The purple color of Tire was synonymous with royalty and power

Tyrian purple is a reddish purple dye known for its rarity and value in ancient times. Its origin and history are closely linked to the city of Tire, in ancient Phoenicia, what is currently Lebanon.

Tyrian purple, symbol of royalty in ancient times

How did the use and preference of this unique color begin?

Tyrian purple was discovered by the Phoenicians around the second millennium BC. The legend of the place relates the dye to the Phoenician god Melqart. This dye was extracted from the glands of certain marine mollusks, specifically the species *Murex brandaris* and *Murex trunculus*.

The extraction process was very laborious and thousands of mollusks were also needed to produce a minimum amount of dye. These details contributed to its high cost and exclusivity. This process of obtaining Tyrian purple was complex and was kept secret for centuries to maintain exclusivity.

They collected the mollusks and let them ferment, or extracted their glands. They were then given a special treatment that combined sunlight and air exposure to develop the purple color. The procedure released a rather unpleasant odor. That is why the dye production facilities were located in areas far from residential areas.

What was its use and meaning in society?

Due to its rarity and cost, Tyrian purple became a symbol of status and power. Citizens and merchants of Rome exchanged large quantities of gold for a small jar of the dye.

In many ancient cultures, especially Rome and Byzantium, the wearing of clothing dyed with Tyrian purple was reserved for royalty, nobility, high dignitaries, and the church. In Rome, the purple toga was a symbol of the emperor and the color was associated with imperial power and dignity.

Purple color

However, as time passed, the production of Tyrian purple declined due to several factors. The overexploitation of mollusks and political and economic changes affected the Phoenician cities and the production of the dye.

With the advent of the Middle Ages, other, more economical methods of dyeing fabrics emerged and demand for the expensive dye decreased considerably.

In 2003, researching the ancient port of Andriake, Turkey, a group of scientists found what appeared to be a landfill from the Tyrian purple industry. There was a mollusk cemetery where they extracted 300 cubic meters of shells, equivalent to about 60 million specimens. Likewise, the remains of the deeper layers were from larger and older snails, so it is assumed that the artisans exhausted the resource.

The discovery of new colors and the invention of synthetic dyes in the 19th century eventually replaced the need for natural dyes such as Tyrian purple, marking the end of its commercial production. However, its legacy endures as a symbol of luxury and prestige throughout history.

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