D. Differentiation of the Colours Produced with the Dye-Secretions of the Various Specimens Used in Purple Dyeing

Aristotle states that some of the Purpurae have a red flower, others a black one. As the dye secretion of the Purpurae and murices is really a whitish liquid when in the animal and only colours on being exposed to light, Aristotle must be referring to the final tone which the matter settles into after passing through that progression of colour with which the modern world has become acquainted since William Cole’s experiments on the British coasts.

The susceptibility of the purple dye to light was, of course, known to the ancients: itis self-evident. Dr. Dedekind, moreover, adduces in support of this several passages from Pliny, Pollux and Philostrate 1(Beitrag zur Purpurkunde, I. Berlin, 1898, pp. 84-85).

It is perhaps, I think, alluded to in Hist. Anim.: ‘On the first emission of the purpurigenic matter it only stains but afterwards under the action of light it colours.”2

The reader will have noticed the important statements made by Aristotle in the text quoted at the outset of this chapter regarding the variation of the colour of the flower of the Purpura between red and black, according to the size of the animals, the nature of the locality inhabited by them, and their geographical position. It is highly regrettable that Lacaze-Duthiers in confining his attention to Pliny made no attempt to deal with the data supplied by the incomparably greater man. How are those data to be coordinated with our present day knowledge of the subject? I addressed myself with this end in view to Dr. L. Germain, of the Musée National d’Histoire Naturelle. It affords me real pleasure to quote his illuminating reply:


… This new question arises concern about Aristotle’s text. But there are various kinds of purples; and the one found in the gulfs is large and rough and most of them have a black color, but a few have a small red flower, etc. Aristotle certainly did not mean that the same species gave a black or red tint depending on whether it lived in a gulf or in the sea. The Greek author had in mind two very distinct species; one living in the gulfs and giving a black purple, (I think we should interpret black by very dark red), the other living in the sea and giving a red purple, that is to say lighter. In this he is right, because we know perfectly well today that the dark red purple is given by the Purpura haemastoma L, and the Murex trunculus L, which live in the littoral zone, stuck against the rocks; and that the lighter purple is supplied by Murex brandaris L., which live at greater depth and further from shore. This explains, in my opinion, Aristotle’s phrase: those who live in the gulfs, that is to say on the shore, have a black flower, etc. … Cette nouvelle question concernant le texte d’Aristote. Mais il y a diverses espèces de pourpres; et celle qu’on trouve dans les golfes sont grandes et rudes et la plupart on une fluer (teinte) noire, mais quelquesunes ont une fleur petite et rouge, etc. Aristote n’a certainement pas voulu dire qu’une même espèce donnait une teinte noire ou rouge suivant qu’elle habite dans un golfe ou dans la mer. L’auteur grec a eu en vue deux espèces bien distinctes; l’une vivant dans les golfes et donnant une pourpre noire, (je crois qu’il faut interpréter noire par rouge très foncé), l’autre vivant dans la mer et donnant une pourpre rouge, c’est-à-dire plus claire. En cela il a raison, car on sait parfaitement aujourd’hui que la pourpre rouge sombre est donnée par la Purpura haemastoma L. et la Murex trunculus L. qui vivent dans la zone littorale, collés contre les rochers; et que la pourpre plus claire est fournie par la Murex brandaris L., qui vit a une plus grande profondeur et plus loin du rivage. Ainsi s’explique, selon moi, la phrase d’Aristote: celles qui vivent dans les golfes c’est-à-dire sur le rivage? ont une fleur noire, etc.




“some of the small purples are found on the shore and by the coasts have a red flower.”

There are obviously several species of small sizes, usually stuck on the rocks and especially, of Murex erinaceus Linnaeus.

The distinction made by Aristotle against black-flowered purple and red-flowered purple applies to the final color of purple obtained after the usual treatments. Like us, the Greeks and Phoenicians perfectly knew that, during the lifetime of the animal, purpuriferous juice is yellowish if not colorless; but they had perfectly distinguished the species which subsequently gave a dark purple from those giving a light purple.”

“quelques unes des pourpres petites se trouvent sur le rivage et par les côtes et ont une fleur rouge.”

Il s’agit évidemment de plusieurs espèces de petites tailles, vivant collés ordinairement sur les rochers et surtout probablement, de Murex erinaceus Linné.

La distinction faite par Aristote contre pourpre à fleur noire et pourpre à fleur rouge s’applique à la couleur finale de la pourpre obtenue après les traitements d’usage. Comme nous, les grecs et les phoeniciens saviaent parfaitement que, sur le vivant de l’animal, le suc purpurifère est seulement jaunâtre sinon incolore; mais ils avaient parfaitement distingué les espèces qui donnaient par la suite une pourpre sombre de celles donnant une pourpre claire.”


Aristotle certainly never meant to imply that only two colours, black and red, are producible by means of the purple dye. In the treatise of colours he states in fact that purple comprises a variety of shades.3 We should understand with Dr. Germain, black as standing for dark or sombre purple inclining to black, and red as denoting brighter or clearer purple inclining to red.

Dr. Germain further says: 


” You say: ‘by purple with black flower does he (Aristotle) ​​designate Murex trunculus? Aristotle, under this name, certainly has M. trunculus in mind, but probably also some other species including P. haemastoma. But it seems obvious to me that this term applies mostly to Murex trunculus. “ ”Vous dites: ‘par pourpre à fleur noire veut-il (Aristote) désigner le Murex trunculusT Aristote, sous ce nom, a certainement en vue le M. trunculus, mais probablement aussi quelques autres espèces notamment P. haemastoma. Mais il me semble évident que ce terme s’applique surtout au Murex trunculus.”


Great as is the amount of light thrown upon the point by my learned friend’s remarks there still remains some obscurity.

What light is thrown by modern conchology upon the dictum of Aristotle that the Porphyra living in the northern parts mostly give a black dye while those of the southern regions furnish a red one?

The exact words of the great Stagyrite are as follows: “Again, in the northern parts they are for the most part black, but in the southern parts red.”4 At first sight this might be understood as referring to the colour of the molluscs themselves, but a comparison with Vitruvius will at once show that it is of the colour of the dye secretion that Aristotle speaks here:


“I shall now begin to speak of purple… That which is found in Pontus and Gaul is black, because those countries are nearest to the north. As one passes on from north to west, it is found of a bluish shade. Due east and west, what is found is of a violet shade. That which is obtained in southern countries is naturally red in quality, and therefore this is found in the island of Rhodes and in other such countries that are nearest to the course of the sun. (Translation: Project Gutenberg)”  “incipiam nunc de astro dicere… Id autem excipitur ex conchylio marino a quo Purpura inficitur… quod habet non in omnibus locis quibus nascitur unius generis colorem sed solid cursu naturaliter temperatur. Itaque quod legiur Ponto et Gallia, quod hae regiones sint proximae ad septentrionem, est atrum, progredientibus inter septentrionem et occidentem, invenitur lividum. Quod autem legitur ad aequinoctialiem, orientem et occidentem, invenitur violaceo colore; quod ver meridiaris regionibus excipitur rubra procreatur potestate etc.”5


In how far do these data modify the preceding statements concerning the variation of the colour according to the size of the animals and according to the nearness or distance of their habitation from shore and promontory? Curiously enough, Pliny is silent about these highly important matters. No one, as far as I know, has as yet made a thorough study of the varieties produced by the secretions of the different species of the Purpurae and murices, or indeed of any other genus of dye-secreting molluscs.

The following passage in Recherches sur la Pourpre, by the distinguished physiologist Professor Raphael Dubois, of Lyons, is worthy of note in this connection: 


“The colour varies according to the species of mollusc which produces it. Ithis chapter, we will not deal with the variations in hue due to particular processes of industrial or other preparation but simply with those given by the secretion of the purple gland spontaneously either to light or to darkness. However, remember that the coloration can vary for the same species depending on the localities, the nature of the food, season, climate, the fasting, and also for reasons still undetermined. This was known to the ancients. Without the help of light, Murex trunculus gives a dark purple pigmen … Murex brandaris, after A. and Negri, gives a very delicate pink purple pigment which is quite clear. I found it rather binder of amaranth wine. Murex erinaceus, a purple color sometimes tending to red; other times in azure blue without knowing why. Purpura haemastoma, according to Lacaze-Duthiers, provides a blood-red color pulling on purple. That of Purpura lappillus, according to Letellier, is a beautiful red purple: it returns in the eye the red, blue and purple rays.” With reference especially to Murex brandaris, Professor Dubois also remarks: “The color we have obtained by our process with Murex brandaris is redcurrant amaranth. But it is obvious that by mixing with murex trunculus one could obtain the most varied purple hues.” (ib.) “La couleur est variable suivant l’espèce du mollusque qui la produit. Nous ne nous occuperons pas dans ce chapitre des variations de teinte dues à des procédés particuliers de préparation industrielle ou autre mais simplement de celles qui sont données par la secretion de la glande à pourpre spontanément soit à la lumière, soit à l’obscurité. Rappelons toutefois que la coloration peut varier pour une même espèce d’après les localités, la nature de la nourriture, la saison, le climat, le jeûne, et aussi pour des raisons encore indéterminées. Cela était connu des anciens. Murex trunculus donne sans le concours de la lumière un pigment violet foncé très azuré … Murex brandaris, d’après A. et de Negri, donne un pigment violet rose trèes délicat assez clair. Je l’ai trouvé plutôt lie de vin amaranthe. Murex erinaceus, une couleur violette tendant parfois au rouge; d’autres fois au bleu azuré sans que l’on sache pourquoi. Purpura haemastoma, d’après Lacaze-Duthiers, fournit une couleur rouge sang tirant sur le violet. Celle de Purpura lappillus, d’après Letellier, est d’un beau violet rouge: elle renvoit dans l’oeil les rayons rouges, bleus et violets.”6 With reference especially to Murex brandaris, Professor Dubois also remarks: “La couleur que nous avons obtenue par notre procédé avec Murex brandaris est amaranthe tirant sur la groseille. Mais il est évident que par des mélanges avec murex trunculus on pourrait obtenir les teintes pourpres les plus variées.” (ib.)


William Cole, of porphyrologic fame, gives the following table of the progression of colour through which the purpurigenic matter obtained from species of Purpura lapillus L. passed under his observation in 1683:-

(1) Light green.

(2) Deep green.

(3) Sea green.

(4) Watchet blue.

(5) Purple red.

(6) Very deep purple red “beyond which the sun can do no more.”

Cole further adds:”Note, that these changes are made faster or slower according to the degree of the sun’s heat. But then the last or most beautiful colour (after washing in scalding water and soap) will the matter being again put out into the sun or wind to dry be a much differing colour from all those mentioned, i.e., of a fair bright crimson, or near to the Prince’s colour; which afterwards (notwithstanding there is no use of any styptic to bind the colour) will continue the same, if well ordered.”7 Cole was making proper arrangements for the transmission of a number of living individuals of this species to “his late Majesty … to the end his Majesty, the great Patron and Founder of their Society, might have the pleasing diversion of seeing the experiment made in his Royal presence; but a stop was put to this design by a calamity too great and public to be mentioned” (ib.).

The labours of Lacaze-Duthiers mark the next turning-point and, as Dr. Adrian Robert, Chef de Travaux Pratiques at the Sorbonne (Laboratoire de Zoologie) informs me, have not yet been surpassed.

Lacaze-Duthiers’ experiments were made upon species of Murex brandaris, Murex trunculus, Murex erinaceus, Purpura haemastomea, and Purpura lapillus.

En suivant (Next),” says the experimenter, 


“the development of color, either of Murex trunculus, or of other species, by a cloudy sky, one sees, curiously enough, the successive development of simple colors which, by their mixture, form composed colors. Thus from white matter becomes yellow: here is a first simple color; then it is the blue which develops, and then, with the yellow which already exists, it obviously appears green. The blue is always increasing, while the yellow seems to disappear, so it gets darker; and this is marked for the material of Murex trunculus. At this moment, therefore, the material, after having been light yellow, greenish yellow, then green, bluish green, becomes dark bluish. The red occurs in the last place, and together with the blue color forms violet, which, we understand, will be all the more close to blue or red the less or more developed it is. “46 “le développement de la couleur, soit du Murex trunculus, soit des autres espèces, par un ciel nuageux, on voit, chose curieuse, le développment successif des couleurs simples qui, par leur mélange, forment les couleurs composées. Ainsi de blanche la matière devient jaune: voilà une première couleur simple; puis c’est le bleu qui se développe, et alors, avec le jaune qui existe déjà, il apparaît évidemment du vert. Le bleu va toujours augmentant, tandis que le jaune semble disparaître, aussi se fonce-t-il; et ceci est très marqué pour la matière du Murex trunculus. A ce moment donc, la matière, après avoir été jaune clair, jaune verdâtre, puis vert, vert bleuâtre, devient bleuâtre sombre. Le rouge se produit endernier lieu, et forme avec la couleur bleue le violet, qui, on le comprend, sera d’autant plus voisin de bleu ou du rouge que celui sera moins ou plus développé.”8


The great zoologist further records a considerable variety of tones in the final development. Purpura haemastoma yielded rather sombre shades. Upon this Professor Raphael Dubois remarks: 


“Indeed, according to Lacaze-Duthiers… the purple of Purpura haemastoma or ‘blood-mouthed purple’ is dark purple, closer to red than blue. It would therefore be intermediate between the purple of Murex trunculus and that of Murex brandaris.” 47 “En effet, d’après Lacaze-Duthiers… la pourpre du Purpura haemastoma ou ‘pourpre à bouche de sang’ est violet sombre, plus voisin du rouge que de bleu. Elle serait intermédiare par conséquent, entre la pourpre du Murex trunculus et celle du Murex brandaris.”9


Of the Murex brandaris in particular Lacaze-Duthiers observes: 


“It should be noted however that the Murex brandaris gives a tone sometimes more rosy and extremely delicate, and much clearer; at least this is what was presented in the experiments carried out in Lille, with the animals that M. Alfred Lejourdan had kindly addressed me from Marseilles. The sky of Flanders is far from having this’ dazzling light of the South and one can wonder if the action of the light a little different would not have a part in the variation of the color? “48 “Il faut remarquer toutefois que le Murex brandaris donne un ton parfois plus rose et extrêmement délicat, et beaucoup plus clair; du moins c’est ce qui s’est présenté dans les expériences faites à Lille, avec les animaux que M. Alfred Lejourdan avait bien voulu m’adresser de Marseille. Le ciel de Flandre est loin d’avoir cette ‘blouissante lumière du Midi etl’on peut se demander si l’action de la lumière un peu différente n’aurait pas une part dans la variation de la teinte?”10


The previous experiments had been made at Mahon in the Balaeres.

The colour furnished by Murex trunculus is defined by Lacaze-Duthiers as 

“bleuâtre avec des parties tout à fait bleues.”  bluish with quite blue parts.


Though the order in the succession of colour is the same in all species, in Murex trunculus, as already quoted from LacazeDuthiers, the stage of blue is emphasized by its intensity. The great naturalist gives the following register for Murex trunculus:-


Light yellow.



Bluish green.

Dark bluish.


Dark purple heavily loaded with blue.

Jaune clair.

” verdâtre.


Vert bleuâtre.

Bleuâtre sombre.


Violet foncé très chargé de bleu.


One sub-species of Murex trunculus, in fact, yielded a colour which Lacaze-Duthiers qualifies as blue, but he adds that at another time it also produced violet (ib.).

On the grounds of the experiment carried out by him with the above species (Murex trunculus. Murex brandaris, Murex erinaceus, Purpura haemastoma. Purpura lapillus) Lacaze-Duthiers arrives at this vitally important conclusion: The basic colour is always violet, the variation consisting only in the extent to which the violet tends towards red, on the one hand, or towards blue on the other. This applies only to the natural colour: by certain artifices the ancients may have also produced red purple.

From this position Lacaze-Duthiers never retreated, and when in 1896 Dr. Dedekind, keeper of the Imperial Egyptian Museum in Vienna, tried to identify certain red fabrics of Egyptian origin as dyed with purple secretion, Lacaze-Duthiers once more insisted: 


“… the primitive hue, the natural color of Purple, the one produced by the exposure of matter to the influence of sunlight WAS AND COULD ONLY be purple.” 49 “… la teinte primitive, la couleur naturelle de la Pourpre, celle produite par l’exposition de la matière à l’influence de la lumière du soleil ETAIT ET NE POURRAIT être que le violet.”11


The question had in 1861 involved the French scientist in an unpleasant literary polemic with another eminent worker in the newly discovered field of porphyrology, Professor Bartolomeo Bizio of Venice. Contrary to Lacaze-Duthiers, Bizio maintained that Murex brandaris furnished and could furnish no other but red purple: 


“It is true that I have not studied the murex fished in the Adriatic, but if the murex of the adjoining Mediterranean, or of any other sea, are identical to these, the species brandaris being identical, I would not hesitate to affirm that they do not contain blue matter, and therefore they can provide only red-purple.”  “E vero che io non ho studiato ehe i murici pescati in questo Adriatico, ma se i murici del contiguo Mediterraneo, o di altro mare qualunque, sono identici a questi, essendo identica la specie brandaris, io non dubito di affermare ehe non contengono materia azzura, e che quindi non possono fornire ehe sola porpora rossa.”12


Dr. Dedekind, who is an enthusiastic admirer of Lacaze-Duthiers, admits that Bizio was right. 


“Our transfigured master, Professor Henri de Lacaze-Duthiers, had made the drawings himself, respective paintings with different basic colors of purple (paintings with argaman and paintings with thekeleth) and still considered everything to be violet. You can see how you often suffer from an auto suggestion!.. ‘5’ The source of these errors, as mentioned above, has been an autosuggestion. And this is what happened to our dear master Henri de Lacaze-Duthiers, one of the greatest purple researchers of all time! Even in the last months of his life (in July 1901) he denied to me in his apartment in Paris (7, rue de l’Estropade) that purple should be addressed differently in the definitive tone than as purple.” “Unser nun verklärter Meister, Professor Henri de Lacaze-Duthiers, hat ja selber Zeichnungen, respective Malereien vermöge verschiedener Grundfarben von Purpur (Malereien mit Argaman und Malereien mit thekeleth) angefertigt gehabt und hat trotzdem alles für violett gehalten. Da sieht man wie man oft unter einer AutoSuggestion leidet!.. .13 Die Quelle dieser Irrtümer ist, wie schon weiter oben gesagt ward, eine Autosuggestion gewesen. Und das ist unsem lieber Meister Henri de Lacaze-Duthiers geschehen, einem der grössten Purpurforscher aller Zeiten! Sogar noch im Letzten Monate seines Lebens (im Juli 1901) hat er mir gegenüber in seiner Wohnung zu Paris (7, rue de l’Estropade) bestritten, dass Purpur im Definitivton anders anzusprechen sei denn als violett.”14


Without venturing to pronounce an opinion on the matter I may mention in this connection that the Sumerians, the earliest inhabitants of Babylonia known to history, appear to have had very nearly the same conception of purple as Lacaze-Duthiers. Tekhelet and Argaman, the only two known varieties of ancient Semitic purple seem to have been designated in their language by terms denoting “dark sky-blue” and “red or bright sky-blue” respectively. We should add, however, that we do not know with certainty out of which species the two purple varieties were produced which the Sumerians so designated. The subject has really not yet been thoroughly investigated. It is only when scientific experiments have been carried out in sufficient number upon the Phoenician, Grecian, Italian, French, African, and other coasts known to have anciently been centres of purple; when these have been scientifically coordinated and systematized and in addition have been carefully compared with the data supplied by Aristotle and Vitrivius referred to above and also with many other indications either expressly given or indirectly inferable from classical, Semitic and other sources that a firm base will have been secured for the future inquirer to operate upon.

Dr. Dedekind who maintained a long correspondence on various porphyrologic questions with the eminent scientist whom he often styles “the Nestor of Porphyrologic research” is in possession of a considerable number of samples prepared by the master himself. In the interest of science let us hope that exact colour reproduction of these will soon be made accessible to the public. 


“The agitated drawings and photographs made by Monsieur Henri de Lacaze-Duthiers as early as 1858 using purple matter, which the great purpurologist from Paris to Vienna had the kindness to send me in 1896, show at least 40 nuances, of the most magnificent, truly different Sky blue begins all the way to carmine and such a darkening of this shade of color that it was almost black, as one of Dr. Eder, rightly noticed in the institution. The color designations of porphyreos found in Papis, Handwörterbuch der Griechischen Sprache II, 649, as dark red, blue-red, violet are therefore extraordinarily appropriate, but by far do not exhaust the immense scala of purple nuances.” 51 ‘Furthermore, those purples (without prejudice to their decidirt pronounced two primary colours carmine and violet, or red and blue, depending on the presence of purple from P.haemastoma or M.brandaris or M.trunculus) certainly confirmed Goethe’s (derived from his theory of colours). The purple floats on the border between red and blue and soon tends to scarlet fever, soon to violet ‘and the blue red by the purple lick.’ However, as noted, the two main categories of purple were denied, namely: 1. bluthroth purple or oxylblatta and 2. janthin or hyacinth — or amethyst purple in not a single purple sample before me, provided that the process of the color change had progressed to the end. “54 “Die beregten, von Monsieur Henri de Lacaze-Duthiers bereits im Jahre 1858 vermöge Purpurmaterie hergestellten Zeichnungen sowie Photographien, welche mir der grose Purpurolog aus Paris nach Wien im Jahre 1896 zu schicken die Güte hatte, zeigen zumindest 40 Nuancen, vom herrlichsten, wahrhaft tropischen Himmelblau angefangen bis hinüber zu Carmin und so einer derartigen Verdunkelung dieses Farbentones, dass dies wie ein Arbeiter in der Anstalt Herrn Begierungsrathes Dr. Eder sehr richtig bemerkte fast schon schwarz war. Die in Papis, Handwörterbuch der Griechischen Sprache II, 649, anzutreffenden Farbenbezeichnungen von Porphyreos als dunkelroth, blauroth, violett sind also ausserordentlich treffend, erschöpfen jedoch bei Weitem nicht die immense Scala der Purpurnüancen.”15 “Ferner bestätigten diese Purpuroben (unbeschadet ihrer decidirt ausgesprochenen zwei Grundfarben Carmin und violett, oder roth und blau, je nachdem Purpur von P.haemastoma oder M.brandaris oder M.trunculus vorlag) durchaus Goethe’s (aus seiner Farbenlehre herrührende) Aussprüche. Der purpur schwebt auf der Grenze zwischen Roth und Blau und neigt sich bald zum Scharlach, bald zum Violetten ‘und das Blaurothe durch die Purpurschneck.’ Dabei verleugneten sich aber wie bemerkt die zwei Hauptkategorien des Purpurs, nämlich: 1. der bluthrothe Purpur oder Oxylblatta und 2. der Janthin oder Hyacinth — oder Amethyst purpur bei keiner einzigen mir vorgelegenen Purpurproben, sofern nämlich: der Process des Farbenwandels bis zum Abschluss gediehen war.”16

Another important passage bearing on this question appears at p. 30: 


“I would have liked to have reproduced other purple drawings by Monsieur Henri de LacazeDuthiers presented to me on the color sprinkled than those that are now on panels 19 and 20 in the Arch, de Zoologie exp. et gén. 3ème série, 1, IV, 1896. But even if only those two panels have been achieved, a great deal has also been achieved. In the carmine of Purpura haemastoma and in the violet of Murex trunculus, they show for the time being enough the poles of an incredibly rich abundance of nuances, which showed themselves in a very special variety on those canvas stuccoes that were colored with purple matter of Murex trunculus. On such a stucco there were even numerous light brown tones, of which the original of the reproduction on panel XX l.c. had no trace. On the other hand, the color stripes of Purpura haemastoma were consistently carmine darkening almost to the black.” “Gerne hätteich andere mir vorgelegene Purpurzeichnungen von Monsieur Henri de LacazeDuthiers auf das Farbengetrengt reproduzirt als jene die nun auf Tafel 19 und 20 in den Arch, de Zoologie exp. et gén. 3ème série, 1, IV, 1896 reproducirt erscheinen. Doch auch nur vermöge jener beiden Tafeln ist sehr viel erreicht. Sie zeigen im Carmin von Purpura haemastoma und im Violett von Murex trunculus vorläufig zur Genüge die Pole einer unglaublich reichen Fülle von Nuancen, welche sich in ganz besonderer Mannigfaltigkeit auf jenen Leinwandstucken zeigten, welche mit Purpurmaterie von Murex trunculus gefärbt waren. Auf einem solchen Stuck zeigten sich sogar zahlreiche hellbraune Töne, von denen das Original der Reproduction auf Tafel XX l.c. keine Spur aufwies. Dagegen die Farbenstreifungen von Purpura haemastoma waren durchgängig carmin bis fast in das Schwarze hinüberdunkelnd.”17

Dr. Dedekind indeed maintains the same standpoint with regard to the Cardinal or Fundamental tones of purple in its natural state in his latest publication whenever occasion requires: 


“Guhl and Renner ..” The life of the Greeks and Romans “;” About purple dyeing: II, page 233 to page 235. (The passage on page 234 is incorrect: ‘The purple juice, on the other hand, had two main natural colors, one blackish and one a red. “It should be correct: either 1. a red or carmine, or 2. a violet or blue. These two cardinal tones, basic tones of all definitive purple that occur at all, are at the end of Volume I of my contribution zur Purpurkunde (Berlin 1898) reproduced true to color. “56 “Guhl und Renner..”Das Leben der Griechen und Römer”; “Über Purpurfärberei: II, 233 ff. bis Seite 235. (Unrichtig ist der auf Seite 234 vorkommende Passus: ‘Der eigentlich Purpursaft hatte hingegen zwei natürliche Hauptfarben, eine schwärzliche und eine rothe.’ Richtig sollte es heissen: entweder 1. eine rote, beziehungsweise Karmine, oder 2. eine violette, beziehungsweise blaue. Diese beiden Kardinaltöne, Grundtöne von allem überhaupt vorkommenden Definitif-Purpur, sind am Schluss des I. Bandes von meinem Beitrag zur Purpurkunde (Berlin 1898) farbentreu reproduzirt.”18


For information contained in the older literature Dedekind refers to Martini, Neues Systematisches Conchyliencabinet, vol .III, Nürenberg 1777, p. 300. 


“The best way to upskill someone about shades of purple is to use panels XIX and XX in the Arch, ce Zool. Exp. Et gén., 3ème Série, I, IV, 1896. From the older literature cf. on the nuances of Purple especially Martini lc p. 300: Each of the snails used for this gave its own juice of special shades, i.e. either a sky-blue, slate-blue, or simply purple, or sometimes with carmosine, sometimes with fiery red, etc. “57 “Über Farbentöne von Purpur orientiert man sich jetzt wohl am besten vermöge der Tafeln XIX und XX in den Arch, ce Zool. exp. et gén., 3ème Série, I, IV, 1896. Aus der älteren Literatur vgl. über die Nuancen von Purpur namentlich Martini l.c. S. 300: Jede von den dazu verbrauchten Schnecken gab einen eigenen Saft von besonderen Schattirungen, also entweder eine himmelblaue, schieferblaue, oder einfach violette, oder bald mit Carmosin, bald mit Feuerrothe vermischte Farbe etc.” 19


Having verified the reference to Martini, I find it rather difficult to decide whether his data are based upon actual experiments carried out by himself or by others or are simply derived partly from direct statements in the ancient authors and partly from classical allusions in prose and in verse.

In illustration of Martini’s mention of a purple colour presenting a mingling of fire red, “Feuerroth,” Dr. Dedekind makes the following observation: 


“As a parellel to the last used value ‘Feuerroth’ I may perhaps cite a passage from a letter from myself, where I, even before Martini’s words became known to me, referring to the ones in the KK Lehrund Veruschsanstalt für Photography und Reproductionsanstalt (In Vienna) of the government councilor Dr. SM Eder made the first attempts to reproduce the original purple drawings by Monsieur HH de Lacaze-Duthiers true to color, wrote to the government councilor Eder on October 3, 1896, among others, the following: ‘… but at that time the specific fiery tones came. “From this one sees the exact correspondence of Martini’s centuries old description of fire-like glowing purple (Cfr. Valerius Flaccus 3178 י: jam frigidus orbes purpureos somnus obit) with the freshest, most labile, and most burning shades of color of the purple drawings were borrowed from our French nestor of purple researchers. “58 “Als Pendant zu dem letztgebrauchten Werte ‘Feuerroth’ darf ich vielleicht einem Passus aus einem Briefe von mir selber hier mit anführen, wo ich, noch bevor mir Martini’s Worte bekannt geworden waren, unter Bezugnahme auf die in der K.K. Lehr – und Veruschsanstalt für Photographie und Reproductionsverfahren (Zu Wien) des Herrn Regierungsrathes Dr. S.M. Eder gemachten ersten Versuche, die Originalpurpurzeichnungen von Monsieur H.H. de Lacaze-Duthiers farbengetreu zu reproducieren, an Herrn Regierungsrath Eder am 3. October 1896 unter Anderen Folgendes schrieb ‘… doch kamen damals die specifisen feurigen Tone nicht heraus’. Man sieht daraus die genaue Übereinstimmung von Martini’s vorhundertjahriger Schilderung von feuerähnlich glühenden Purpur (Cfr. Valerius Flaccus 3, 178: jam frigidus orbes purpureos somnus obit) mit den am frischesten, labhaftesten, brennendesten sich zeigenden Farbentonen der mir geliehenen Purpurzeichnungen unseres französichen Nestors der Purpurforscher.”20


It is interesting to contrast this with the following statements by two other learned contemporaries:


“It must be figured in mind that the purple colours preserved from antiquity and the Middle Ages are not all the same; They are never fiery or scarlet (The italics are my own),* perhaps, they much more show a dull-red, soon a more redish-violet, and soon a bluish-violet color”59

“The most valuable were the double-colored Tyrian or laconic purple and the so-called amethyst janthine or hyanzinthpurpure, and there is no doubt that these were very dark, almost black tones, which only showed a blue-violet to red-violet glow in the overview… This coloration, which was produced with the undiluted boiled snail matter, apparently had no resemblance to what we understand today by purple”60 (Professor P. Friedlaender). “The remnants of fabrics and parchments that have come to us have apparently suffered greatly over the many centuries they show very different nuances from black violet to light blue or red violet, but I would like to emphasize here that it has not yet been proven in any single case by chemical analysis whether they are really with purple and not rather with the different,  surrogates that were already practicable in antiquity were dyed. “61

“In Betracht gezogen muss dabei werden, dass die aus dem Altertum und dem Mittelalter erhaltenen Purpurfarbungen nicht alle gleich sind; niemals sind sie feurig oder scharlachrot (the italics are my own),* viel mehr zeigen sie eine stumpf-rote, bald mehr rotlich-violette, bald bläulich-violette Farbe”21 (Professor Richard Meyer).

“Am wertvollsten waren der doppelt gefärbte tyrische oder der lakonische Purpur und der sogenannte Amethyst-Janthin oder Hyanzinthpurpur, und es kann keinem Zweifel unterliegen, dass es sich hier um sehr dunkle, fast schwarze Tone handelte, die nur in der Übersicht einem blauvioletten bis rotvioletten Schein zeigten… Diese Färbung die mit der unverdünnten gekochten Schneckenmaterie hergestellt wurde, hatte offenbar gar kein Ähnlichkeit mit dem was wir heute, unter Purpur verstehen”22 (Professor P. Friedlaender). “Die auf uns gekommene Reste von Stoffen und Pergamente haben offenbar im Laufe der vielen Jahrhunderte sehr stark gelitten sie zeigen sehr verschiedene Nuancen von Schwarzviolett bis Hellblau oder Rotviolett doch möchte ich hier ausdrücklich hervorheben, dass es noch in keinem einzelnen Fall durch chemische Analyse erwiesen ist, ob sie auch wirklich mit Purpur und nicht vielmehr mit den verschiedenen, schon im Altertum gangbaren Surrogaten gefärbt wurden. “23


The colour produced by the coccus (Cochineal) is likened to fire in Philo and in Josephus. On the other hand, Pliny states that this scarlet hue was presented by a principal purple variety:


Notice that these are three main ones. The red as in scarlet, which is somewhat attracted by the grace of migrant roses when held up, and in the Tyrian and Laconian purple….. excessively dark-hue… scarlet  “Has animadverto tris esse principales. Rubentem, ut in cocco: qui a rosis migranti gratia nonnihil trahitur suspectu, et in Purpuras Tyrias dibaphasque, ac Laconicas.”24 Of the buccinum-dye Pliny expressly says that it had the lustre of cochineal: “dat austeritatem . .. cocci,”25


but he adds that the buccinum is not employed by itself because its dye-secretion lacks durability,


The whelk itself is not approved of, as it does not make a fast dye  (“buccinum per se damnatur quoniam fucum remittit,” ib.)


With regard, on the other hand, to the Purpura Pliny gives the impression that his conception of its dye-secretion is that it produces rather a dark colour inclining to black.

The buccinum of Pliny as we now know corresponds to our Purpura. Pliny’s statement that the dye-secretion yielded by the buccinum produces a fugitive colour has accordingly been condemned on all hands as crass error (cf. above). Strictly speaking, however, Pliny in this instance ought to be pronounced very probably, rather than certainly, wrong. It is generally assumed that the dye-secretion yielded by both genera Purpura and Murex is characterised by very great durability. I am not quite sure that the assumption is correct in so far as it is meant to embrace all the species belonging to the genus Purpura: it certainly fails to hold good universally with reference to Murex trunculus.26 May not Pliny be referring to a species of Purpura yielding a red fugitive dye? The fact that the dye secretions of Purpura haemastoma, Purpura lapillus and Purpura patula have each been proved to be very fast to light, to washing and to corrosives of various kinds offers no fatal objection. It is just sufficient to compare the case of murex. Taking, however, into consideration that Purpura haemastoma is known to have been actually used in ancient purple dyeing and, to judge by the high qualities of its dye-stuff must have been, if not the only one, at least one of the principal species so employed and combining this with the fact that the other genus used in purple dyeing besides the buccinum (our Purpura) corresponds to our murex, we are forced to admit as improbable that Pliny would in treating of purple leave out all mention of Purpura haemastoma, singling out some obscure species instead.

Why, however, we are entitled to ask, was the Purpura haemastoma employed rather than the Murex brandaris for adding, as Pliny says, an element of lustre to the colour of the darker purple in the manufacture of the fabric known as dibapha? The Murex brandaris furnishes, as we have seen above, considerably brighter or redder tones than Purpura haemastoma. There is evidently here very great confusion on the part of the half-moralizing, half-philosophizing naturalist, who, feeling no interest in purple manufacture, in his opinion a pandering to human vanity, appears to have taken no pains to obtain exact information on the subject.

In a preceding section of this chapter I have made an attempt to have the source of Pliny’s mistake with regard to the dye-secretion of buccinum. Mention should certainly be made of another suggestion in the same direction by Lacaze-Duthiers: contrary to what one might expect, the Murex trunculus yields a dye which is far from fast.27 Pliny may have misapplied to his buccinum (our Purpura), Lacaze-Duthiers therefore thinks, information relating to a species of his Purpura (our murex) that is Murex trunculus. May not then Pliny, I venture to surmise, have in some way muddled up Murex brandaris with Purpura haemastoma? Pliny divides the purple fabric imitating the colour of certain flowers into the following three genera:

  • Tyrian, Laconian and double-dyed in which red was prominent;
  • Amethystan more or less closely resembling the colour of the amethyst, a gem still known by that name;
  • Conchylian purple, vestes conchyliata.28

The dibapha consisted of a double dyeing, first with half nature purple of Pliny’s Purpura, and next with red purple of his buccinum; the amethystina, of a dyeing with a mixture in certain proportions of the dark purple of the Purpura with red purple of the buccinum29; the conchyliata, of a dyeing with the dark purple of the Purpura alone, mixed in varying proportions with water, urine, fucus marinus and the like. The real facts may have been somewhat like this;

  1. The principal species employed were Murex trunculus. Murex brandaris and Purpura haemastoma.
  2. The Murex trunculus, giving a fugitive dye would not be regularly employed by itself.
  3. For this dibapha would be used on the one hand dark purple from Murex trunculus, or Purpura haemastoma or from both, and on the other red purple from Murex brandaris.
  4. For the amethystina would be used a mixture of Murex trunculus or Purpura haemastoma, or of both, with the dye of Murex brandaris.
  5. For the conchyliata would be employed the dye obtained from Murex trunculus mixed with water, urine, etc. To give the colour a certain fastness Cretan fucus marinus would be used as a mordant.

Lastly, there would also be the purple-dyed either with the dye of Murex brandaris alone or with that of Purpura haemastoma alone, both being fast dyes.

The geographical variation in the colour of the Purpurae spoken of by Aristotle and Vitruvius, due, according to these authors, to varying distance from the sun, would apply to such species as Purpura haemastoma, Murex brandaris, etc., rather than to Murex trunculus, which as will be seen later, is not dependent on light for developing its colour.

By the way, it may be remarked that the statement in Pliny and others of the Tyrian purple being red, agrees with Aristotle and Vitruvius that the Purpurae of the Southern Seas give a red dye.



  1. Dedekind, Alexander, Ein Beitrag zur Purpurkunde, Berlin (18984 ,(1911- vols. v.I, pp. 8485.
  2. Aristotle, ibid., p. 175.
  3. Aristotle, De Colonibus, III.
  4. Aristotle, De Animalibus Historia, p. 175.
  5. Vitruvius, De Architectura, Libr. VII, p. 13.
  6. Dubois, ibid., p. 518.
  7. Cole, ibid.
  8. Lacaze-Duthiers, “Memoire sur la Pourpre,” Ann. des Sci. Naturelles, 4eme Series, Zoologie XII, Paris, 1859, pp. 71-72.
  9. Dubois, ibid., p. 518.
  10. Lacaze-Duthiers, ibid., p. 71.
  11.  Idem, Archives de Zoologie experimentale et générale. Paris (1896), p. 490.
  12. Bizio, Bartolomeo, Atti delïl.R. Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, Venezia ( 1860-61-), p. 880.
  13. Idem, p. 82.
  14. Idem, v.I, p. 94.
  15. Idem, v.I, p. 94.
  16. Idem, p. 23-24.
  17. Idem, p. 30.
  18. Idem, v.IV, p. 415.
  19. Idem, v.I., p. 93, v.2.
  20. Idem, v.I, p. 94.
  21. Idem, v.IV, p. 532. Dedekind citing Richard Meyer, 1910.
  22. Friedlaender, P., “Über Antiken Purpur,” Verhandlungen der Gesellschaft Deutscher Naturforscher und Arzte ( 1903), pp. 6-7.
  23. Idem, p. 6.
  24. Pliny, C. Plinii Secundi Naturalis Historia. D. Detlefsen ed., Berlin (1868). v.III, p. 262. (book XXI, chap. 8).
  25. Idem, v.II, p. 115, (Book IX, chap. 38).
  26. Lacaze-Duthiers, ibid., p. 71 : “Quant à Murex trunculus, voici ce qui m’a frappe: à Mahon, il est connu des pécheurs pour donner un teinte bleuâtre, et surtout pour ne pas fournir des marques fixes résistant au lavage,” and p. 76: “Le Murex trunculus donne une couleur plus bleuâtre et qui n’est pas solide.”
  27. Idem, p. 45.
  28. Pliny, ibid., v.IV, p. 83, (Book XXI, ch. 8).
  29. Idem, v.II, p. 115. (Book IX, chap. 38-39).