Tyrian Purple was first produced by the Ancient Phoenicians in the
city of Tyre.
Currently Tyre is the fourth largest city in Lebenon, and a popular
Tyrian Purple is produced by a fresh mucous secretion of
a small sea snale called
murex. The exact species is spiny dye-murex.
Tyrian Purple was, and still is, very expensive. In Ancient Rome,
to buy Tyrian Purple cost its weight in silver.
Approximately 60,000 murex animals were required to make one
pound of Tyrian Purple.
Finlay in her book Color: A Natural History of the Palette
describes a hill in the Phoenician port city of Sidon (also in Lebenon),
called Murex Hill, composed of billions of discarded murex shells.
The hill is more than meters in diameter and 50 meters high.
Some broken murex shells can still be found, but Murex Hill is mostly
covered with earth, various buildings and a cemetery.
The Ancient Roman naturalist
Pliny describes the steps
in process of manufacturing Tyrian Purple:
Murex were caught in baskets lowered into the sea at the end of long
ropes. Frogs or mussels were used as bait.
The murex were pulled from their shells, and the vein containing the
pigment was extracted.
The pigment was mixed with salt and repeatedly heated in vats
to separate water from the pigment. The whole process took about
Due to the large number of decaying murex bodies, the process
generated considerable stench.
One of the trade secrets of the Phoenicians was to mix the purple
dye obtained from murex with the more reddish dye obtained from the
Buccinum shellfish. Here is the approximate color of the resulting
Tyrian Purple dye:
Tyrian Purple actually looks more like maroon than purple. Some languages
translate its color as scarlet.
Purple was the official royal color in the Ancient Roman Empire.