2000-Year-Old Bottle of White Wine Found in a Roman Burial Site

Image via Jour­nal of Archae­o­log­i­cal Sci­ence: Reports

Back in 2017, we fea­tured the old­est unopened bot­tle of wine in the world here on Open Cul­ture. Found in Spey­er, Ger­many, in 1867, it dates from 350 AD, mak­ing it a ven­er­a­ble vin­tage indeed, but one recent­ly out­done by a bot­tle first dis­cov­ered five years ago in Car­mona, near Seville, Spain. “At the bot­tom of a shaft found dur­ing con­struc­tion work,” an exca­va­tion team “uncov­ered a sealed bur­ial cham­ber from the ear­ly first cen­tu­ry C.E. — untouched for 2,000 years,” writes Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can’s Lars Fis­ch­er. Inside was “a glass urn placed in a lead case was filled to the brim with a red­dish liq­uid,” only recent­ly deter­mined to be wine — and there­fore wine about three cen­turies old­er than the Spey­er bot­tle.

You can read about the rel­e­vant research in this new paper pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Archae­o­log­i­cal Sci­ence: Reports by chemist José Rafael Ruiz Arrebo­la and his team. “The wine from the Car­mona site was no longer suit­able for drink­ing, and it had nev­er been intend­ed for that pur­pose,” writes Fis­ch­er.

“The experts found bone remains and a gold ring at the bot­tom of the glass ves­sel. The bur­ial cham­ber was the final rest­ing place for the remains of the deceased, who were cre­mat­ed accord­ing to Roman cus­tom.” Only through chem­i­cal analy­sis were the researchers final­ly able to deter­mine that the liq­uid was, in fact, wine, and thus to put togeth­er evi­dence of the arrange­men­t’s being an elab­o­rate send­off for a Roman-era oenophile.

Though the funer­ary rit­u­al “involved two men and two women,” says CBS News, the remains in the wine came from only one of the men. This makes sense, as, “accord­ing to the study, women in ancient Rome were pro­hib­it­ed from drink­ing wine.” What a dif­fer­ence a cou­ple of mil­len­nia make: today the cul­tur­al image slants some­what female, espe­cial­ly in the case of white wine, which, despite hav­ing “acquired a red­dish hue,” the liq­uid unearthed in Car­mona was chem­i­cal­ly deter­mined to be. With the sum­mer now get­ting into full swing, this sto­ry might inspire us to beat the heat by putting a bot­tle of our favorite Chardon­nay, Ries­ling, or Pinot Gri­gio in the refrig­er­a­tor — a con­ve­nience unimag­ined by even the wealth­i­est wine-lov­ing cit­i­zens of the Roman Empire.

via Sci­en­tif­ic Amer­i­can

Relat­ed con­tent:

Bars, Beer & Wine in Ancient Rome: An Intro­duc­tion to Roman Nightlife and Spir­its

Archae­ol­o­gists Dis­cov­er a 2,000-Year-Old Roman Glass Bowl in Per­fect Con­di­tion

Archae­ol­o­gists Dis­cov­er an Ancient Roman Snack Bar in the Ruins of Pom­peii

Explore the Roman Cook­book, De Re Coquinar­ia, the Old­est Known Cook­book in Exis­tence

The Wine Win­dows of Renais­sance Flo­rence Dis­pense Wine Safe­ly Again Dur­ing COVID-19

The Old­est Unopened Bot­tle of Wine in the World (Cir­ca 350 AD)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.


How a Steady Supply of Coffee Helped the Union Win the U.S. Civil War

Amer­i­cans doing “e‑mail jobs” and work­ing in the “lap­top class” tend to make much of the quan­ti­ty of cof­fee they require to keep going, or even to get start­ed. In that sense alone, they have some­thing in com­mon with Civ­il War sol­diers. “Union sol­diers were giv­en 36 pounds of cof­fee a year by the gov­ern­ment, and they made their dai­ly brew every­where and with every­thing: with water from can­teens and pud­dles, brack­ish bays and Mis­sis­sip­pi mud,” write NPR’s Kitchen Sis­ters. “The Con­fed­er­a­cy, on the oth­er hand, was decid­ed­ly less caf­feinat­ed. As soon as the war began, the Union block­ad­ed South­ern ports and cut off the South’s access to cof­fee.”

Smith­son­ian Nation­al Muse­um of Amer­i­can His­to­ry cura­tor Jon Grinspan tells of how “des­per­ate Con­fed­er­ate sol­diers would invent makeshift cof­fees,” roast­ing “rye, rice, sweet pota­toes or beets until they were dark, choco­laty and caramelized. The result­ing brew con­tained no caf­feine, but at least it was some­thing warm and brown and con­sol­ing.” (See video at bot­tom of the post.) The stark caf­feina­tion dif­fer­en­tial that result­ed must count as one of many fac­tors that led to the Union’s ulti­mate vic­to­ry. Part of what kept their cof­fee sup­plies robust was imports from Liberia, the African repub­lic that had been estab­lished ear­li­er in the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry by freed Amer­i­can slaves.

“The Union’s abil­i­ty to pur­chase and dis­trib­ute cof­fee from Liberia, along­side oth­er sources, was help­ing the army’s morale,” writes Bron­wen Ever­ill at Smithsonian.com. “In Decem­ber 1862, one sol­dier wrote that ‘what keeps me alive must be the cof­fee.’ ” Mean­while, a north­ern gen­er­al famous­ly gave this advice to oth­er gen­er­als: “If your men get their cof­fee ear­ly in the morn­ing, you can hold.” Many har­row­ing bat­tles lat­er, “at the Con­fed­er­ate sur­ren­der at Appo­mat­tox in April 1865, Michi­gan sol­dier William Smith not­ed that the Con­fed­er­ate sol­diers present were lick­ing their lips hope­ful­ly, with ‘a keen rel­ish for a cup of Yan­kee cof­fee.’ ” (John­ny Reb had pre­sum­ably acquired this taste between those bat­tles, when sol­diers from both sides would meet and exchange goods.)

The Civ­il War in Four Min­utes video above explains the cof­fee-drink­ing Yan­kee’s habits in more detail. “If there was an ear­ly morn­ing march, the first order of busi­ness was to boil water and make cof­fee,” says actor-his­to­ri­an Dou­glas Ull­man Jr. “If there was a halt along the march, the first order of busi­ness when the march stopped was to get that hot water going to drink more cof­fee.” Sol­diers would keep their cof­fee and mea­ger sug­ar rations in the same bag in order to ensure “the tini­est hint of sug­ar in every drop. Think about that the next time you order your caramel soy mac­chi­a­to.” But such bev­er­ages were still a long way off after the Civ­il War, which gave way to the era of what we now call the Wild West — and with it, the hey­day of cow­boy cof­fee.

via Smith­son­ian Mag­a­zine

Relat­ed con­tent:

How Human­i­ty Got Hooked on Cof­fee: An Ani­mat­ed His­to­ry

Watch an Exquis­ite 19th Cen­tu­ry Cof­fee Mak­er in Action

The His­to­ry of Cof­fee and How It Trans­formed Our World

Philoso­phers Drink­ing Cof­fee: The Exces­sive Habits of Kant, Voltaire & Kierkegaard

The His­to­ry of the U.S. Civ­il War Visu­al­ized Month by Month and State by State, in an Info­graph­ic from 1897

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

The Story of Lee Miller: From the Cover of Vogue to Hitler’s Bathtub

In late-twen­ties Man­hat­tan, a nine­teen-year-old woman named Eliz­a­beth “Lee” Miller stepped off the curb and into the path of a car. She was pulled back to safe­ty by none oth­er than the mag­nate Condé Nast, founder of the epony­mous pub­lish­ing com­pa­ny. Not long there­after, Miller, who’d been study­ing at the Art Stu­dents League of New York, appeared on the cov­er of Vogue. It’s tempt­ing to call this the first major episode of a charmed life, though that descrip­tor fits uneasi­ly with the arc of her sev­en­ty years, dur­ing the last few decades of which she could nev­er quite recov­er from hav­ing wit­nessed first-hand the lib­er­a­tion of the con­cen­tra­tion camps at Buchen­wald and Dachau — sights she shared with the Amer­i­can pub­lic as a war pho­tog­ra­ph­er.

Miller took pic­tures of not just the con­cen­tra­tion camps, but also events like the Lon­don Blitz and the lib­er­a­tion of Paris. At the end of the war, she posed for an even more famous pic­ture, bathing in Hitler’s tub on the very same day that the Führer lat­er shot him­self in his bunker.

Behind the cam­era in that instance was Life cor­re­spon­dent David E. Scher­man, one of the notable men in Miller’s life. Oth­ers includ­ed the artist-writer Roland Pen­rose, the busi­ness­man Aziz Eloui Bey, and, before all of them, the sur­re­al­ist pho­tog­ra­ph­er Man Ray, each of whom cor­re­spond­ed to a phase of the pro­fes­sion­al jour­ney that took her from fash­ion mod­el to fear­less pho­to­jour­nal­ist.

You can see and hear that jour­ney recount­ed by gal­lerist-Youtu­ber James Payne in the new Great Art Explained video at the top of the post. Just above is a British Pathé news­reel that shows Miller at home with Pen­rose in 1946, the year between the end of the war and the birth of their son Antony Pen­rose, who re-dis­cov­ered and re-pub­li­cized his moth­er’s pho­tog­ra­phy after her death in 1977. How­ev­er belat­ed her pub­lic recog­ni­tion, it’s still sur­pris­ing that a life like Miller’s, the events of which stretch even Hol­ly­wood plau­si­bil­i­ty, only became a movie last year. Lee still awaits wide release, but much has been writ­ten about the pas­sion of star Kate Winslet that got it made. She’ll undoubt­ed­ly impress as Miller — but nei­ther, rumor has it, is Sat­ur­day Night Live alum­nus Andy Sam­berg’s David E. Scher­man a per­for­mance to be missed.

Relat­ed con­tent:

The For­got­ten Women of Sur­re­al­ism: A Mag­i­cal, Short Ani­mat­ed Film

Man Ray’s Por­traits of Ernest Hem­ing­way, Ezra Pound, Mar­cel Duchamp & Many Oth­er 1920s Icons

Why the U.S. Pho­tographed Its Own World War II Con­cen­tra­tion Camps (and Com­mis­sioned Pho­tographs by Dorothea Lange)

Meet Tsuneko Sasamo­to, Japan’s First Female Pho­to­jour­nal­ist and Now, at 107, Japan’s Old­est Liv­ing Pho­to­jour­nal­ist

Great Art Explained: Watch 15 Minute Intro­duc­tions to Great Works by Warhol, Rothko, Kahlo, Picas­so & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

A Close Look at Beowulf-Era Helmets & Swords, Courtesy of the British Museum

Even if a stu­dent assigned Beowulf is, at first, dis­mayed by its lan­guage, that same stu­dent may well be cap­ti­vat­ed by its set­ting. While that myth­i­cal but some­how both glo­ri­ous­ly and dankly real­is­tic realm of kings and drag­ons, mead halls and bog mon­sters may feel famil­iar to fan­ta­sy enthu­si­asts, it’s also strange on a deep­er lev­el; this sto­ry, any mod­ern read­er will feel, is in no sense a prod­uct of our own time. In order to con­crete­ly envi­sion both the action of that epic and the cul­ture that gave rise to it, it helps to exam­ine arti­facts from around the same place and time in his­to­ry. To find such things, we need look no fur­ther than Sut­ton Hoo.

Beowulf is set in the fifth and sixth cen­turies; Sut­ton Hoo is an archae­o­log­i­cal site whose con­tents date from the sixth to sev­enth cen­turies. Locat­ed “in the east­ern part of Eng­land, in a coun­ty called Suf­folk, which at that time was part of the East Anglian king­dom in Anglo-Sax­on Eng­land,” it con­sists of “a grave made in the mid­dle of a 27-meter-long ship that was buried beneath a gigan­tic earth mound, and inside a bur­ial cham­ber that was placed in the mid­dle of the ship were laid out some amaz­ing trea­sures drawn from all over the known world at that time.” So says Sue Brun­ning, cura­tor of the Euro­pean ear­ly medieval col­lec­tions at the British Muse­um, in one Cura­tor’s Cor­ner videos that pro­vide close-up views and expla­na­tions of a cou­ple of par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant Sut­ton Hoo arti­facts.

This hel­met and sword (with oth­er Anglo-Sax­on swords also brought out for com­par­i­son) are asso­ci­at­ed with King Ræd­wald of East Anglia. Beowulf, you’ll remem­ber, opens with the funer­al of the Dan­ish king Scyld Scef­ing, and takes place entire­ly in Scan­di­navia. But the sim­i­lar­i­ty between the elab­o­rate orna­men­ta­tion on the Sut­ton Hoo arti­facts and that on com­pa­ra­ble objects unearthed in east­ern Swe­den sug­gests a con­nec­tion between those regions in that era, and Beowulf itself may have been com­posed in East Anglia. It takes some imag­i­na­tion to pic­ture this sev­en­teen-cen­tu­ry-old hel­met and sword intact and in their prime, but how­ev­er they looked, one sure­ly would­n’t have turned down the extra con­fi­dence they’d have pro­vid­ed in a show­down with Gren­del.

Relat­ed con­tent:

A Vin­tage Short Film about the Samu­rai Sword, Nar­rat­ed by George Takei (1969)

Archae­ol­o­gists Dis­cov­er a 2,000-Year-Old Roman Glass Bowl in Per­fect Con­di­tion

An Artist Vis­its Stone­henge in 1573 and Paints a Charm­ing Water­col­or Paint­ing of the Ancient Ruins

Bronze Age Britons Turned Bones of Dead Rel­a­tives into Musi­cal Instru­ments & Orna­ments

Hear Beowulf and Gawain and the Green Knight Read in Their Orig­i­nal Old and Mid­dle Eng­lish by an MIT Medieval­ist

The British Muse­um Puts 1.9 Mil­lion Works of Art Online

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

How the 18th-Century French Media Stoked a Werewolf Panic

If you’ve stud­ied French (or, indeed, been French) in the past cou­ple of decades, you may well have played the card game Les Loups-garous de Thiercelieux. Known in Eng­lish as The Were­wolves of Millers Hol­low, it casts its play­ers as hunters, thieves, seers, and oth­er types of rur­al vil­lagers in the dis­tant past. By night, some play­ers also hap­pen to be were­wolves, liable to devour the oth­ers in their sleep. Though such beings may nev­er actu­al­ly have exist­ed, they loom fair­ly large in French pop­u­lar cul­ture still today — not least, per­haps, because they loomed even larg­er two and a half cen­turies ago, such that his­to­ry now acknowl­edges a peri­od called the French Were­wolf Epi­dem­ic.

“In the 1760s, near­ly three hun­dred peo­ple were killed in a remote region of south-cen­tral France called the Gévau­dan (today part of the départe­ment of Lozère),” says the Pub­lic Domain Review. “The killer was thought to be a huge ani­mal, which came to be known sim­ply as ‘the Beast’; but while the creature’s name remained sim­ple, its rep­u­ta­tion soon grew extreme­ly com­plex.”

In the press, which spec­u­lat­ed on this fear­some crea­ture’s pre­ferred meth­ods of attack (decap­i­ta­tion, blood-drink­ing, etc.), “illus­tra­tors had a field day rep­re­sent­ing the Beast, whose appear­ance was report­ed to be so mon­strous it beg­gared belief.”

By the win­ter of 1764–65, “the attacks in the Gévau­dan had cre­at­ed a nation­al fer­vor, to the point that King Louis XV inter­vened, offer­ing a reward equal to what most men would have earned in a year.” In Sep­tem­ber of 1756, a lieu­tenant named François Antoine “shot the enor­mous ‘Wolf of Chazes,’ which was stuffed and put on dis­play in Ver­sailles.” This did­n’t stop the killings, but “by now the Roy­al Court had lost inter­est. The sto­ry had played itself out, and pub­lic atten­tion had moved on to oth­er mat­ters. Luck­i­ly a local noble­man, the Mar­quis d’Apcher, orga­nized anoth­er hunt, and in June 1767 the hunter Jean Chas­tel laid low the last of what had turned out to be the Beasts of the Gévau­dan.”

“The Beast’s stom­ach was filled with human remains and, by all posthu­mous accounts, did not look any­thing like a typ­i­cal wolf,” says Dan­ger­ous Minds. “They were also able to ascer­tain that the ani­mal was sole­ly respon­si­ble for 95% of the attacks on humans from 1764 to 1767.” As to what the ani­mal actu­al­ly was, the­o­ries abound: maybe an unusu­al­ly large or rabid wolf, maybe a hye­na, maybe even a lion. As for the more fan­tas­ti­cal the­o­ries that cap­tured the pub­lic imag­i­na­tion of the time, they may have passed into the realm of myth, but those myths con­tin­ue to inspire lit­er­a­ture, film, tele­vi­sion, and games. And as any­one who’s played Les Loups-garous de Thiercelieux a few times under­stands, the were­wolf’s luck usu­al­ly runs out.

via Messy Nessy

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Strange Danc­ing Plague of 1518: When Hun­dreds of Peo­ple in France Could Not Stop Danc­ing for Months

The Sights & Sounds of 18th Cen­tu­ry Paris Get Recre­at­ed with 3D Audio and Ani­ma­tion

A 1665 Adver­tise­ment Promis­es a “Famous and Effec­tu­al” Cure for the Great Plague

How the Year 2440 Was Imag­ined in a 1771 French Sci-Fi Nov­el

John Stein­beck Wrote a Were­wolf Nov­el, and His Estate Won’t Let the World Read It: The Sto­ry of Mur­der at Full Moon

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

How Sci-Fi Writers Isaac Asimov & Robert Heinlein Contributed to the War Effort During World War II

Robert Hein­lein, Isaac Asi­mov and L. Sprague De Camp at the Navy Yard in 1944

Robert Hein­lein was born in 1907, which put him on the mature side by the time of the Unit­ed States’ entry into World War II. Isaac Asi­mov, his younger col­league in sci­ence fic­tion, was born in 1920 (or there­abouts), and thus of prime fight­ing age. But in the event, they made most of their con­tri­bu­tion to the war effort in the same place, the Naval Avi­a­tion Exper­i­men­tal Sta­tion in Philadel­phia. By 1942, Hein­lein had become the pre­em­i­nent sci-fi writer in Amer­i­ca, and the 22-year-old Asi­mov, a grad­u­ate stu­dent in chem­istry at Colum­bia, had already made a name for him­self in the field. It was Hein­lein, who’d signed on to run a mate­ri­als test­ing lab­o­ra­to­ry at the Yard, who brought Asi­mov into the mil­i­tary-research fold.

Hav­ing once been a Navy offi­cer, dis­charged due to tuber­cu­lo­sis, Hein­lein jumped at the chance to serve his coun­try once again. Dur­ing World War II, writes John Red­ford at A Niche in the Library of Babel, “his most direct con­tri­bu­tion was in dis­cus­sions of how to merge data from sonar, radar, and visu­al sight­ings with his friend Cal Lan­ing, who cap­tained a destroy­er in the Pacif­ic and was lat­er a rear admi­ral. Lan­ing used those ideas to good effect in the Bat­tle of Leyte Gulf in 1944, the largest naval bat­tle ever fought.” Asi­mov “was main­ly involved in test­ing mate­ri­als,” includ­ing those used to make “dye mark­ers for air­men downed at sea. These were tubes of flu­o­res­cent chem­i­cals that would form a big green patch on the water around the guy in his life jack­et. The patch could be seen by search­ing air­craft.”

Asi­mov schol­ars should note that a test of those dye mark­ers counts as one of just two occa­sions in his life that the aero­pho­bic writer ever dared to fly. That may well have been the most har­row­ing of either his or Hein­lein’s wartime expe­ri­ences, they were both involved in the suit­ably spec­u­la­tive “Kamikaze Group,” which was meant to work on “invis­i­bil­i­ty, death rays, force fields, weath­er con­trol” — or so Paul Mal­mont tells it in his nov­el The Astound­ing, the Amaz­ing, and the Unknown. You can read a less height­ened account of Hein­lein and Asi­mov’s war in Astound­ing, Alec Nevala-Lee’s his­to­ry of Amer­i­can sci­ence fic­tion.

Their time togeth­er in Philade­phia was­n’t long. “As the war end­ed, Asi­mov was draft­ed into the Army, where he spent nine months before he was able to leave, where he returned to his stud­ies and writ­ing,” accord­ing to Andrew Lip­tak at Kirkus Reviews. “Hein­lein con­tem­plat­ed return­ing to writ­ing full time, as a viable career, rather than as a side exer­cise.” When he left the Naval Avi­a­tion Exper­i­men­tal Sta­tion, “he resumed writ­ing and work­ing on plac­ing sto­ries in mag­a­zines.” In the decades there­after, Hein­lein’s work took on an increas­ing­ly mil­i­taris­tic sen­si­bil­i­ty, and Asi­mov’s became more and more con­cerned with the enter­prise of human civ­i­liza­tion broad­ly speak­ing. But pin­ning down the influ­ence of their war on their work is an exer­cise best left to the sci-fi schol­ars.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Sci-Fi Icon Robert Hein­lein Lists 5 Essen­tial Rules for Mak­ing a Liv­ing as a Writer

Isaac Asi­mov Recalls the Gold­en Age of Sci­ence Fic­tion (1937–1950)

Sci-Fi Writer Robert Hein­lein Imag­ines the Year 2000 in 1949, and Gets it Most­ly Wrong

X Minus One: Hear Clas­sic Sci-Fi Radio Sto­ries from Asi­mov, Hein­lein, Brad­bury & Dick

The Ency­clo­pe­dia of Sci­ence Fic­tion: 17,500 Entries on All Things Sci-Fi Are Now Free Online

Read Hun­dreds of Free Sci-Fi Sto­ries from Asi­mov, Love­craft, Brad­bury, Dick, Clarke & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

How the Ancient Greeks & Romans Made Beautiful Purple Dye from Snail Glands

Much has been writ­ten about the loss of col­or in the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry. Our envi­ron­ments offered prac­ti­cal­ly every col­or known to man not so very long ago — and in cer­tain eras, grant­ed, it got to be a bit much. But now, every­thing seems to have retreat­ed to a nar­row palette of grays and browns, not to men­tion stark black and white. We should con­sid­er the pos­si­bil­i­ty that this time of “col­or loss” is a kind of ascetic repen­tance after a long feast. That anal­o­gy holds on more than one lev­el: tech­nol­o­gy and indus­tri­al­iza­tion made food abun­dant and thus inex­pen­sive, and it did the very same thing with col­ors.

There was a time when col­ors did­n’t come cheap. Peo­ple had plen­ty of black, reds, and browns in their lives, but pro­duc­ing the pig­ments for hues not often seen in nature entailed going to the ends of the earth (or in the case of ultra­ma­rine blue, the bot­tom of the sea). We all know that, for a long time start­ing around the day of Julius Cae­sar, pur­ple was the col­or of roy­al­ty. The choice was­n’t an acci­dent: Cae­sar’s “Tyr­i­an pur­ple” of choice was extrav­a­gant­ly expen­sive, owing to the fact that it could be extract­ed only from the glands of a par­tic­u­lar Mediter­ranean sea snail. You can learn more about this process from the Busi­ness Insid­er video above.

“Thou­sands of snails were required to pro­duce a sin­gle ounce of pur­ple dye,” writes Smithsonian.com’s Son­ja Ander­son, quot­ing Pliny the Elder. Though well under­stood for a few decades now, the world of ancient pur­ple-dye pro­duc­tion con­tin­ues to yield sci­en­tif­ic dis­cov­er­ies. “Archae­ol­o­gists were exca­vat­ing recent­ly in the Bronze Age town of Kolon­na, on the Greek island of Aegi­na, when they dis­cov­ered two Myce­naean build­ings,” Ander­son writes. “As the researchers write in a study pub­lished in the jour­nal PLOS ONE, the build­ings date to the 16th cen­tu­ry B.C.E., and the old­er one con­tained pig­ment­ed ceram­ics, grind­ing tools and heaps of bro­ken mol­lusk shells: all indica­tive of a pur­ple dye fac­to­ry.”

Notably, these well-pre­served 3,600-year-old ruins date from a time long before pur­ple acquired its pres­tige. “There is no indi­ca­tion in the Bronze Age that pur­ple was a sym­bol of pow­er and that pur­ple-col­ored tex­tiles were only reserved for the elite or lead­ers, as in Roman or Byzan­tine times,” says archae­ol­o­gist Lydia Berg­er, co-author of the study. And when the Byzan­tine Empire fell, the knowl­edge of Tyr­i­an pur­ple was lost with it, only to be recov­ered ear­ly in this cen­tu­ry. These days, one does hear occa­sion­al rumors of a col­or come­back, and a rich pur­ple lead­ing the charge would bring with it a cer­tain his­tor­i­cal sat­is­fac­tion. In any case, we all remem­ber one cul­tur­al roy­al in par­tic­u­lar who sure­ly would have approved.

via Smith­son­ian

Relat­ed con­tent:

Ten of the Most Expen­sive Arts & Art Sup­plies in the Worlds: Japan­ese Bon­sai Scis­sors & Cal­lig­ra­phy Brush­es, Tunisian Dye Made from Snails and More

A 3,000-Year-Old Painter’s Palette from Ancient Egypt, with Traces of the Orig­i­nal Col­ors Still In It

Behold Ancient Egypt­ian, Greek & Roman Sculp­tures in Their Orig­i­nal Col­or

Dis­cov­er Harvard’s Col­lec­tion of 2,500 Pig­ments: Pre­serv­ing the World’s Rare, Won­der­ful Col­ors

YIn­Mn Blue, the First Shade of Blue Dis­cov­ered in 200 Years, Is Now Avail­able for Artists

Prince Gets an Offi­cial Pur­ple Pan­tone Col­or

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities and the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Medievalist Professor Answers Medieval Questions From Twitter: Why Is It called the “Middle” Ages?, What Did Medieval English Sound Like?, and More

From Wired comes this: “Pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish and Medieval Lit­er­a­ture Dr. Dorsey Arm­strong answers your ques­tions about the Mid­dle Ages from Twit­ter. Why is it called the “Mid­dle” Ages? [What did medieval Eng­lish sound like?] What activ­i­ties did peo­ple do for fun? Why were ani­mals tried in court for crimes? Answers to these ques­tions and many more await—it’s Medieval Sup­port.”

The Pur­due pro­fes­sor has also cre­at­ed a num­ber of well-reviewed lec­ture series on The Great Cours­es. Pro tip: If you are a mem­ber of Audible.com, you can get a num­ber of them for free.

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

If you would like to sup­port the mis­sion of Open Cul­ture, con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion to our site. It’s hard to rely 100% on ads, and your con­tri­bu­tions will help us con­tin­ue pro­vid­ing the best free cul­tur­al and edu­ca­tion­al mate­ri­als to learn­ers every­where. You can con­tribute through Pay­Pal, Patre­on, and Ven­mo (@openculture). Thanks!

Relat­ed Con­tent 

A Free Yale Course on Medieval His­to­ry: 700 Years in 22 Lec­tures

Take a Free Online Course on the Great Medieval Man­u­script, the Book of Kells

How to Make a Medieval Man­u­script: An Intro­duc­tion in 7 Videos


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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.