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Purple

Purple is a dark violet color. In ancient times, it was obtained of mucus secreted by the Hexaplex trunculus (Murex trunculus), a marine snail. Ancient Phoenicians, Lebanese and Mexican people are known to have used it for dyeing purposes. We present Hexaplex trunculus here in detail.

The source of the dye is mucus, secreted by a gland of the murex. The dye is called Tyrian purple. An ingredient of the dye is indigotine. If exposed to light for some time before the dye fastens, the color turns indigo blue.

Hexaplex trunculus has a conical shell, approximately 4 to 10 cm long. It occurs in the shallow waters of the Mediterranean and the West Atlantic Ocean. The shell is variable in form and coloring. There is archaeological evidence that the snails have been used for dyeing in ancient Phoenicia: a great amount of snail shells have been found in a grain storage. Allegedly 60 000 murex were needed to produce one pound of dye.

Subsequently, the number of murex started to decrease and they nearly became extinct in the beginning of the Middle Ages. The murex were then substituted by the liquid of the lichen Roccella tinctoria. Also madder was used as a source of purple.

Purple was a valuable dye, and purple clothes implied affluence and a high position. Generally, purple was a color of the aristocracy: the Roman emperor and the noblemen wore purple festive clothes. Also the laws of the Roman Empire were written in purple. Until the Middle Ages, purple was primarily a color of the kings, queens and bishops. The word purple did not originally mean the color, but a certain type of silk fabric. Only in the 17th century did it begin to signify the color.