

  • orichalcum —    A yellow bronze, an alloy of copper and zinc, resembling gold when new. Its name comes from two Greek words: oros meaning mountain, and chalkos, brass. The Romans made two coins made of orichalcum: the sestertius and the dupondius. Also see… …   Glossary of Art Terms

  • orichalcum — /awr i kal keuhm/, n. a brass rich in zinc, prepared by the ancients. [1640 50; < L < Gk oreíchalkos lit., mountain copper, equiv. to orei , comb. form of óros mountain + chalkós copper] * * * …   Universalium

  • orichalcum — or·i·chal·cum …   English syllables

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