A. Preface

The aim of this chapter is not to give a more or less adequate account of the manufacture of purple in ancient times, but merely to discuss a certain number of facts, an acquaintance with which is calculated to assist the uninitiated reader in following intelligently the subsequent treatment of the various aspects of Tekhelet.1

Purple dyeing is not really so wholly a thing of the dead past as most people are apt to suppose. The tainting of cloth by means of marine animal pigment is still practised, albeit in a crude, primitive form, by the natives on certain coasts of Central America.2 But it is only the history of the art in oriental and classical antiquity which directly bears upon the inquiry forming the subject of the present work.

Dating from hoary antiquity the noble art of purple dyeing passed through a long and checkered career breathing out its last on the shores of the Bosphorus, amid the deafening din and clatter of the all-devouring arms of the victorious Turk (1453).

The ancients had no great variety of dyestuffs at their disposal, but of those available, the most highly prized was that obtained from the colouring matter secreted by certain marine snails. Upon the manipulation and application of this were exercised the skill and ingenuity of successive generations of craftsmen working under different conditions upon different shores of the mighty deep.



  1. The readers desirous of pursuing with anything like thoroughness the none too easy – study of the porphyrology will have been, I think, well advised, if he chooses the following works as his guides: ( 1 ) Die Griechischen Papyrusurkunden der Königlichen Bibliothek zu Berlin, pp. 96-212 (Die Purpurfäberei und der Purpurhandel im Alterthum), W. Adolf Schmidt, Berlin ( 1842); (2) “Purpura,” Maurice Besnier in: Dictionnaire des Antiquités grecques et romaines, ed. Daremberg et Saglio T.IV, pp. 769-778. Paris (1908); (3) Ein Beitrag zur Purpurkunde, Alexander Dedekind, four volumes, Berlin (1898-1911).
  2.  Cf. p. 13 and in Edward Schunck, “Purple Dyeing in Modern Time,” Journal of the Chemical Society, vol. 37. Transactions, pp. 613617-, London (1880). E. von Martens, “Purpur Färberei in Central America,״ Verhandlungen der Berliner Anthropologischen Gesellschaft, October 22, 1895.